As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Christina Iglesia, licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of #therapyiscool mental health action campaign. She received her doctoral degree from the California School of Professional Psychology and currently works in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her clinical expertise is in the treatment of depression, anxiety, trauma and substance abuse. In conjunction to providing psychotherapy and psychological assessment services, Dr. Christina Iglesia serves as an adjunct faculty member at several universities.
In 2018, Dr. Christina Iglesia created the #therapyiscool mental health action campaign in an effort to raise awareness and combat mental health stigma. The response to the mental health action campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, allowing for thousands of dollars to be donated to mental health organizations across the nation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
The subject matter of psychology has always interested me. Yet it wasn’t until mental health disorders significantly impacted my own family that I felt called to pursue a career in the helping profession. Throughout the last decade, my clinical work and research have focused on the treatment of individuals suffering from the impacts of trauma, substance abuse, and complex mental health disorders.
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?
In spite of the prevalence of these conditions, I believe the mental health stigma still exits, mostly because fear and a lack of understanding. Mental health conditions have a long history of carrying the stigma created by stereotypes and misconceptions that fuel present day prejudices. Society continues to paint a picture that portrays mental health disorders to be conditions that are chronic in nature, erratic in manifestation, and unmanageable by treatment, even after decades of research that refute such characterizations. People who struggle with mental illness often fear the labels of “crazy” or “sick” that follow their public disclosures of a need for help, with stigma continuing to create one of the most powerful and difficult to surmount barriers to the access to mental health care.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
On October 10th, 2018 (World Mental Health Day), I launched the #therapyiscool mental health action campaign. The purpose of this mental health action campaign is to create a community of people dedicated to raising awareness and combating the stigma associated with mental health disorders.
The #therapyiscool mental health action campaign is a call to action on two fronts. One brings attention to the matter of mental health and removes its stigma. The other provides much needed funds for mental health treatment. The proceeds from the purchase of each official #therapyiscool tote goes to mental health organizations that directly offer treatment services to a broad cross-section of those in need.
From professional athletes to actors to international mental health advocates, people are actively participating in this campaign through social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Since its launch 12 weeks ago, the campaign has led to #therapyiscool totes being shipped to over 173 cities in 44 states and 10 countries!
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
I launched this initiative after several patients shared how they don’t disclose the fact that they are in therapy, even to the closest people in their lives. When I would gently inquire on why that was, the responses were candid and without hesitation, “My parents don’t believe in therapy” or “People would think I am crazy or something”. The theme of these conversations kept coming back to stigma, this implicit agreement that mental health issues are not to be talked about. It became clear to me that people will continue to suffer in silence until we make it socially acceptable to partake in mental health treatment, such as therapy. It is with this in mind that I created the #therapyiscool mental health action campaign, with the intent to encourage authentic and open conversations about mental health. I believe that the #therapyiscool tote serves as a bold and visible statement, communicating a positive message of the importance of taking care of our mental health.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I believe that it starts with the individual, with people learning more about mental health conditions so that we can better help and support others. Raising awareness about mental health conditions must also be done at a systemic level, by implementing educational programs in schools and work places. Our current healthcare system needs restructuring, along with insurance panels that often mischaracterize the perils and the needs of those in need of treatment, as they place short-term cost savings above the personal suffering. The restrictions placed on the extent and nature of therapeutic services and psychotropic medications, leave millions of people each year unable to access mental health services because of financial hurdles. Both the federal and state governments have roles in funding mental health services and therefore need to ensure that Americans have access to comprehensive treatment.
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?
In an effort to prioritize my own mental wellbeing, I utilize the following strategies:
1) Mindfulness Techniques: The practice of being in and focusing on the present moment. This level of awareness allows for a deeper engagement in life as I able to more fully connect.
2) Human Connection: It is important for me to access social support on a regular basis, allowing for the role of human connection to remain active in my life. Even when my schedule is hectic, I carve out time for social interaction.
3) Balance: From sleep to physical activity, I am purposeful and mindful in creating a daily schedule that allows for a sense of balance. This helps ensure that my basic needs are attended to.
4) Self-Compassion: I try journeying through life from a place of compassion, not only towards others but also towards myself. When I make an error, I try to respond from a place of understanding and kindness.
5) Community Engagement: Conducting acts of service on a regular help me feel more connected to my own community and helps refocus my efforts.
6) Gratitude: Every morning before I leave my bed, I list three things for which I am grateful, from weather outside to the book I am reading. This shift in perspective allows me to start each day from a more meaningful place.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I am inspired by each and every person who speaks openly about mental health, especially when it is based on their experience and on those around them. Whether on a public platform or in a private space, the conversation around mental health conditions will change only if people are willing to talk about it. I also appreciate mental health organizations, such as NAMI and Mental Health America, for providing essential educational resources for people and families who are affected by mental illness.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
* To learn more about the #therapyiscool mental health action campaign, visit www.hashtagtherapyiscool.com.