Dr. Claudia Finkelstein is Director of Wellness, Resilience and Vulnerable Populations at Michigan State University's renowned College of Human Medicine. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. She talks about our collective mental health as we cautiously emerge from the pandemic.
In a conversation last May, Dr. Finkelstein told me she would love for everybody to know how completely normal it is to feel completely abnormal right now.
“That's it in a nutshell. It happens to everybody. Sometimes you just can't feel like you have the enthusiasm to face the day. I think all of us go through periods of varying emotions. And it doesn't mean you're crazy if you're feeling anxious or worried or depressed. With everything, there's a range. Feeling symptoms of anxiety does not equal having an anxiety disorder. But having an anxiety disorder doesn't make you abnormal. You are among many. We've all got a little something.”
In that May 2020 conversation, Dr. Finkelstein added that an adage she lives by it that “it’s never all in your head and it's never all in your body. We have done a disservice in splitting our mental health and our physical health because they're intimately related to each other.”
Dr. Finkelstein talks about her five tips to help our emergence into a new normal.
“Do not forget joy, whimsy, and laughter.”
“Don’t be a jerk.”
"Remember what is my business, your business, and universal business, and respond accordingly."
“Find common ground.”
"Keep an eye on yourself and each other. Remember to heed the words of Bill and Ted and be excellent to each other."
She believes there are some good things that have come out of the pandemic.
“Keeping mental health in the public conversation is one of the very positive things. The access to telehealth is another huge bonus. Also just keeping the possibility of some quiet, reflective time. Many of us were so on-the-go every minute of the day that we didn't even have a moment to connect. And the parents of little kids and those with pets have had more time to spend with their loved ones. That is something that we should absolutely keep.”
How do we know when how we're feeling is more than normal ups and downs and we may need to seek professional help? How do we recognize this need in family and friends?
“It's not like an on or off switch. It's kind of a sliding scale. But big changes in sleep or appetite, a lot of bottles showing up in the recycling bin, those kinds of things sort of trigger your spidey sense. If you have a doubt about someone, it's worth checking.”
“The anxiety and depression and substance use levels that I've described are just cresting. People have been affected economically and financially. There are many milestones that have not been adequately celebrated. Weddings have been postponed. Loved ones have died. Grief takes some time to process. There are few people I know who have not been directly impacted in one way or another. Our collective grief is going to take a while.”
The key to Mental Health Awareness Month for Dr. Finkelstein is the self-reflective piece.
“Try to notice if you feel like you’re doing too much or too little. When is the last time you went outside? When’s the last time you laughed? How are you spending your limited time on Earth? I hope we continue to be more self-aware and keep an eye out for each other.”
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Russ White 0:00
Dr. Claudia Finkelstein is the director of wellness, resilience and vulnerable populations at Michigan State University's renowned College of human medicine. May is mental health awareness month. So it's great to welcome her back to MSU. today to talk about our collective mental health, as we cautiously emerge, hopefully, from the pandemic, Dr. Finkelstein, welcome back.
Claudia Finkelstein 0:26
Thank you so much for having me back.
Russ White 0:28
Before we get into some mental health issues, tell me more about wellness, resilience and vulnerable populations at the College of human medicine. What's sort of the mission there? What do you do?
Claudia Finkelstein 0:39
I'd be happy to. So I think that over the past few years, it has become abundantly clear that many physicians and health care workers have been burning out, and that this group has a great impact on the hundreds and 1000s of patients and family members that they see. So that was my initial area of interest. And I worked with Dr. Norman Beauchamp, our former dean, when we were both at the University of Washington, he recruited me here in 2018. So I'm coming up on my third anniversary here. And I've been figuring out how the university you know how the college works, and realizing it's not only the frontline health care providers who are burned out, the college has been through a lot of big changes, many for the better, but people are feeling stretched and tired and exhausted. And this is before the pandemic hit. So add the layer of the pandemic. And I think everyone needs a little bit of support and resilience.
Russ White 1:49
And I'm a big fan of Dr. Beauchamp. So maybe this is part of your answer, but what uh, first first attracted you to come to MSU?
Claudia Finkelstein 1:57
Well, number one was the possibility to start something fresh. You know, I think that a program did not exist here before. And so being able to begin something new is excellent. And then from a very personal resilience and wellness standpoint, I have a daughter here, a daughter in New York City, and my elderly parents in Montreal. So we're now a one timezone family. And I'm finding that Michigan is beautiful. Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Russ White 2:30
So glad you like it here. But so Claudia, tell me a little bit more reflect a bit as we hopefully, cautiously emerge into whatever this new normal is going to be, but reflect on our collective mental health right now.
Claudia Finkelstein 2:44
Well, part is my reflection. And Part two is you know, Kaiser Family Foundation has done some interesting survey work. And looking at the rates of anxiety and depression type symptoms in 2019 compared to now, there's been a huge bump. So anxiety and depression symptoms and substance use all on the rise. Interestingly, the suicide rate, I think it's complicated, but it has not risen to the extent that people were concerned about, so we're all doing a little worse than baseline. And our baseline wasn't so hot to begin with.
