Mental Health Awareness

May 24, 2022

May is Mental Health Awareness month, but what does that actually mean? What are the signs of decaying or problematic mental health? What does actual self-care look like? And who can you talk to if you’re struggling with mental health? This episode of the Lady Lawyer League podcast features Jen Sparrock and Tia Manning, two specialists in the field of mental health, as they discuss mental health awareness from a personal and professional perspective.


Susan Reff: May is Mental Health Awareness Month. On today’s podcast, we will be talking about general mental health awareness and how words matter. We are talking with special guests Jen Spark and Tia Manning.

Intro: Welcome to the Lady Lawyer League podcast. They are a league of lady lawyers in an all-female law firm in Omaha, Nebraska, called Hightower Reff Law. On this podcast, you’ll hear stories of what it’s like to be a lady lawyer and an entrepreneur. Now it’s time to talk about the law, share real-life stories about representing clients and discuss the current events of the week. It’s the Lady Lawyer League podcast with Susan Reff and Tracy Hightower-Henne.

Susan: All right, Jen and Tia. Welcome to our podcast. Tia, you are now an expert. Welcome back. Thank you so much.

Susan: She’s going to get a punch card if she keeps coming.

Tia Manning: I’ll take it. I’ll take it.

Susan: Oh, what are we going to give her on the 10th free thing?

Susan: She could just have an office here, maybe.

Susan: No, she wants a coffee mug with the name on it.

Tia: Coffee and an office. Okay.

Susan: Okay. All of the above.

Jen Sparrock: How about special parking?

Susan: Oh, yeah. Special parking. Special parking. Great.

Susan: You can have it, too, Jen.

Jen: That’s nice. Yeah, that’ll make me come back.

Susan: Well, Jen, tell us who you are and why you’re here for Mental Health Awareness Month.

Jen: Absolutely. So, I have spent my entire career working in one way or another connected to mental health by profession. I’m a licensed and independent clinical social worker, which is a mouthful of stuff, but I’ve had the opportunity to work both in the hospital environment and in community-based mental health care, working primarily with adults, a little bit with kids when I was younger. And right now I work for Nebraska Medicine and I manage their psychiatric emergency services that’s been open for about 18 months. And I am a volunteer with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And I really enjoy being able to connect with folks in the community and provide education and awareness so that we can prevent what really is a public health issue.

Susan: Awesome. And we really love doing this podcast just so we can just talk about things and have knowledge and really bring out the awareness of the different things. So this is great to be able to do this in May for Mental Health Awareness Month. So thank you for being here.

Jen: Absolutely.

Susan: So, Tia, tell us about you.

Tia: So my name is Tia Manning. I am a licensed mental health therapist. I’ve been in the field since 2006 in some capacity. And so specifically, mental health is something that not only has impacted me personally, but also folks that I work with on the regular. And so recently, actually within the last two years, I lost somebody that I was seeing in a one-on-one to suicide. And so doing a lot of outreach and being more involved in suicide prevention and suicide awareness is something that I’m really passionate about.

Susan: And both of you are involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, too. Yeah. Yes. Tell us about that.

Jen: Well, you know, my involvement with FSP was really from attending one of their walks. They do an annual Walk Out of the Darkness walk during September, which is Suicide Awareness Month. And it was a really great way for me to see how people can come together in spite of a loss that’s really traumatic for a family and a community and bring hope to people and healing. And so that was something I really was looking for, was a way that I could get connected and use some of my mental health experience, but in a really different way within the community.

Susan: So yeah, what about you, Tia? How are you involved in AFSP and I was going to say there are a lot of initials in this room, right, like and a lot of smart people in this room. So I appreciate that. It’s really great.

Tia: So I got involved. So after the person I was working with died by suicide, I was looking for like resources, right? Because we’re taught to just keep going and it felt lonely, it felt isolating. There was a lot of things that were going on and I stumbled upon AFSP. They were offering like a community outreach training that weekend. And so I’ve been involved ever since. And so that is just, it’s been a very, I will say that AFSP has changed my life for sure, because, yeah, I took that pretty hard.

Susan: So yeah.

