Dr. Nii Addy speaking in a classroom at MCPHS.
Academic Innovation

Campus Life Invites Dr. Nii Addy to Speak about Mental Health and Wellness in 2022

Dr. Nii Addy speaking in a classroom at MCPHS.

MCPHS Center for Campus Life invited Dr. Nii Addy, a neuroscientist and professor at Yale University, to speak on February 22 about the importance of mental health and wellness in 2022.

The talk was part of the spring Cardinal Conversations, a speaker series dedicated to bridging students across healthcare disciplines to discuss global topics and their relation to the healthcare field.

Think About Your Community

"Community is really an opportunity for us to know each other, be known and interact with others," says Dr. Addy.

He asked the audience to think about the identity and communities that they are a part of.

"I think it is important for us to think about how we bring our full selves into certain spaces. There can be good reasons for showing parts of ourselves or not, but I think it's important for us to be conscious as we go through our day-to-day lives and activities," he says.

He explains that even though he has achieved a lot in his career, he still feels a sense of imposter syndrome.

"Depending on where I am operating, I still wonder, do I fit here, am I meeting those goals or am I an imposter in this space. That's not something that will jump out initially but it's still an aspect of who I am."

Own Your Identity Space

He explains that with time in his journey, he has been able to own those different identity spaces that he is a part of.

"I will say at this point, where I have arrived is that I have tried to be much more particular about bringing my full self into conversations and into spaces including being a Black scientist, including being a mental health advocate, including being a researcher, and also someone who is invested in diversity and inclusion, and anti-racism type of efforts as well," he says.

He also explains that when he mentions that he is a neuroscientist, it is usually a conversation starter.

"The statistics state that one in five adults in the United States is currently living with a mental illness," he says. "When you break it down to that level, I think all of us can think of people that we know--family members, or friends, or loved ones."

Adjust Your Expectations

As Dr. Addy meets with students across the nation, he explained that many students are setting pre-pandemic expectations in the middle of COVID-19.

"We still kept those expectations at the same level, and then basically just got into a cycle of setting high expectations and not meeting them, feeling guilty, setting higher expectations, not meeting them, feeling guilty," he says.

One way to overcome that loop, he tells the audience, is to realize that maybe those expectations don't apply anymore.

"It's an iterative process of being satisfied with what I could do in the moment and acknowledging that this is a very difficult circumstance for all of us to walk through," he says. "I think that this has been a very instructive lesson for us as a society to have empathy when people are in that moment and now a lot of us can relate to that in a way that we didn't before."

Be Conscious

He explains that healthcare professionals should be conscious of the stigma surrounding mental health.

"There are a lot of different ways to approach our mental health and wellness," he says. "Sometimes it can be harder to apply it to yourself when you are going through it and some of that has to do with different reasons such as our background and where we came from."

He explains that in many identity communities, such as the Black community or Asian American community, there are different approaches to mental health. He explores this topic of hesitancy and different identity communities' views towards therapy and mental health in his podcast, The Addy Hour.

"For instance, if we think about things like therapy, some people are open to therapy," he says. "Some people are really not open to therapy and that becomes a tension point, because there may be this idea that we just don't talk about our business with other people, or what happens in this house stays in this house."

He recommends that students think about those aspects in terms of their own day-to-day mental wellness, but also in terms of the patients with whom they interact.

"Some of us are fine with therapy, but are not fine with medication...I mentioned this because I would imagine that [these are] the types of things that may come up in your profession at some point," he says. "From what you all have told me the patients haven't asked direct questions about some of the mental-health-related medications, but it's something to be aware of that could also come up."

He believes that it is important for healthcare professionals to be aware of the multiple identity communities that patients are part of to be able to provide the best care.

"For me, there's always been a tension there, and what I've been trying to do is acknowledge the different compartments of our mental health, whether it's the experiences that we've had, whether it's aspects of biology, whether it's spiritual components, whether it's aspects of race and racism, I've really tried to make sure that we think about this in the holistic sense."

Make Time For Your Own Self-Care

He recommends that students be conscious of burnout.

"I see this with students quite a bit where I see that students are going a thousand miles an hour with no room to pause or rest. And this is often with good intention, but it comes to a point where it goes back to burnout where people are putting so much effort into these causes that they have no time for their own self care," he says. "They eventually burnout and have mental health challenges and are no longer able to continue that work."

He says that it's important for students to be able to tell themselves when to stop and take a break.

"You have to say 'ok, today, I'm not going to be able to address that because I need to take time and care for myself,'" he says. "That's not an easy tension because there's still that guilt that comes with it...but better to have that guilt than to have burnout or a place where you can no longer operate."