Russ White 3:30
And Claudia, we spoke a year ago, during Mental Health Awareness Month, you mentioned a couple of things I would like you to sort of repeat and talk about, again, you said, I would love for everybody to know how completely normal it is to feel completely abnormal right now.
Claudia Finkelstein 3:47
That's, I think that's it in a nutshell, right? I mean, it happens to everybody. Sometimes you just can't feel like you have the enthusiasm to feel that to face the day. I think. All of us go through periods of varying emotions. And it doesn't mean you're crazy. If you're feeling anxious, or worried, or depressed there, you know, with everything, there's a range, feeling symptoms of anxiety does not equal having an anxiety disorder. But having an anxiety disorder doesn't make you abnormal, you are among many. So I think that we've all got a little something.
Russ White 4:37
And one adage, you said you live by that it's never all in your head and it's never all in your body. You feel that we have done a disservice in splitting our mental health and our physical health because they're intimately related to each other. Let's talk about that a bit.
Claudia Finkelstein 4:53
Absolutely. I mean, the connection becomes really apparent when you move your body body and see how that affects your mind. I mean, that's the most simple concrete thing. So, for example, if you are feeling down and low and things are not quite right, and you put on a happy song, this is part of the whimsy in the five tips, you know, put on a happy song and just move as if no one is watching, you will immediately feel an improvement in your mood. So it's a two-way street. The same thing is when we are depressed or anxious, the body can feel terrible. Starting to notice that you have numerous unrelated physical complaints is one of the warning signs that things may not be great. You know, in terms of your your mental state, there's increasing scientific evidence of the pathways by which this occurs. So it's not just Hocus Pocus. I'll give you another example. If you have time. I mean, it's it's really interesting, but one of the one of the ways that we can immediately calm ourselves down, sounds terrible. But if you make a bowl of ice water and plunge your face into it, just for a few seconds, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system and then immediately begins to calm you down. counter intuitive, but more evidence that it's all interconnected.
Russ White 6:34
Very interesting, catching up with the MSU College of Human Medicine's Dr. Claudia Finkelstein as May is Mental Health Awareness month and Claudia, you started to mention your five tips. And let's kind of go through the your five tips for going back into the real world to help our reemergence and the first one you say is Do not forget joy, whimsy and laughter.
Claudia Finkelstein 6:57
Absolutely, you know, this is one that I'm guilty of all the time, I think many of us who wind up at at a university are very driven to do a great job to get results, we hold ourselves to very high standards. And sometimes we forget the the healing power of something completely ridiculously whimsical. And I was reminded of this when when our Dean actually mentioned having pool noodles at commencement, which didn't end up being true, but but you know, something a little bit light hearted, to again, change our channel, and it's it doesn't have to all be so serious, even in the middle of a national tragedy, really.
Russ White 7:48
you know, what do you mean, when you say Don't be a jerk?
Claudia Finkelstein 7:52
Well, you know, I had to edit that. And, and I just mean, you know, sometimes our own emotional state bubbles over and, and sprays the people around us. And what I mean is we should take care of our own business, right. And, and not, not inflict things on other people. So whether it's in traffic, you know, when somebody has their blinker on, you can choose to be kind and allow them in, or you can choose to be a jerk and accelerate, right. And so I think there are numerous times in life, where you could choose the path that is maybe a little less convenient for you, but kind. And so again, in the light hearted spirit, I mean, it's easy to remember, don't be a jerk, right? Harder to execute, though.
Russ White 8:47
True. Well, and speaking of business, you say, remember, what is my business, your business and universal business and respond accordingly.
Claudia Finkelstein 8:58
So what I mean by this is, sometimes we get so bent out of shape, about what someone else should be doing or thinking, right? And that's a waste of your own energy. It's like spinning the wheels, right? So if you're really annoyed at how your neighbor's lawn looks, it's it. That's their business, not your business, right, your business is managing your anger, or managing what you're going to do about it remembering not to be a jerk, right? And so and then if you're annoyed because the frost killed all your flowers, that's the universe that's also fruitless to be annoyed at. So it's sort of like a way of dividing into what do I actually have some control over and putting your limited energy towards where you have control instead of fuming over what the other guy should be doing. And which is a popular way.
Russ White 10:03
And you also suggest we try to find common ground. What do you mean there?
Claudia Finkelstein 10:09
So I think that's increasingly difficult these days, right. And I think this goes along with not being a jerk, instead of deciding that someone who voted a certain way or supported a certain cause is all wrong. Trying to peel back the layers, looking for what we all want, even if it's a conflict at work, you know, we want the students to be well educated, thriving human beings. Some accuse others of coddling the students, others approve of, you know, accuse too hard line. But the fundamental belief is we want them to go out there and be great citizens who are well prepared to face the world. So peeling back to the common goal may help us to find strategies that are mutually acceptable to achieve it.
