In this week's episode, Jeff and Michelle talk about mental health and several myths that need to be debunked. They also visit with Mike Hench about mental health trends we need to be aware of. Go check it out at Huntsman World Senior Games Active Life Podcast

 

Jeff Harding:
Hello and welcome to the Huntsman World Senior Games, Active Life. My name is Jeff Harding and I'm filling in for Kyle Case who's out of the office. In fact, he's out of the state. In fact, he's out of the country. Joining me in the studio today is my copilot, Michelle Graves. How are you, Michelle?

Michelle Graves:
Great Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Harding:
Well, I'm glad that you can always be here to fill in whenever Kyle's gone, and I'm a fill-in for him.

Michelle Graves:
I'm the backup to the backup. Happy to be it.

Jeff Harding:
And I'm just the backup to the-

Michelle Graves:
Something.

Jeff Harding:
Just the backup of ... Something like that. So, Michelle, I'm sure you know, but May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it's been observed in the United States since 1949. So I thought it'd be interesting to look at five myths and facts about mental health from mentalhealth.gov.

Michelle Graves:
Okay, let's do it.

Jeff Harding:
All right, so the first myth is, "Mental health problems don't affect me." The truth is, mental health problems are actually very common. In 2014, about one in five American adults experienced a mental health issue. One in ten young people experienced a period of major depression, and 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Michelle Graves:
I think this next myth is interesting. It's that children don't experience mental health problems, and I think we're learning that-

Jeff Harding:
Oh yeah.

Michelle Graves:
We're seeing signs of mental health younger and younger and this myth is debunked by the fact that even though very young children may show early warning signs of mental health concerns. Mental health problems are often clinically diagnosable and can be a product of the interaction of biological, physiological, and social factors. Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14. That's interesting.

Jeff Harding:
It is.

Michelle Graves:
And three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before the age of 24. So if we're aware of it, then maybe we can do something about it.

Jeff Harding:
I had a friend who had serious mental health problems starting in his early 20s, but as I thought back on our relationship as a kid growing up, I could see the early warning signs of it but didn't recognize until after the fact.

Michelle Graves:
Right. Fascinating.

Jeff Harding:
The next myth is that "People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable." The truth is that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent. Only about three to five percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.

Michelle Graves:
Yeah, that's interesting as well. Good to know. We often think of homeless people with the propensity for violence, but the truth is most of them are not. Most of them are just suffering from some sort of mental illness.

Jeff Harding:
Right, and pop culture has really made it look like all the violence is done by mentally ill people, people with mental illness.

Michelle Graves:
Yeah, that's a good point. Okay. The next one is, "Personality weakness or character flaws can cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough."

Jeff Harding:
Just like magic.

Michelle Graves:
I think we know that one's not true. In fact, mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems including biological factors such as genes, physical illness, injury or brain chemistry, life experiences such as trauma or a history of abuse and a family history of medical health problems.

Jeff Harding:
And the last myth that we have today is, "There is no hope for people with mental illness or mental health problems. Once a friend or a family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover." And thank goodness that is not true. I mean, how many of us have experienced something that we've needed some help with?

Jeff Harding:
So studies show that people with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatment services and community support systems than ever before, and they work.

Michelle Graves:
I think that this is a great thing to talk about because we talk about health so much, but we don't often, on our Active Life show, cover the aspects of mental health. And so I'm glad that it's brought to the surface in May as Mental Health Awareness Month and that we can talk about this very important component of living a full, healthy, active life.

Jeff Harding:
It's ironic that it's been observed since 1949, yet still today there's some astigmatism attached to mental health issues.

Michelle Graves:
Well, I think we're all ashamed to talk about the problems that face us-

Jeff Harding:
Because a lot of people believe the myths.

Michelle Graves:
Yeah, absolutely.

Jeff Harding:
I think so. Well, we just happen to have somebody joining us in the studio, Mike Hench, who might be an expert on the subject. Mike received a BS in family and human development from Brigham Young University, a master's degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of Kentucky and an MBA degree from Arizona State University. Mike has been a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah since 2004. Mike, how many years have you spent actually doing marriage and family therapy?

Mike Hench :
Oh, it's interesting-

Michelle Graves:
And welcome.

Jeff Harding:
Oh yes, welcome, Mike. Sorry.