Jen: And I think being somebody who works in this field as a vocation, there’s the work part. And while it is similar doing the suicide prevention piece as a volunteer, I get to see things in a really different way, in a really grassroots way, and know that the things that we’re doing really make a difference. And we hear that and we see that with folks that we have the opportunity to meet. Some of my favorite things that we get to do are programs in education and being able to go out in the community and see people at a hockey game or at a sporting event or at the tattoo convention, which isn’t something I would ever do on my own for my, in my own free time. But it’s been a great way to just really see how when we talk about mental health, we all have it. It’s not like, oh, Tia, she’s got mental health, but I don’t. Like we all have mental health and it’s really more how are we doing in a period in time in our life and providing people with some normalization of what it looks like to take care of our mental health and including those of us in the business. Yeah.

Susan: So and we talk a lot about that in our office as practitioners in the legal community and certainly in your professions as well, is really helping people through very difficult situations and not internalizing that ourselves, but still being able to care. I want to say give a shit, right? So being able to give a shit about our clients but not internalizing that and then transferring as well and how we deal with that. So we talk in our office a lot about normalizing therapy and let’s talk about it. I just went to my therapist yesterday and I think she’s great, right. And that it’s not a secret and it’s not something that we should ever be ashamed of, that we work through therapy as people who are helping other people too. Yeah.

Susan: And you don’t have to have something really severe to need some of that assistance and some of that balance to help you feel the best you can feel.

Tia: Absolutely. I think we live in a society that is very, like we strive on, like, numbers and how much we can produce. Right. And so that idea of self-care and taking that moment to catch your breath and do all the things, we internalize that as like I’m being selfish because there’s other stuff I need to do that will validate my self-worth and, but then not, but also realizing part of that too is we don’t have anything left to give. Then what is that going to look like for the other side, too? So making sure that we’re uplifting and I’m, as a therapist myself, also realizing that as I’ve been in this field longer and longer, therapy looks different to everybody. And healing. Yeah, looks different to everybody. So what may work good on one-on-one therapy for some folks. Maybe it’s also incorporating yoga. Maybe it’s also incorporating like sound baths, all these other alternative type things that we are now being introduced into when we’re doing therapy and stuff like that with healing.

Susan: So we live in this world now, I think, where there’s a lot of talk about self-care. And self-care is a little different than mental health care, though, isn’t it? I mean, or am I confused on this or how would you as the expert?

Jen: I think it’s inclusive. Right. And so I think one of the easiest ways, if we think about this, as you say, mental health is health. And so if we’re taking care of ourselves, that’s going to help our physical health and it’s going to help our mental health. And they play together. If I don’t get adequate sleep, like I usually don’t do, I’m not as productive at work. But it also can impact my thoughts. If I go too long without good sleep, then I start having negative thoughts and I just am not as positive, which usually I’m a pretty positive person. You know, I really liked what you were saying of you don’t have to go to therapy because you have this major thing that happens. So a lot of times I’ll try to equate for folks what would be a parallel in the physical health arena to that. So if you had a spot that looked funny on your skin or if you were having some kind of a pain in your chest, or if you were having like congestion that didn’t go away or a cough that was getting worse, you wouldn’t wait until like you coughed up a lung to go to the doctor.

Jen: You would probably go to the doctor and say, “Gosh, I’ve had this cough. It’s kind of been here for a bit and it hasn’t resolved itself.” And I think those are the same things we can apply when we think of going to therapy or seeking help with our mental health of, you know, I’ve just been having some of these weird things in my head lately or I haven’t been able to sleep or, you know, I lost my job and I’m really struggling because I feel like I’ve been a real failure to my family. Those are all things that are okay to talk about with somebody else. And it gives us perspective. You know, we talk about the conversations that we have in our head sometimes and those negative messages that we give. And one of the most important things I think we can do is share that with other people because they can give us perspective, or we just none of us have the ability to be objective about our own thoughts all of the time.

Susan: Absolutely. Yeah, I was having a good day yesterday. And so when I had my therapy appointment come up, I thought, I don’t really need to go. What am I going to talk about? So I go and I say, I’m having a pretty good day. I don’t know what to talk about. And she’s like, she pulls her folder out and she’s like, I know we can talk about this thing that we didn’t talk about last time, you know? And so it’s like even when you’re having good days, that self-care is really important.

