How to Conquer Your Mental Health: A Talk with Dr. Allycin Hicks-Powell
How to Conquer Your Mental Health: A Talk with Dr. Allycin Hicks-Powell
By: Derika Crowley
The first week of October is dedicated to mental health awareness, so what better time to talk with black women in the field who are currently killing the game?
Since so many Twenty Somethin’ & Black readers are working to grow in their career and/or start their own companies, we thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about how to manage your mental health and keep your composure, while trying to manage everything on your plate.
We connected with Dr. Allycin Powell-Hicks, a Brand Architect and Psychological Consultant in Los Angeles to talk everything from the collaboration between stress and entrepreneurship to resources to help you with your own mental health journey.
Tell us about yourself and your background in mental health?
I completed my M.A. in Psychology and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Loma Linda University. I trained and worked as a therapist while in school and just after. In all around 8 years. I have always had a passion for mental health and my after graduating I began working with sex trafficked minors in a facility here in SoCal. There, I realized the impact media had on my clients. They cared about the insights we developed in therapy, but they were always so inspired by the lives of rappers and reality stars. So, I began working to utilize the entertainment relationships I had to help change the mental health narrative in media.
My research in school focused on aesthetics and human appearance and much of my personal work was in branding and market research. Using this experience has helped my career has grow into onset mental health advising for media programs, where I ensure the accuracy of any psychological information. I speak on air about mental health issues and provide consulting on scripts with mental health content. In addition, I brand businesses based on psychological principles.
I recently read an article that many successful entrepreneurs and CEO's suffer from mental health disorders like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder. Do you think this is a true statement?
I’m [honestly] not sure if many successful entrepreneurs suffer from mental health disorders, but all people deal with occasional sadness and worry. When considering a particular diagnosis mental health professionals begin by looking for what we call “functional impairments”. Meaning receive a diagnoses you have to exhibit marked impairments in some aspect of your life. These impairments must reach a threshold where it is impacting your life in a negative way as to cause a decrease in functioning.
If you have a successful business, you experience some transient symptoms of a disorder and may even have depression or anxiety; but, it is possible to exhibit some signs of a disorder without reaching full criteria for a diagnosis.
To touch on the question directly, [bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety and ADHD are the most common mental disorders linked to successful professionals and entrepreneurs]. Bipolar disorders causes moments of heightened experiences, focus, and goal driven behavior-a period called mania or hypomania. During this period of time, people can get a lot done, though it comes at a cost. While in this heightened state, people can start businesses and complete projects, but it may not be delivered or completed with the exact quality they may have if they were in a non-symptomatic state.
With the other disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety, these common in general, so you’re most likely to know someone with one (or more) of these disorders. People suffering from low to moderate forms of ADHD, depression, or anxiety can achieve as much success as anyone else. A diagnosis does not have to stop your life or make you any less capable of success than anyone else.
Although it's natural to occasionally experience low-points in life (especially, if you're trying to excel in your career), at what point should you seek professional help or be concerned a deeper mental issue is going on?
If you notice you’re not functioning the same - struggling to get up and go to work, unable to care for your family, unmotivated to do your daily routine, change in diet, unintentional weight gain or loss - those are indicators something is going on. It doesn’t always mean you need to go to therapist, but it could help. However, if you are having thoughts of suicide, thoughts of death and dying that seem like they won’t stop, or if you are seeing or hearing things that others don’t you should seek attention immediately and may require hospitalization if your licensed mental health professional finds that course of treatment appropriate.
We are always looking for changes in functioning even in the positive direction. If someone has been really down for months then all of a sudden their mood lifts without cause this may also indicate some underlying psychological symptoms.
Can you define the difference between "having depression" vs. "having a hard time.”
Depression is a pervasive pattern of symptoms that meet criteria for a disorder. These symptoms occasionally coincide with a chemical imbalance but considering that we do not test every client's serotonin levels we can not assume they all have chemical imbalances. It is difficult to “snap out of it” (this is a statement you should always seek to avoid when talking to someone with any mental health disorder). People with depression can notice appetite changes, changes in sleep patterns, ruminating or repetitive negative thoughts, thoughts about suicide, guilt, lack of interest in things they once loved, depressed mood, slowed motor functioning, or low energy.
Having a hard time is something we all go through. When something unwanted happens, we naturally experience negative thoughts and emotions about that event. The key is how we choose to address those feelings and thoughts. In this circumstance you are probably able to continue your daily routine, though you may be sad or irritable, can access positive feelings even though you are feeling down, and the symptoms resolve within a few weeks to months.
What are some resources - outside of therapy - that can help us be more in-tuned with our mental health?
Coping. Learning how you deal with adverse life events is critical. The sooner we realize that we do not always have control over the circumstances of our lives, but we do have control over how we choose to respond the better off we will be long term. Apparently, some mental health symptoms are not alleviated by identifying our role, but most things can be improved by learning how to recognize signs, cope with symptoms, and eventually decrease their severity.
Coping skills can be almost anything. They are actions and behaviors that improve our mood in the short-term and also have positive effects on our long-term functioning. For example, exercise can be a beneficial coping skill. It can change your short-term mood because you have to leave the situation to do it and now you are releasing endorphins, and in the long term it can result in improved health. But for someone else exercise can be ineffective if it impairs their functioning because of an obsession which takes up excessive time or if the exercises result in adverse health outcomes. Basically, it’s key to understand what works for you and what doesn’t.
This may seem silly to ask, but should we be concerned if we don’t have mental health issues that our success will only go so far as entrepreneurs?
No. Being mentally healthy and finding balance is a fabulous thing. Figuring out what works for you and helps you cope with the inevitable problems of entrepreneurship and in life is very helpful.
How does mental health play a role in your own career? In addition, how has understanding your own health helped shape your success?
Considering I work as a mental health consultant and use psychological and sociological principles to help brand companies, mental health plays a significant role in my career. Consulting is all about working with others, decreasing their worries, and generating deliverables that they want and need. Without understanding people, it is difficult to know and provide what they need.
Understanding my own mental health has shaped my success in that it allows me to interact with clients and companies in effective ways. It allows me the space to assess my own emotions before responding in meetings and with the occasional difficult person. No matter what industry you work in, there are elements of human interaction that require savvy negotiation and understanding yourself will help you understand others.
What are some tips to help us manage stress and calm our minds to be productive?
Stress is something we all have to deal with, and sometimes it’s not a bad thing. There are so many ways we can deal with and manage stress, but a few tried and true methods are; creating a routine, mindfulness, physical activity, and maintain your physical health.
Some of these interventions are preventative (mindfulness, routine and maintaining physical health) and others are helpful after stress has reared its head (physical activity, mindfulness again).
When creating a routine create times for the things that recharge your batteries. I am renewed by interacting with others but not everyone is like me. Some people need to be alone. If that’s you, schedule some alone time where you can think, read, or write. Mindfulness is an action that is both preventative and helpful during stress. It is the ability to be present so you can decide which skill you want to use or how you want to deal with a situation. You can practice mindfulness through meditation, focusing on your breath, even describing the things happening around you. Basically, anything that helps bring your back into what is happening right now. Maintaining your physical health is very important as well because our minds are an extension of our brains and our brains are very much so impacted by our health. Have you ever noticed how sad you can get when you are sick? That’s not necessarily because being sick makes you depressed, but it’s harder to feel positive emotionally when you feel negative physically. So keep yourself eating great food, drinking enough water, sleeping well, and staying active.
You can follow Allycin on Instagram at @allycinhicks.