Mike Hench :
Good to be here. Thanks. I've been practicing since 2000 when I was in grad school. Although, as far as marriage counseling goes, I would be terrible at it. Honestly, right now I haven't done marriage counseling in years. Actually, my specialty is treating young adults. So about the 18 to 24-year-old population. Do a lot of work with them, but dual diagnosis, those that suffer from social anxiety and autism and are just kind of struggling to get out from under their parents' wings.

Michelle Graves:
Really anything that a parent might consider high risk or some sort of aversion to being able to function well in society, they kind of come to you for assistance, would you say?

Mike Hench :
Correct. You said it well.

Jeff Harding:
What did you think about our myths and facts? Did you find them to be pretty right on?

Mike Hench :
Yeah, definitely. I think that there is definitely a stigma associated with mental health still, particularly with men. If you look at just those that pursue and looking for help just in psychotherapy in general, women outnumber men considerably in that area.

Jeff Harding:
And I think I said astigmatism, which is a problem with the eyes. It did have a stigma attached to it. So I do know the difference between the two. Just want to point that out.

Michelle Graves:
Good to clear that up to Jeff. So do you see that changing at all? Because I feel like there's just a big push to just be more present in our being and to be more open, and even 20 or 30 years ago. So what changes do you see? Do you still see a big shift between men and women seeking help? But is it changing?

Mike Hench :
Yeah, it's interesting. I think that the pendulum, in some ways, has swung to the other end of the things. I just actually came out of a group here this morning with a group of young adult men and we were talking about just the way that culture and society influence men's ability, in particular, to process and talk about and deal with their emotions.

Mike Hench :
And I think if you look back at more, and especially my generation and those before, that was oftentimes seen as an area of ... you're seen as weak. Men don't show emotion. But my young men today, are really talking about them feeling like they're more comfortable doing that. I think there are some other issues definitely that are making things more challenging for them in other ways. But I think there is generally a little more openness to be able to be freer to talk about how they're feeling things without that.

Jeff Harding:
I remember when I was a young man, there was a man selected to run as a vice president named Robert Eagleton and I remember seeing the pictures of him with the presidential candidate, they're grasping hands. A few days later, it came out that he had had some counseling done and immediately ruined his political career. He stepped down like a vice presidential candidate. He resigned from the Senate. It just ruined his political career because he had to have some help, but we all need help. I mean, it's just crazy to me that that would happen to somebody like that that sought help.

Mike Hench :
When we're talking about mental health issues, there's a broad spectrum. I mean, of course on the more significant or severe, like conduct disorder and schizophrenia and some bipolar disorder, some of the more common ones that can be more challenging to treat and deal with. A lot of my clients, sometimes they're dealing with issues related to executive functioning and ADHD. They have trouble with time management and just being able to do take care of some of the daily tasks that just come easier for those that are neurotypical. So there's quite a range there.

Jeff Harding:
I like that term you just used neurotypical. That was pretty cool. I like that.

Michelle Graves:
I mean, is there any research that explains kind of why the problems ... Because you've been a therapist for two decades now, so you've seen changes in trends just over the time that you've been working. And do you see a lot more of this attention deficit as opposed to big mental illness problems? And what are the trends, I guess, and what are you seeing?

Mike Hench :
Yeah. I mean, over the last couple of decades, there's definitely been trends. I think there was a big push in the early '90s, early 2000s around ADHD and Ritalin and medication. And then I think I saw more of a trend around the bipolar disorder and that being more ... I think some of it is people being more educated, but I think that the big thing now, I think that we're hearing a lot in the mental health world is autism spectrum disorders and how prevalent they are.

Mike Hench :
I don't have the statistics on me right now, but I mean, the data is demonstrated that those numbers are increasing. And some of that again may just be people being more educated and being able to diagnose that at an earlier and earlier age and treat it. But that's definitely-

Michelle Graves:
A trend-

Mike Hench :
... trending.

Michelle Graves:
... that you see? And do you think that's because we used to just look at mental health from a macro view and they were just the major things? And now we see it much more from a micro view, where we know what autism is, we know that there's a spectrum of disorders. So it kind of breaks it down more.

Mike Hench :
Yeah, I think so. I think that's a good way to put it.

