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World Mental Health Day 2020: In Conversation With Ken Duckworth, M.D

Here on The Lay Low, we talk about mental health openly and candidly. We caught up with Ken Duckworth – double-board certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer of NAMI – to gain better insight into pressing mental health issues and how important it is to take care of your sleep.

October 10th is World Mental Health Day. As big believers in destigmatizing mental health dialogue, we picked psychiatrist Ken Duckworth’s brain. Below we share his mindful insights on mental health issues, like widespread anxiety, and also get his take on how sleep interacts with mental health.

Ken is certified in adult and child/adolescent psychiatry and the chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Along with his work at NAMI, he also works to improve care at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts, volunteers and consults at an early psychosis clinic at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, and teaches as an assistant clinical professor at Harvard University Medical School.


In light of World Mental Health Day 2020 coming up, what insights would you like to share?


There’s good evidence that there’s a significant mental health dimension to our country’s wellbeing at the moment. A recent CDC survey indicated that 40% of people reported struggling with their mental health, especially anxiety-, stress- and trauma-related symptoms.


Mental health studies are usually long-term, with research results only available months, sometimes even years, after surveys are conducted. This CDC study was conducted in June and the results released in August, which means it’s a very real-time assessment of many Americans’ state of mind – it’s clear many are people struggling with mental health.


What are your thoughts on the relationship between sleep and mental health?


quote ken duckworth

Sleep is an essential preventative strategy against poor mental health. We’re all trying to improve our odds against the continuous and unpredictable anxiety stimulus that surrounds us – taking care of your sleep is a meaningful way to do that.


How can we best respond to our country’s current mental health dimension?


Review your inventory of stress reduction techniques and apply them. I think it’s important to advocate and promote mental healthcare in a way that works for an individual. Find ways to soothe that works for you, whether through exercise, meditation, or using a weighted blanket.

It’s also well-established that connection to other people is good for your mental health, so finding ways to stay connected is really important.
If the stress of our current situation is getting to you, whether it’s homeschooling the kids or concerns over your safety, or whatever your unique circumstances may be, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. And if you need help – pursue support. You’re not alone.

Beyond video consultations, one good thing that’s come from the current state of the world is that the American mental health field has pivoted from utilizing telehealth as a ‘forgotten backroad’ to it now being a sixteen-lane highway. Help is becoming more and more accessible and many health plans now even cover telephone sessions. Remember, you’re not alone.

mother and daughter smiling each other

Any specific advice for parents who are concerned about their kids’ mental health?


I think the key message to parents is compassion. I sympathize with parents who have concerns over the way learning is now happening through devices, and I’d like to remind people that these things do end. In a recent webinar I participated in, parents can find constructive advice on modeling coping skills and how to access mental health support for children.

Need more information? Try these tips for coping with remote schooling and having conversations with young kids about remote learning.


Do you have any insights you’d like to share on using weighted blankets as a calming tool?


I think sensory-motor strategies, like a weighted blanket, play a compelling role in looking after your mental health. It’s a natural tool that comes without side-effects that some people find inherently calming.

I worked on promoting strength-based care through restraint reduction in child and adolescent psychiatric settings. One of the alternatives we encouraged people to use was weighted blankets. It was my first exposure to weighted blankets, and I thought it was a great advance.

girl eyes in blanket

To contact the NAMI HelpLine, call 800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., ET, or send an email to info@nami.org.


Bearassentials

• In support of World Mental Health Day, we spoke to mental health expert Ken Duckworth to get his opinion on present-day mental health challenges.


• As a double-board certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer of NAMI, he also shares practical advice on taking care of our well-being.


• His take on sleep? It’s your mental health superpower.

Did you know?
Anxiety disorders affect nearly 48 million adults across the U.S per year.


THE LAY LOW

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