Susan: So when I go to therapy, my therapy is I hear about when other people go to therapy and they tell me, well, I have some homework or I have these things I’m supposed to be looking for and working on and and I’m like, I just go and blab for literally like the whole time. The therapist just says “Go.” For 49 minutes and I will run work, personal, home, physical, I’ll loop it all together. And then at the end she’s like, How do you feel? I’m like, Great. And someone said to me, “Your therapist is a place to put all your thoughts that’s safe, not judgmental, not giving you action. You know, maybe you don’t need those action tools. Maybe you just need somewhere to put all that stuff that’s in your head.” And I was like, oh, I’m going to keep going. I’m not stopping. Now, you only have one minute left, Susan. And then I start talking faster and faster and faster and faster. I’m getting all my money’s worth. That’s right. But, yeah, I mean, and, like, just to say, therapy looks different for everybody, right?

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. And what the other part I tell people is just like if you’re going to find a new person to do your hair like the first time, like you might go, “Oh, this really stinks,” but you have to kind of get to know each other and like, oh, I wish that was a little bit blonder here. I wish you had cut it a little bit shorter. They’re like, you have to communicate those things to your therapist or find a new one. And that’s okay, too, because it’s about fit. And so you wouldn’t think about continuing to go to a hairdresser that you didn’t like what they were doing with your hair. It just means it’s not a good fit.

Susan: Susan knows about this. I don’t have long-term relationships with hair people in general. Maybe I should talk to my therapist about it. Yeah. I don’t give you, I don’t give my hair people very many second chances.

Jen: I see.

Susan: Because it’s, we could talk about that. That should be an episode. You have 50 minutes.

Tia: And I think you bring up a good point. Right. Like not giving people too many chances. I have people that I see that tried a therapist for a year and we just didn’t get along. And it’s like so part of that is advocating for yourself and making sure that you mix well and may come a time in your life. It worked well in this situation. Oh, yeah, but it’s time to change. Yeah, that’s okay.

Susan: And therapists don’t get mad if you don’t jive with them, right? Right. Like, I think that would be a problem if they were like, well, wait, I want to be your therapist, but you don’t want me to be your therapist. Yeah. Move on and yeah, find what works for you. Certainly. Well, the other thing that we really want to talk about is words matter and we talk about that a lot in a lot of our podcasts. And I think that when we think about words matter, what are some of those things that we can take away from this episode and have listeners really understand what we should be changing when we talk about mental health?

Jen: So we hear the word stigma attached a lot of times to mental health issues. And what really that is, is judgment. And it’s somehow saying that there’s something wrong with the person who is having that experience and who is having that mental health challenge. And we wouldn’t do that again if somebody was talking about their cancer or something else. And so the words that we use are really powerful and they make a difference in that person’s choice to continue to seek the help that they need. So there’s the obvious ones, like crazy and things like that, that we don’t want to do that, that not only for that person, but we never know who is around us. So if you’re in the work area and you make a reference like that, even if you think that person with you doesn’t, it doesn’t mean there aren’t people around you that have a mental health issue or they have a family member that has a mental health concern. And so being mindful about how that can be affirming and uplifting or not and the energy that comes out of those words, how different does it feel if I say to you, “Well, what’s wrong with you?” What’s wrong versus tell me about what happened? Whoa, because if something’s wrong with you, then you’re the person who’s to blame, right? And it’s your job to fix whatever that broken thing is versus tell me about what happened to you. I’m inviting you in, and I want to be a part of trying to help you heal from whatever that is.

Tia: I like that. I think that’s important too. Because I also think what we tend to do is because of our own discomfort, we’re always trying to put the words back on somebody else. Like that example where you gave of what’s wrong with you? Because we oftentimes are like, oh, again, we go back to we’re just pushing, we’re pushing the grind. And so although I care about you, I’m just trying to just, you tell me and then I’ll see what I have, what I have capacity to hold from there. And so being more intentional with when we honestly say, “Tell me what happened to you,” sitting with that person and sharing that space and holding that space from a very legitimate place. Right. That can be so powerful.