Jeff Harding:
So if you're just joining us, you're listening to the Huntsman World Senior Games, Active Life, and we're visiting with Mike Hench who's a mental health professional and he mostly works with young adults, but I'm sure whatever he shares with us and we'll apply to anybody across the board.

Jeff Harding:
And one of the reasons we're doing this is that mental health affects physical health. I mean, everything's interrelated and physical health can affect mental health. And there are some environmental things that can affect mental health. Are you seeing anything with the iPhones or the smartphones and the computer stuff like that the kid has been ... Is that affecting mental health?

Mike Hench :
Yeah, most definitely. I would add to that list too. I think food, food I think-

Jeff Harding:
Oh, definitely.

Mike Hench :
... is a big factor in our not only physical health but our mental health too. We're learning more about the sugar and processed foods that are out there and the impact that a healthier diet can have. As far as the smartphone era, I mean I think everyone's pretty familiar and there's a few that would argue against that having some negative impact.

Jeff Harding:
Especially the iPhone makers. The smartphone makers.

Mike Hench :
I mean, a lot of my clients, they've grown up with smartphones in their hands or since they were teenagers. They'd been around it most of their lives and some of them really struggle to put those things down. I have a client right now who really struggles to do anything and take initiative to do anything during his free time other than being on electronics. So if he's on his PlayStation, he's Netflix binging, he's on his cell phone constantly. And trying to get him to unplug and set some boundaries around that and get outside and exercise and pursue some other hobbies can be pretty challenging.

Jeff Harding:
Oh, and I've heard, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard that the part of the brain that's affected by working, spending time on the iPhone or electronic devices is the same part of the brain that's affected when you take some hallucinogenics or some of the strong narcotics. Is that true?

Mike Hench :
Yeah. I mean if you look at really anything that creates pleasure in the brain is going to spike dopamine, which is those pleasure receptors in our brain. And when that becomes outside of what's normative or natural, that's where we look at things becoming more addictive and really anything that's pleasurable can be addictive and create problems that way. So getting an individual to be able to just experience life without those more unnatural ways to induce dopamine is a big problem [crosstalk 00:13:46]-

Michelle Graves:
Well, let's talk about that for a minute too, because, in your bio, a lot of your history is really a therapy that's geared towards outdoor. You worked in wilderness therapy and you've talked a bit to me about the benefits of therapeutic measures in nature. So what are your thoughts on that?

Mike Hench :
Yeah, there's a book that came out about a decade ago, it's called Nature Deficit Disorder and I really like the title of that. Kids just aren't getting outside like we used to-

Michelle Graves:
Or when they get outside, they don't look up from their phones, right?

Mike Hench :
Right. Part of the work I like to do, I practice a little, I try to practice a lot of dialect behavior therapy in the work I do. A lot of that's based around mindfulness. And one of the exercises I like to do to get an individual in that mindful place is to go outside and focus on five different things that they see in their environment and then focus on, what are they seeing? What are they hearing? What are the smells?

Mike Hench :
Just to get into their senses and really connect with what's happening at the moment for them. Being out in the wilderness is a great place to do that, especially if your cell phone doesn't work.

Mike Hench :
Because your cell phone doesn't work. And being here in southern Utah, we don't have to go very far. We're really blessed. We can go out in places and it's nice to be able to unplug.

Jeff Harding:
It really is. And do the kids respond to that? Now, when you talk about mindfulness, you mean being aware, being in the here and now, being present and not somewhere else, but actually being where you are physically, mentally, where you are physical? Because with the electronic devices, we can be somewhere else mentally. Not where we are physically, but mindfulness is being aware of where you are right now and is... connecting with what's going on. So are you finding that that connects with the kids? Are they able to disconnect from the electronics and connect to the real world very easily?

Mike Hench :
No. I think there's some that might have that connection to nature and spend time outdoors. They were raised more that way. But a lot of them, it's hard to get them off the couch and out the door. Like, "Hey, let's go on a hike." A lot of times it's dragging them.

Jeff Harding:
They say, "Why would I go on a hike when I have a perfectly good couch here to sit on?"

Mike Hench :
Yeah, "I'd rather sit here and play my Xbox."

Michelle Graves:
So what has driven you to do the kind of therapy that you've done? How have you benefited personally from your work?

