Individuals should consider talking more openly about their mental health if they feel comfortable. I have heard from many patients that once they open up to friends or family they often are surprised to learn that those people also have struggled with mental health issues.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview
Dr. Sean Paul, MD is a dual board certified medical doctor, certified in child and teen psychiatry as well as adult psychiatry. He is the founder of NowPsych, a psychiatry telemedicine and in-person practice and the NowPsych Blog, a mental health blog which gets millions of impressions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in a very large family, I was one of seven children and my father was also a child psychiatrist.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
NowPsych provides both online as well as in-person mental health services, and the blog provides a wealth of information from child to adult mental health issues as well as child development and parenting guidance and information.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I grew up with my father being a mental health physician (child psychiatrist) and seeing him help kids was really the most inspiring thing. During medical school I also became even more interested in psychology, psychiatry and mental health and decided to follow in his footsteps and pursue child psychiatry as a subspecialty.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
For NowPsych, I think what triggered me to start it was realizing that being able to provide mental health and psychiatric services without the constraints of insurance meant that I could take more time with patients and less time doing things like billing insurance, filing paperwork, and the additional documentation and busy work that goes along with a traditional medical practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Every day is really interesting, I get to meet people from all over the state since I practice virtually in addition to in our physical offices.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I have several mentors from my residency and fellowship programs who have been extremely supportive in my pursuit of starting this company. I actually spend an hour every week speaking with a mentor from my fellowship program at University of Florida who helps me work through the most challenging cases and their decades of additional experience are a great help in working through complex cases.
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?
I think there are always stigmas around things that are poorly understood. In general with illnesses that do not have a “test” to prove they are present, there can be a sense of the illness not being as real or as clearcut. This leads to misconceptions that mental illness is not a real disease and like many diseases over the years I hope this will slowly change as people become more educated about mental health. Particularly this year with the pandemic we saw unprecedented numbers of people suffering symptoms of mental health issues.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals should consider talking more openly about their mental health if they feel comfortable. I have heard from many patients that once they open up to friends or family they often are surprised to learn that those people also have struggled with mental health issues. Society as a whole can become more open to viewing mental illness as a disease just like heart disease or diabetes, once that happens there will be less stigma around it. The government could be helpful by implementing changes that require employers and schools to provide more accommodations for those with mental health problems and also increase access to mental health care for all who need it.
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?
-Exercise: Getting daily exercise is incredibly helpful to reducing and managing mental health issues. Even a brisk 30 minute walk daily, or stretching or yoga, can make a huge difference.
-Sleep: Getting not only adequate amount of sleep, but adequate quality of sleep is critical to mental wellness. Making sure you have a quiet, dark, and cool place to sleep is key. Also avoiding things like caffeine and alcohol before bed are very helpful.
-Therapy: Everyone should have a therapist. Someone unbiased to listen to you and talk through life’s problems is something every single person should have.
-Food: Avoiding processed foods and sugar as much as possible is very helpful as well. Eating a diet mostly of whole foods (vegetables, fruits, proteins, etc) rather than packaged foods which contain many ingredients that can affect your metabolism and mood.
-Fresh Air: Getting outside, even if it is just sitting on a park bench for your lunch break, is great for mental wellness. Just be sure to protect your skin from the sun if you are in direct sunlight.
-Hobbies: Having something you are passionate about outside of work and family can be a great outlet. Whether it is a sport, art, pets, or reading, spending time focusing on something you enjoy is very therapeutic.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
There are too many books to list, really, but for general mental wellness I would recommend these:
-Anything by Oliver Sacks
– (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health — Kelly Jensen
– My Strong Mind: A story about developing mental strength (1) (Social Skills & Mental Health for Kids)– Niels van Hove
– Changing Minds: The go-to Guide to Mental Health for You, Family and Friends — Dr. Mark Cross and Dr. Catherine Hanrahan
-Podcasts: The Positive Psychology Podcast, The Trauma Therapist Podcast, Meditation Minis
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I guess I could add this to the list above, because giving back is actually a great way to help yourself heal. Giving to others can open your eyes to the lives and struggles of others. Also, the need for mental health services is so great and the impact you can make is so large even if you only affect one life that will in turn impact their family and friends as well.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!