Susan: And listening to them when you ask the question, too. I think a lot of people are okay at knowing a good question to ask, but then not actually sitting and listening in a way that, maybe they’re not listening to respond, too.

Jen: Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good point because I think in general, we care about people. I don’t think people generally show up to be a jerk, but I think we get uncomfortable with certain things. And so then we want to hurry it along. And there’s a difference between listening to understand and listening to hear and listening to respond. Like, I got to think of the next thing I’m going to say to that person. So and I think it’s because we don’t know. So then it’s like, oh, we get nervous and you know.

Susan: Or I think people think if they’re going to ask the question that they then as the listener need to give some sort of advice. Right. And that’s just, I don’t think, necessary. One of the things, you know, in doing primarily divorce work, when our clients are going through a traumatic period in their life of ending a marriage, separating their family, having to move out of a home, maybe talking about bankruptcy, all of these things, I can listen. By all means, I will listen. But I don’t, I’m not good at giving the therapy advice. Right. I can give legal advice, but then I get sometimes uncomfortable going, like I’m supposed to give them an answer. You know, this is why they’re telling me that. And I think if we can be really cognizant in saying, like, “I hear you, but let’s get you to a person that can help you.” And that’s not in my wheelhouse.

Susan: And I like what you said, Jen, about mental health is health. And so there’s no judgment, but there’s also no, like, when people are just, let’s say they’re feeling depressed or they’re feeling very, very down or hopeless, people say “Snap out of it” or “Do something that makes you feel happy.” Like they’ve already tried all those, like, simple ideas. Like it’s, it’s like saying to someone who has the flu, “Well, if you just wake up on the right side of the bed tomorrow, you’ll be better” like that. There’s no, like, just instant fix, instant better, you know. And I think with mental health, we think it’s just a mood or, you know, I’m a little tired today, so I’m going to be quieter and I’m going to not be my outgoing self, which happens. That’s not mental health. That’s just my mood today, you know. But people who are depressed are like, they can’t snap out of it. If they could, they would. I mean, come on, let’s write. That’s pretty simple.

Jen: Yeah.

Tia: And I think too that you make a great, so this made me think of in the African-American community as we relate it to mental health. The big thing is not to seek help, take it to church, take it to your friends, take it stay out of the therapist thing because it’s a sign of weakness. And so reiterating like how important it is that we all may go through things that would warrant that we need to talk to somebody or other resources. And it’s okay that the person that is providing support isn’t necessarily a part of your church, right?

Susan: So there can be cultural differences. The stigma that we talk about, too. Yeah. And I think, so how can, how could we as attorneys or we as community people, leaders, like how can we help people if we see some struggles or if we suspect or someone even shares some small pieces of their mental health with us?

Jen: You know, I think one of the things that is really okay, and you were talking about this when you’re working with your clients, is affirming the experience and say, “That’s really hard. That’s really hard.” And that goes a long way because what you’re doing is you’re validating what that person’s experience is, especially if they’ve had other people in their life that have maybe unknowingly, I don’t know that people do this on purpose, but, you know, said, “Just snap out of it” or “What’s wrong with you?” Or “If you would just …” and that doesn’t affirm. It doesn’t pull the person in; it pushes the person away. And so I think being able to validate somebody and also thanking somebody for saying that’s really hard to share that and thanks for trusting me and having the courage to say it. And then you can partner with that person about how they might get some help. I think we tend to get nervous and jump to the very end of the spectrum of things that we should do. And there’s a whole library. We, if somebody has an infected toe, you don’t cut the toe off first, right? So you think of other things that you can do to try and treat the symptoms of that. Yeah. So if you’re not sleeping well, let’s figure out how we can help you get some better sleep because we know your health is going to be impacted if you aren’t sleeping well. And then what are those underlying things that are really causing you to not sleep well? And we can talk about those things too. Yeah.

Tia: I think, too, is going off. What Jen was saying is asking them, how can I support you? Because when sometimes what we do is we’re so caught up at the end. So I’m going to get you all these resources and this what we’re going to do and the person’s like, “Wait, I feel better?” Just sharing that with you. Can we revisit this in at a later time or something like that?