Mike Hench :
One of the things I learned in grad school, I remember one of my professors asked the question of, "What do you think your purpose or role is in a therapist?" And one of the individuals in my class said, "To help others feel happy." And he said, "No, your job is to help people experience all their emotions. Good ones, bad ones."

Jeff Harding:
Wow.

Mike Hench :
So I think that is something that I try to practice in my own life, that awareness. And really taking into consideration there are so many things we can use to deflect our feelings and our emotions and numb ourselves. So really trying to be aware of those things. I think another big factor for me as a therapist has been, which I really appreciate is non-judgment.

Mike Hench :
Everyone carries around trauma. Everyone carries around things. You look at Robin Williams and smiling face and what was going on for him internally. And it's just treating people well because you just never know what's going on.

Jeff Harding:
That's true. I mean, they'll sing about until you walk a mile in their shoes, you don't really know what's going on. It's very true. And so how can we judge somebody until we've walked a mile in their shoes? And frankly, a lot of people don't want to walk a mile in their shoes because my problems are insignificant compared to theirs, I'm sure.

Michelle Graves:
Well, and just having that safe person that you can voice it to in the way of a therapist or a good personal friend or just that safety zone where you can start to discover what those problems are and then just speaking them probably does a lot to help process and work through some of the things that people are going through. So along with that line, give us some components of ... I mean there is a lot of mental illness. We all suffer in some way. We're all susceptible to mental illness. Some-

Jeff Harding:
Some actually enjoy their mental illness. I'm probably one of those, "Don't worry about me. I'm not suffering with ... I'm enjoying it. You're welcome to come along for the ride if you want, but I'm going to keep doing this."

Michelle Graves:
Well, yeah. I mean, so we all have that day where we feel ... Every day is a different day. We feel ups and downs and things like that. I mean I know it's hard to generalize, but what are some key components for maintaining your mental health? And I know you have to talk from a broad spectrum, but what are some things that we can do?

Mike Hench :
Well, we've talked about some of them. Exercise I think is probably the number one, and it's not expensive to treat mental illness. It's a proven fact that it's a great ... number one way to treat depression and anxiety, get outside and exercise. Food, we talked about that as well.

Mike Hench :
I think one of the biggest things though is connectivity and relationships. We are wired as humans to connect with other people. And loneliness is a big issue for a lot of people. We need each other. We need people that we can confide in and trust and be able to talk to. And if you don't have someone in your life like that, then hire a therapist.

Jeff Harding:
So just for a second, I want us to take a step back and say what happens if you try to repress these feelings or just try to deal with it? What are some of the physiological or psychological effects that that can have on your body, on your person?

Mike Hench :
Well, a lot of times that repression often can lead to addiction. Because of a lot of times-

Jeff Harding:
Right, self-medicating.

Mike Hench :
... that's the coping mechanism, but it bleeds out. It bleeds out. Those were those repressed emotions and experiences, and to a higher degree, trauma that people experience, if it's not dealt with can really bleed out into other relationships.

Michelle Graves:
It's manifested in other ways.

Jeff Harding:
And that's what I was hoping you'd say, is just holding it in. It's not just going to go away. There will be some symptoms that will re-manifest in one way or another if you just try to repress it and try to man up and just, "I'm going to tough it out." But it doesn't happen.

Mike Hench :
No, that's right. I mean, we're seeing an increase in suicide. I mean, just reading this morning a statistic that from age 10 to 39, the number two leading cause of death is suicide.

Michelle Graves:
Which is crazy. I mean, such a preventable thing. But when you're suffering from trauma or suppressed mental health, I mean, what do you do? What do you recommend? I mean, the steps to take?

Mike Hench :
Well, I think the first step is really, it's important to talk about it. I mean a lot of those individuals a lot of times feel disconnected and lonely.

Michelle Graves:
And then talk about once you let it out, is that healing within itself or how do you heal from a trauma that you've now been able to speak about?

Mike Hench :
Well, when we talk about trauma, trauma's actually felt and experienced in our bodies. So a lot of the work on trauma now, and it's like we've learned in psychotherapy that actually talking about trauma and bringing up a lot of those emotions and feelings from the past is not actually a very helpful way to deal with trauma, but things that actually ... Yoga and Tai Chi and exercise can be really, actually, pretty powerful ways to connect with the body and head trauma.

