As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Mary Joye is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Certified Florida Supreme Court Family Mediator and Life Coach. Recently, Mary has also been a bestselling contributing author of E-Courses, “Becoming Whole Again” and “From Codependent to Independent” for DailyOM.com. As a solution-focused therapist in private practice, Mary employs traditional and creative techniques. Mary states, “It’s my job to help people listen to themselves objectively and nonjudgmentally. Though I do ask clients howthey feel, more importantly, I ask how they want to feel, and we work toward that desire.” Mary assisted in her father’s psychiatric practice in her youth. She went into the entertainment industry after earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre, and later earned a Master’s in Counseling. She has been a guest on mental health outreaches and is a monthly columnist for Central Florida Health News.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was the daughter of a psychiatrist, whose mother abandoned him in a store when he was four. His brother committed suicide at age 28. Dad rarely spoke of either event. He also developed seizures from a head injury. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone. My mother weighed almost 400 pounds. No one said a thing about it. I saw traumatic events from going on house calls with my father and from keeping other family secrets. My brother had meningitis at age 16 and had radical personality changes. No one discussed it. My brother was professionally successful. Privately, he often told me he was lonely and suicidal. He never married. Neither of us wanted much to do with the mental health profession. Our family stigma was the reason. I went on to develop a career in music. The corporations I worked for merged, and I reinvented. I went to graduate school at age 45 for Counseling. I had and have a good private practice. However, in 2015, my brother passed away at age 61. He was found deceased on his ranch, by hunters who noticed his headlights the night before. My brother was alone in his truck with the engine still running when they got there about 10 hours later. I had acute stress from his loss. I continued to work for ten months before I realized I was getting compassion fatigue. My father taught me there was a stigma to therapists getting therapy, but I needed it. My parents were also deceased at this time. I took a 6-week sabbatical in Sedona, Arizona. I hiked, got help and learned the art of self-care and have returned to helping others.
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?
Semantics and shame are toxic to this field. “Mental health” resides in our brain. Our brains are in our bodies, and though illnesses can manifest as behaviors, the way we separate mental health from physical health stigmatizes it. It isolates behaviors and ignores physiology. Behavioral health and mental health have been separated by insurance companies, too. There are few providers for this growing need in our area due to population. Need should not be determined by numbers of people but by them wanting to seek and receive help from a therapist of their choice.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
In private practice, I educate to reduce shame. I tell them often about the Mental Health Parity Act. I also have a monthly column in Central Florida Health News, titled “Mental Health Moment” with articles that contain research studies and body/mind connections.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
Yes. I live in Florida. We have the Baker Mental Health Act. Here, when you call 911, if someone is suicidal, they most often send a policemen or deputy, not an ambulance or medical transport which would give them more dignity. The distressed person is placed in a police car, handcuffed or restrained. Most clients describe this as feeling like a criminal or being humiliating or terrifying. The Marchman Act here does similar things to people who suffer from addiction. I understand the need for care, but dignity and humanity should be given through health care professionals and medical transport. Perhaps reform is underfunded because of stigma. I would love to lobby for reform, but wouldn’t know where to begin, so I begin here with you. Thank you.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
- Individuals-Get educated. Open dialogues and realize that keeping family secrets can cause lifelong illness. With 1 out of 4 children getting sexually molested and usually by a relative, we need to open the windows of discussion and get the family skeletons out of the closet.
- Society: We as a whole are taught, “Don’t tell family secrets…don’t air your dirty linen,” etc. These are two of many messages that perpetuate stigma and illness. With suicide on the rise, we need to allow people to know it is okay not to feel okay and that we all probably will qualify for some form of “mental” illness at some time in our lives. Revealing, without societal judgement, will facilitate healing.
- Working in show business, I was made more aware of stigma. Celebrities have a more difficult time seeking help for illness. Stigma may be the underlying reason those who commit suicide or overdose don’t seek help. Sometimes the show doesn’t need to “go on”. I worked with and around some of the most famous people when I was on the KISS tour as a young woman and in Nashville. I noticed then that trust in me as an employee and/or friend or confidant was vital. I needed it later in my life. Living out personal struggles with a public persona is complex and difficult. Privacy is paramount for safety and healing.
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?
- Self-Care/Compassion fatigue protection-I take time to recoup and regroup. I travel with or go out locally with family and friends, try new endeavors, and stay connected. This past year I went on a long cruise and it was my first. It was places I always wanted to go with the best of friends who graciously invited me. Sometimes, what you think you can’t afford to do is the very thing you need to do.
- Digital detox-Less time on the phone and computer and more time with people.
- Meditation-Daily guided meditations. I developed my own vagus nerve calming exercise.
- Long walks or hiking in nature.
- Massages, facials and other things to make me feel better physically and take a cerebral break.
- Listen to music or write and play music. (Self-taught piano when in a wheelchair at age 12, from broken leg.”)
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I read many books and research articles to help clients. YouTube has great professional offerings as well. Dr. Gabor Mate is wonderful. Psychologytoday.com and Psychcentral.com are favorite sources. I also enjoy biographies of people who have overcome obstacles.
My favorite book is “The Body Keeps the Score” By Bessel Van De Kolk, MD. It is one of the finest and most recent ways medical research has proven PTSD is a physical illness and though brought on by trauma, can be treated. I read a lot about neuroplasticity. We can elevate our brains to better health through brain imaging, science and many other interdisciplinary modalities of diagnosis and treatment.
I tell my clients I can read every book on psychology, but I don’t know their life story. Each person has a story that does not fit neatly into the criteria of diagnostic codes. Holistically treating the individual with brain imaging as part of their yearly check-up will hopefully be the wave of the future and can further reduce stigma. Pictures do say a thousand words. Maybe seeing will be believing and the stigma will lift and shift.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!