Get Help When Needed. Don’t ignore your own red flags. We often know ourselves better than we think that we do. If you feel like you are struggling with something, even a little bit, speak up. Sometimes even the closest people to us don’t understand what we’re going through until we say something.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Christianne Kernes. Christianne is a respected licensed therapist and co-founder of mental health app LARKR. In addition to co-founding LARKR, Christianne also serves as Director of Clinical Services at HealthRIGHT 360, a major non-profit organization, where she oversees the treatment of clients seeking integrated care, and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. Her responsibilities also include managing various outpatient and residential substance use disorder treatment programs in San Mateo County. Since 2004, Christianne has treated clients in her positions as Clinical Supervisor at HealthRight360, Clinical Supervisor and therapist at Women’s Recovery Association, and therapist at San Mateo County Mental Health. Christianne received her M.A. in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy at Notre Dame de Namur University in 2004.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
Coming from the Philippines where mental health is heavily stigmatized, no one speaks about mental illness. Families are often embarrassed and don’t want to be labeled as “crazy” for having a relative with a diagnosed mental illness. My curiosity about mental health began when I found out that I had a great aunt who lived in a mental health facility. When I first learned about her, I started asking questions but no one in my family wanted to talk about it.
Eventually, I found the facility she was living in and went to meet with her myself. I wanted to learn about her journey with mental health and more about my family. When I realized that different cultures across the world share the same negative stigmas about mental health, my passion for changing that began to grow. I wanted more people to be comfortable discussing mental health and seeking help for their issues.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Various research organizations estimate that there are between 40M to 85M people living with mental, emotional, or behavioral health issues in the United States. These issues are, and have always been, extremely prevalent in our society. Most of us will experience at least one bout of mental, emotional, or behavioral illness in our lifetime and all of us have loved ones who are affected.
At LARKR, this is how we view the stigma of mental health:
We were all born in a hospital. Our very first interaction with another human being, other than the woman whose womb we developed in, is typically a doctor or nurse. We might not like getting shots, but it’s an experience that we are all familiar with.
Most of us start seeing a dentist somewhere between 1 and 5 years old. As a child, our loved ones being to repeatedly remind us of how important is to visit the doctor and dentist for regular checkups.
With mental, emotional, and behavioral health in the picture, we certainly have the deck stacked against us. The inner-working of our mind is not tangible like the issues addressed by physicians. We have a lifetime of misconceptions, poor use of language, and poor media representation of individuals with mental issues to overcome. Being that mental health is a new conversation for many families, many times the people closest to us have no experience or guidance to share. Put simply, we have never truly learned the importance of good mental health and wellness as a society.
To combat the stigma around mental health, every detail is critical. From the way people use words like “crazy”, “retarded”, or “addict” in a derogatory way, to the way the media portrays criminals as mentally ill. Negative stereotypes about mental health are reinforced subtly every single day. At LARKR, we look forward to a time when mental health care is just another facet of our healthcare regiment.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
We want to make mental health and wellness a normal part of everyone’s routine just as physical hygiene is. Our mental health app LARKR supports our mission to reduce the cost of mental health care, increase accessibility and decrease the stigma around mental health treatment. Our video-based platform connects users to a vetted licensed professional therapist anywhere, at any time. In addition to therapy sessions, the app also provides free resources such as guided meditations and journaling features to track your mood.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
Creating LARKR was a collaborative effort between myself, my husband Shawn Kernes and our dear friend and partner Jon Dabach. Over the years, my work with individuals seeking help with their mental health & wellness inspired Shawn to use his technology and business talents to create an easier way for people to receive the care that they need. We wanted the app to be a solution to some of the many problems that I was seeing every day in my line of work. Whether you live in a rural area with no access to transportation or are always on the go in a big city, we want to make it easier for everyone to make their mental health a priority.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
If everyone understood that suffering from a mental condition is okay and normal, we could reshape society. Mental health does not define an individual and it’s okay if someone wants to seek help. In the same way a friend may tell us they’re sick, we should not judge others for feeling as though they may be struggling mentally.
Government has taken some positive actions in recent years. From parity laws for mental health coverage to removal of some reporting requirements that have historically reinforced negative perceptions of those with mental illnesses. However, there is still a long way to go. In order to make a significant impact, we need more funding for mental health services along with changed laws and regulations. Mental health also needs to be included in conversations regarding aide and benefits for those with disabilities. The more we include mental health in general conversations about health, the more people that we will be able to help.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- I make sure that I give myself room to make mistakes and recover from them. We are not perfect beings, we need to be able to accept that so that we can continuously grow. Being kind to yourself goes a very long way for your mental state.
- Regular Self-Care. As a therapist, mom and wife, I spend a lot of time making sure that other people are taken care of. But in order to care for others, I have to make sure that I set aside time to care for myself. Whether it’s a vacation or something as simple as reading a book for leisure, self-care should be regularly included in your lifestyle.
- Get Help When Needed. Don’t ignore your own red flags. We often know ourselves better than we think that we do. If you feel like you are struggling with something, even a little bit, speak up. Sometimes even the closest people to us don’t understand what we’re going through until we say something.
- Give Back. I like to take time to volunteer and participate in community service every once in a while. Get out into the community and find ways to volunteer or donate that align with your interests. You may even make new friendships that’ll last a lifetime. Helping others or making a difference in the community helps to improve our self-esteem and also provides new engaging experiences for us.
- Journaling is another way to practice self-care. Writing down your thoughts and how you felt that day can bring a great sense of relief. It also helps to look back at older journal entries to track your growth. This is why we’ve included the My Story feature on the LARKR app, it helps users track their daily or weekly mood.
- Have Fun. I love being silly with my daughters. We watch movies, have dance parties, and just enjoy being silly and having fun together. Do more things that put on a smile on your face and share those experiences with your loved ones.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
What really inspires me to be a mental health champion are my daily interactions with people. Making a difference in people’s lives by connecting with them on a regular basis reminds me each day of why I do the work that I do.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!