Michelle Graves:
Oh, interesting.

Jeff Harding:
It is interesting because for so long that was the thing. You go back and revisit and revisit and revisit until it no longer hurts. But the truth is, is that-

Mike Hench :
Re-traumatize.

Jeff Harding:
Yeah, you're just re-hurting yourself. So it's like picking the scab. If you keep picking the scab it's never going to heal.

Michelle Graves:
I love the component though, that mental health is so related to an active life. Really, just a healthy environment, being food, activity, fresh air, those things, how big a difference they can make. I think there's a lot of hope in that because it's accessible to all of us if we just put a little bit of work into it.

Jeff Harding:
Right. So, Mike, we are running out of time and you've been a great guest. We appreciate you being here. But just a quick question, in a minute or so, what would you say to somebody who's sitting on the couch right now thinking about either being active or seeking professional help, what would you say to them to motivate them and get them to actually get off the couch and do something about it?

Mike Hench :
Unfortunately, I think a lot of people reach the point where they can't tolerate it any longer. And I think being more preventive, being in a place where you're recognizing you're stuck, things aren't improving. It can start with doing some writing, maybe reading some self-help just to kind of get that process happening.

Mike Hench :
And then eventually that's where we come in and hopefully, it can be helpful. I mean I should also talk about medication. Medication is also ... Some mental illness can be part of helping alter the brain chemistry so that you can feel better.

Jeff Harding:
So what I hear you saying though is be proactive?

Mike Hench :
Yeah.

Jeff Harding:
I mean you have to get up and do something.

Mike Hench :
Yeah, which can be hard, especially when you're looking at depression because-

Jeff Harding:
Well, it really is.

Mike Hench :
You're miserable, but you're comfortable in that misery. So getting up can be challenging. That's where loved ones can come in too and intervene. Try to help.

Michelle Graves:
Great Advice.

Jeff Harding:
Well Mike, thank you so much for joining us. You've been a great guest and we've learned a lot about mental health and the importance of it.

Mike Hench :
My pleasure. Thank you.

Jeff Harding:
And we'd like to thank you for joining us and we would like to remind you to join us each and every Thursday at 5:30 PM for the Huntsman World Senior Games, Active Life on St. George News Radio 1415 AM. You can also listen to this or any of the other past shows at www.seniorgames.net. You can also subscribe to our podcast. Just search for Huntsman World Senior Games, Active Life in Google play store or on the iTunes and subscribe.

Jeff Harding:
And Michelle, 2019 is flying by. We already have over 5500 athletes signed up to participate. Pickleball bowling has reached participation caps, but the good news is we still have 30 other sports that are still open. Just go to www.seniorgames.net and click on register or call the office at 1-800-562-1268. It's just that easy, isn't it Michelle?

Michelle Graves:
It is. Let's do it.

Jeff Harding:
In fact, you've done it.

Michelle Graves:
I've done it. I am going to be in the games for the first time this year. Because I have that magical birthday-

Jeff Harding:
You've reached that magical age of 50, so you can participate.

Michelle Graves:
I am looking forward to it.

Jeff Harding:
Well, we're glad that you finally got there because we were a little worried about it for a while there.

Michelle Graves:
It's been a long time coming, is that what you're saying? I've been looking my age for much longer-

Jeff Harding:
No, we've just been waiting 50 years for you to reach it. So it's good to have you there.

Michelle Graves:
I'm really happy to be there. And we've added trail running and that's going to be the sport that I participate in this year. Because we don't have a lot of time to do everything as I would like to, but this is good.

Jeff Harding:
And the nice thing about the running events, whether it be trail running or the 5K or the 10K is it's just a two or three-hour block out of the day. It's not the whole day for us, for staffers.

Michelle Graves:
Right. Because we have 20 hours worth of work to do a day.

Jeff Harding:
Yeah, it's good.

Michelle Graves:
But, it's going to be really fun to participate.

Jeff Harding:
Well, Michelle, that is all the time we have, but I do have a quote for the day. It's, "Stress, anxiety, and depression are caused when we live to please others." And that's Paulo Coelho that said that and I couldn't agree with him more.

Michelle Graves:
Great author. Great quote. Thanks, Jeff. It's been fun.

Jeff Harding:
So until next time, stay active everyone.