Susan: Yeah. And somebody might just say, you know, just you listening was good enough for now. And knowing that you heard me, maybe in the future, if I need you again, I’ll say, you know something I’ve said to clients when they tell me they’re really tough, stressful, whatever it is. And I say, you know, that was probably very hard to say out loud. I will say, and tell me if this is wrong. I will say, “Are you talking to a professional about this?” Is that okay to say?

Jen: I think it’s okay to say there’s never a wrong thing. Right. And sometimes you’re giving somebody a thought that they didn’t even know was there and you’re validating. I think there’s this thing we do, it’s sort of like this comparative, like, burden of my husband and I do this a lot in the morning. I’ll wake up in the morning, be like, “Oh, I really slept bad last night. Well, you sleep bad. And then he starts humming.” And it’s like we’re trying to one up each other on who had the worst night of sleep. And I’m like.

Susan: Wait, my husband does that too. Yeah. And I’m like, okay, why do we do stuff like that?

Jen: I think because somehow we feel like we have to justify. And so but really, you know what? We both had a bad night’s sleep. Absolutely right. So we don’t have to sort of, like, justify the bad thing. And my bad thing is, and as bad as your bad thing, like, they both suck, right? So how are we going to support each other in that thing? And so I think that when you say that to somebody, like have you thought about seeing a professional? I think it affirms again that that’s okay to do, not only because of stigma, but because you’re worth it and you deserve to feel better. And I think we sit in that muck sometimes because we say, well, I don’t have it bad enough.

Susan: Yes. Well, and it’s interesting, though, I like how you say that, Susan, you know, asking a question in that way, because sometimes I get in a moment where I’ll just blurt out to the client, “I think you should see a therapist.” And I, because that’s, again, my uncomfortableness of being in the moment and not knowing what to say and knowing that, like I can listen, but I can’t help you. And it’s, I like that of asking that question. And again, the word therapy and therapist have the stigma as opposed to a professional. Maybe it’s a different professional that they need to see. But we often have clients that will say, “I don’t need to see a therapist, my spouse needs to see the therapist.” None of this is my fault, right? When we’re talking about.

Susan: I’m not crazy, they’re crazy. And so we often get pushback and then clients can get very upset with us by even the mention that they might need to see a professional, too.

Jen: Yeah.

Susan: And then the clients who have the other person diagnosed, you know, and there can be mental health on both sides in a case for sure. And because, and it’s usually we get, well they’re a narcissist and, OK maybe they are or maybe they have those tendencies. But what’s going on with you, like because we can’t control them we can’t change them. If we could change other people like really that would be great. I’m sure you two would be so happy. I’ll get my wand out. I probably, people who work in mental health, attorneys, doctors, who else would really want to change everybody? Like just with the snap of a finger, you know, like, yep, your mental health problem is gone now and your divorce, all those issues, they’re just cleared up. People think that we can do that, right?

Tia: I think it’s easy to focus on others than ourselves. So when we say they have narcissism and it’s like, okay, I understand that and maybe I’ll sit with that, but I also want you to internalize and look. With the more we look at everybody else, the less likely we have to look at ourselves because it’s them, not us.

Jen: And the piece that goes along with that is then the way we can empower ourselves by, we know we can’t change that external factor or how that person is. We, though, have the ability to change how we’re going to respond to those things that are beyond our control and that maybe I’m leaving this person or that maybe I’m not going to react to them anymore, or I’m going to block this person’s number because they keep harassing me or whatever. Those things are that aren’t affirming to our own mental health. So it’s not about blaming, it’s about, and that’s the part with self-care, that’s I’m taking care of myself and this is what I need right now. You know, a year ago there was so much going on in my workplace and that was one of the things that was really impacting my sleep. And I turn my notifications off on my email, on my phone, and that was like a game changer for me because it’s still there. I check it often, but at least I wasn’t getting that kind of constant stimulation of, “Oh, my gosh. Now there’s another email. What do I need to do? What’s going wrong?” And so they don’t have to be big things that we do to take care of ourselves. But there are things that can have a big impact in how we’re feeling about things.

Susan: Yeah. So your program at the Med Center started during the pandemic?

Jen: It did.

Susan: Was that on purpose?

Jen: Absolutely not. I really would not encourage anybody to start.

Susan: A huge program.

Jen: It was obviously in the pandemic.

Susan: It was.

Jen: Yeah, it was. But I will tell you, hiring a whole team of people via Zoom was an interesting experience. Doing all of our orientation and all of the delays that happened because of supply chain things and all of those kinds of, I mean, the world. Things were happening with that. But I think it’s, now that we’re sort of in a different space. I think it’s, I look back on that and go, okay, well, we got to have a little more time for preparing for things. And we were able to look at things in a different way because we weren’t able to do things as much face-to-face. So I think that was a challenge. But, you know, we’ve hopefully rose to the occasion and are hopefully doing good things for our community.

Susan: Well, as we sort of wrap up, I just I want one other topic, because as a legal podcast and the legal community, what are some of your thoughts on education about mental health? When we talk about the legal community, you know, we always try, we struggle a lot with like having judges understand mental health. We also do criminal defense work in our office, too. So, you know, like how that wraps in to criminal defense work, family law, custody, all those things. What are some needs that you think we may have in Nebraska or where we’re doing really well at education about mental health? Or what are some things that you think we could do better at? I totally put you on the spot.

Tia: We’re perfect.

Susan: We are not perfect.

Jen: Positive.

Susan: Positive? No. Well, one thing we had chatted about is that we don’t get training in how to from the legal.

Jen: Yeah, for sure. Well, you know, I think what we were talking about, too, is like not only taking care of ourselves, but having a good understanding of that. Again, everybody has mental health. It’s not like some people have it and some people don’t. And so it is not a crime to have a mental health condition. And we oftentimes have criminalized, yes, things that happen that are a direct result of a mental health or substance use problem that somebody may have or a challenge that they may have. I think our community has really done some amazing things, too. I think the CIT training that the law enforcement has done, which is critical incident training, where they invest 40 hours a week and they volunteer to do it so that they can know better how to intervene with somebody that might be experiencing a mental health crisis. I think that speaks volumes to what Omaha is trying to do to support people who have mental health challenges.

Susan: You raise your hand, meaning you are involved in this. She was like giving a fist bump.

Tia: Like I have been doing that for what? Like I think two years and so I help run the scenarios on and so yeah, I agree with that. That’s something that has been amazing to see. I also feel like we could do more outreach in certain pockets of the community that don’t necessarily always have access to mental health care. I think when you go down and so again, a lot of my experience is working with folks that are incarcerated in the access to mental health means upon release from whether it be jail, whether it be prison, anything like that is super limited. One, we have the long waitlist, but then also there’s a whole thing for another day in regards to what that looks like for mental health access when they’re on the inside. Right. Right. But I think overall, the education that we have with the community, because I think the more we can do that now, the more we can prepare for whatever the long term effects are from COVID, because we don’t know. And I feel like that is going to, in my personal opinion, I think in regards to mental health, this will be a conversation that will continue to evolve and need to be had.

Susan: Yeah, for sure. Well, so we always like to give our listeners some takeaways. And I think really one of the big things that we talked about is self care and that that can look different for different people. And, you know, just a reminder that that can be therapy or not therapy or meditation or going on a walk. But all of that includes self care and can be really important. The other thing that I really picked up a lot on is being affirming and validating folks who are having either a mental health crisis or when they come to you and are talking about their mental health needs. And that’s that’s something that I really learned a lot during this conversation. So, yeah.

Tia: I just want to put out there just real quick. This is my quick, my little plug. Being aware of what we’re consuming when we’re not at work I think is really big, like a lot of people. Like, I love a podcast, I will say, but when we’re listening to True Crime podcasts, watching all the documentaries, all of that, we’re consuming trauma. And that’s another way that we’re putting our body in harm, right? So being aware of that and going outside, maybe reading a book that has nothing to do with that coloring or something like that.

Susan: So if you watch a true crime documentary, then watch a Disney movie deal. Okay. All right. Sounds good. Well, thank you both. Thank you both for coming on the podcast today. And our next episode is going to be about suicide prevention. And we will see you all again.

Jen: Thank you. Thank you.

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