Russ White 11:09
And Dr. Finkelstein, the fifth of your tips of reemerging into this new normal is keep an eye on yourself and each other remember to heed the words of Bill and Ted be excellent to each other.
Claudia Finkelstein 11:21
Yeah, be excellent to each other is really it's along the lines of Don't be a jerk, but with a little bit of extra, but the warning signs, you know, if if you notice yourself or a co worker, starting to slip in their personal grooming starting to not show up when they're supposed to show up, beginning to have very big mood swings or beginning to socially isolate. Just think, is this person, okay? And again, my business, your business, universal business, you don't but into their lives, but are you okay? Do you need anything? You know, there are all sorts of wonderful websites available. Now, the Nami, Nami is the National Alliance on Mental illness, they have a great website, they have a crisis line, there is that suicide hotline? Now that none of us know how to speak to each other anymore, you can text 741741 and someone will be there to counsel you by text. Also, we're so lucky on campus to have the excellent CAPS service for the students and EAP for the employees. So I think, look out for each other and, and get some help if you need it. And help may just be I haven't slept enough in the last week, and help maybe Oh, my gosh, I really need to talk to somebody because I feel like I'm on the ledge right now. And so the silver lining of the pandemic is that mental health is on everybody's lips these days. And so I believe some of the stigma is disappearing. And I would love that to be permanent, you know?
Russ White 13:20
Yes, indeed. I'm talking with Dr. Claudia Finkelstein on MSU Today, she directs wellness, resilience and vulnerable populations at MSU's College of Human Medicine. And Claudia, there are some good things that have come out of the pandemic that maybe we want to keep, no one complains about not having a commute and things like that some bad things, your thoughts on what maybe we keep and what maybe we jettison as we again, try to reach a new normal.
Claudia Finkelstein 13:48
So I think that that's a really valid point. And you know, as we were just saying, keeping mental health in the public conversation is one of the very positive things. I think the access to telehealth, I think, is another huge bonus because we have a huge rural underserved stretches not only for mental health resources, but for physical, you know, physicians, etc. So I think keeping that is great. I think also just keeping the possibility of some quiet, reflective time. Many of us were so on the go every minute of the day that we didn't even have a moment to connect. And so I think that is important. And just the final thing, the the parents of little kids and pets, having more time to spend with their loved ones is something that we should absolutely keep.
Russ White 14:58
And how do we know Claudia, when how we're feeling is more than normal ups and downs, and we may need to seek professional help. And how do we recognize this need in family and friends?
Claudia Finkelstein 15:11
Well, that's a good question. Because I think it's it's not like an on or off switch, right? It's kind of a sliding scale, but big changes in sleep or appetite. A lot of bottles showing up in the recycling bin, you know, things. Wait, wait, it sort of triggers your spidey sense, although, as I've said, you know, sliding makes it hard to notice sometimes. So I think if you have a doubt, it's worth checking.
Russ White 15:45
And describe what you mean by our collective mental health being the next pandemic?
Claudia Finkelstein 15:51
Well, I think there's big evidence of that, I think that the the anxiety and depression and substance use levels that I've described, you know, that were in the Kaiser Family Foundation study, are just cresting. People have been affected economically, financially. Tons of milestones that have not been adequately celebrated; weddings postponed, loved ones dying. I think grief takes some time to process. And I don't know about you, but there are a few people that I know that have not been directly impacted, in one way or another. So I think our collective grief is, is gonna take a while.
Russ White 16:43
And you've mentioned a couple, but are there some resources you might recommend for people to learn more about really anything we've been talking about?
Claudia Finkelstein 16:50
Well, I think that Nami, the Suicide Foundation, CAPS and EAP, very important. And I think that self-compassion is hugely, hugely important. And so just googling, mindful self-compassion, and looking, it's not a way to make yourself feel like oh, I can get away with anything. It's more like a There, there. I am human, they're human, a little bit of peace with yourself, for going through a really hard time and a hard hard way.
Russ White 17:31
And as we've said, May is Mental Health Awareness month as we sort of close here, just summarize what you'd like us to be more aware of?
Claudia Finkelstein 17:40
Well, I think the main summary is this self-reflective piece, right? And notice, Oh, am I doing this too much or too little? When's the last time I went outside? When's the last time I laughed? How am I spending my limited time on earth? Right. So So I would like us to keep the self awareness and keeping an eye out on each other. And when the guy's blinker is on, let him in.
Russ White 18:14
Claudia, thanks so much for joining me again and sharing your wisdom on our collective mental health.
Claudia Finkelstein 18:20
Russ White 18:22
That's Dr. Claudia Finkelstein, Director of Wellness, Resilience and Vulnerable populations at Michigan State University's renowned College of human medicine. And I'm Russ White, this is MSU Today.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai