Dr. Phil Provides Insight and Helpful Resources to Manage Mental Health

Published On May 05, 2022

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[MUSIC PLAYING]
JOHN WHYTE
Welcome, everyone. I'm Doctor John Whyte, the chief medical officer at WebMD. We are finally seeing a continued decrease in the number of cases of COVID, certainly in terms of the number of hospitalizations and deaths. And it seems like, doesn't it, that we're returning to at least some sense of normal, or the next normal. People are starting to travel. They're going back to work.

But other people are struggling. They're having some challenges. We've addressed the physical aspects of the pandemic, but what about the mental health aspects of the pandemic? Joining me today is my good friend Dr. Phil McGraw. Dr. Phil, thanks for taking time today.

PHIL MCGRAW
Well, thanks for talking about this again, particularly the mental health aspects of this. And in fact, now, we're seeing such fallout from this, but you and I have been talking about this, really, from the beginning of this quarantine, knowing that this was coming.

JOHN WHYTE
Yeah, I want to give you some data and get your reaction to it. And it's depression tripled in the early 2020 months of the global pandemic, jumping from 8.5% before the pandemic to a staggering 27.8%. And now we're at nearly 32%. Nearly one out of every three people are having some mental health aspect as a result of the pandemic.

PHIL MCGRAW
I think we're seeing people that because they had a lot of time alone, a lot of time to reflect on their own thoughts, and had some existential crises and things about what was going on, that there were some things that came from the inside out. And then there was a lot of reactive depression of people losing their job, having financial problems, fear of the unknown, fear of the virus, lost loved ones, so much to react to in life that we're seeing all different kinds of depression across the board, all of it real.

And I think we're seeing a lot of people that are experiencing a degree of helplessness and saying what can I do to change this. And here's the thing. I think people don't know what to do about it, and I think there's a lot of shame involved, certainly with certain cultures. But I think we haven't shown people what the red flags are. And doctor, when I was in private practice, I saw a lot of people that didn't know they were depressed until they weren't.

They had spent so much of their life being depressed, and until it lifted, they said, I never knew that I was living under this cloud, under this burden, until I wasn't. So that told me that we weren't teaching people how to recognize the warning signs of so many different things, depression, anxiety, PTSD, so many of the different disorders. So people didn't know how to label it, which is why I think that, even though we're seeing one in three now, it's probably underreported.

JOHN WHYTE
Oh, you think it's even more than that.

PHIL MCGRAW
Certainly, if we're talking about AMI, we're saying any mental illness, I think it's underreported, for sure, because I think we have it taught people to recognize the red flags, the warning side, the symptoms so they can say this isn't just me having a bad day. This is actually chronic to the point that it is something that's treatable.

JOHN WHYTE
What do you think about screening tools, surveys, something called PH!-2, which you ask two questions about-- you can do it at home. Doctor's offices sometimes do it. Because people can say, Dr. Phil, OK, fatigue can be a warning sign and a symptom, right? Even pain can be a symptom. Sometimes it can be hard for people to distinguish what some of those warning signs and symptoms are. So help walk us through it.

How might they be able to recognize it in themselves or, Dr. Phil, in their loved ones because sometimes we don't have self-awareness.

PHIL MCGRAW
I think it's all about baseline, Dr. Whyte. I think you have to-- you can't just look at yourself or someone else in a freeze frame. I think you have to reflect on that person's baseline. What are they like, typically? And not just in a crisis, what are they like, typically? What is their general level of engagement, socially? What's their general level of energy, vocalization, participation? And if you're seeing a departure from that, that's more than just a day or two, then I think you can say all right, this is a significant departure from baseline.

And if you see that, then you have to say OK. This is where I think screening tools come in and are helpful because if nothing else, you're thinking about it actively. You're posing the question to yourself and doing a self-assessment and self inventory. And I'm not asking people to self-diagnose, but they're at least having that conversation with themselves. Is something out of balance with me here that maybe I should bring up to even my pastor, my general practitioner, a loved one that could give me feedback that tells me I need to ask for professional help, whether it's a hotline, a support group, anyone that can bring some objectivity to it?

JOHN WHYTE
What about the impact on communities of color? We know that it's often underdiagnosed, even though it's probably the same prevalence. There has been a historical bias that still exists in getting care. What can we do to address the impact, the disproportionate impact, on minority populations, as it relates to mental health?

PHIL MCGRAW
The incidence is pretty much the same, but that's where it stops because you may have about the same rate in Caucasian versus people of color, but the impact, it tends to last longer. It tends to be more disruptive with the populations when you're dealing with people of color. And we do know that 80% of the Black community will confess to being very concerned about the stigma.

80%, now, we know the stigma is alive and well across the board, but 80% are very concerned about the stigma, which means in addition to care being less accessible, they're less likely to assess the care if it is accessible.

JOHN WHYTE
Does that surprise you? It's 2022, we're still talking about stigma. Haven't we normalized the conversation yet about depression, about anxiety, about PTSD?

PHIL MCGRAW
Boy, you would think so, wouldn't you? But I do think there is a trust issue with certain populations where it just hasn't been as much a part of the narrative as it has in other parts of the community. And I think that's on us. I think unless we get into the schools-- and when I say schools, I mean the students and the parents. I think when the parents come for parent day and teacher conferences, we've got to have this narrative so they open the dialogue in the homes.

And If we don't do that, do we think it's going to be osmosis or television? We've got to constructively and proactively have this conversation so they recognize when their children are being bullied and are getting depressed, when they recognize that their children are being marginalized or falling behind and suffering in self-esteem. If we don't give them the warning signs, we cannot expect them to recognize it, and that's on us to put this in the curriculum.

And raising awareness is one thing, but putting it in the curriculum, putting the money behind it to train the educators to do it, and allowing time in the curriculum is what's necessary, or it's never going to happen.

JOHN WHYTE
A recent statistic from just about a week ago showed that anxiety and depression have surpassed drinking and drugs as the biggest public health issue to teens.

PHIL MCGRAW
Isn't that something?

JOHN WHYTE
Does that surprise you?

PHIL MCGRAW
Shocking.

JOHN WHYTE
That's the biggest public health issue. We're concerned about vaping, and we should be. And people talk about vaping, but is anyone talking about anxiety and depression in kids. And we talked about this before. A lot of parents will be like they don't want to go there. They don't want to think that something might be wrong with their child, but there's tremendous harm there.

PHIL MCGRAW
I think they don't want to go there because they don't know what to do when they get there if they sit down and say to their child are you having mood swings, are you having any suicidal ideation. And with these communities of color, with children between five and 12 years old, the suicide rate is twice what it is in the general population for kids five to 12. It's double. But the parents, I think they don't want to go there because they don't know what to say to them.

And if we don't give them the toolkit, if we don't give them the questions to ask, the resources to call on if they get the answers that trigger action, then they're going to avoid that out of anxiety. And if we don't give them the toolkit, they're not going to do it.

JOHN WHYTE
So what are the resources that we need to provide?

PHIL MCGRAW
I think we need to have more counselors in the schools, for one thing. And then we need to have a way that it can be accessed that end runs the stigma. Because if you've got a row of chairs in the hallway outside the counselor's office, the kids are not going to sit in them. There's got to be a way that can be accessed by the children with some anonymity so they don't feel like they've got a red S on their chest.

But we've got to have more counselors and easier accessibility to those counselors. And I do think that telehealth is so important. Particularly, you get into the rural communities, and over half of them don't have a psychiatrist. I think even more don't even have a psychiatric nurse. So they're just simply-- the resources aren't there, but with technology it can be there and from the anonymity of their own home, their own bedroom, with a parent there or not there.

Depending on the circumstance, they can have quality, board certified, and licensed care at their fingertips. I think that's very important, and I think that the same thing is true with support groups. They can be part of a support group with anonymity. And making them aware of these hotlines that they can call if they really feel in crisis. I think it's so important for these adults and children both to understand when you call one of these hotlines, whether it's a suicide hotline or just a crisis hotline, in general, they need to understand you're not going to be forced to do something you don't want to do.

They're not going to trace your phone number and come kick your door down. They're not going to call your parents. They're not going to show up with the sheriff, and you're not burning a bridge when you call that number. They're there to listen. They're there to support. They're not going to force you to do something you're not ready to do.

JOHN WHYTE
So Dr. Phil, what's your advice to a listener who is seeing other people, they seem like their lives are back to normal, they're going out with friends, returning to work, they're starting to travel, and this person is just struggling a little? They feel uncertain. They feel uneasy. They don't feel they're ready to go back to the way it was for a variety of reasons, and they're having anxiety and depression. What's your advice for them today?

PHIL MCGRAW
I heard you say it over a year ago, and It. Really resonated with me when you said it. You said be patient with yourself. And that really impacted me when you said that because I am like charge the machine gun, let's get out there. But you said it well, and I've quoted you a number of times. And I think you're so right. We need to compare ourselves to ourselves. Look, compare yourself today with where you were yesterday or the day before.

Don't compare yourself to someone else because you're comparing your reality with their social mask. And they might be just as, or more, intimidated and anxious than you are. They're just putting a face on it. And you can't compare your reality with their social mask. You're going to lose every time. And I think it's important to compare yourself to yourself. And small changes add up to big results across time. And if today, you're having a hard time leaving the house, and tomorrow, you can walk down to the park, and the next day, you can go to work for half a day, and little changes across time, then pretty soon, you've behaved your way back to a normal momentum.

Be patient with yourself, but at the same time, don't allow yourself to stagnate, and don't allow yourself to regress.

JOHN WHYTE
That's right. And being able to ask for help is an important step in really a road to recovery and getting care. Dr. Phil, I want to thank you again for taking the time and helping provide some insights as to how you can deal with the mental health tsunami that really is upon us.

PHIL MCGRAW
And I'm so glad we are talking about it, and I hope people don't say this is really easy if you've got the money for a therapist and you can make that appointment. I want people to know that there are resources out there that you don't have to have money for private pay. There are support groups out there. There are these hotlines out there. There are these resources that we can list here, where people can reach out.

Go to your church. Go to your community mental health center. Don't decide they aren't there because they are.

JOHN WHYTE
That is a great point, and we'll have these listed here. And if you have questions, drop me a line. You can email me at [email protected]. Thanks for watching.