Psychiatric nurse practitioner, mental health advocate, and content creator Dr. Kojo Sarfo shares his advice for those struggling with mental health and its stigma.
What changes have you seen in the past couple of years regarding mental health?
I would say that I’ve seen more people open up about their mental health struggles. And on a grand scale, we’re much more comfortable sharing the things that we used to not be as open about. I think young people today are transparent, open, honest, and have a willingness to learn about mental health more than ever before. And it’s exciting to watch, because this helps eliminate the stigma attached to mental health conditions, and ultimately helps people get help.
What resources do you recommend for young people struggling with mental health, especially during COVID?
I’m a big fan of therapy and professional help, whether that’s through a therapist that you found online or through your primary care provider who then referred you to a mental health specialist. I think it’s very important to take the time out during this pandemic to understand ourselves a little bit more and figure out how we can achieve mental wellness.
I also think that it’s very helpful to have a very supportive group of people around you. It’s going to be helpful to have family members and friends who understand where you are mentally so they can help provide you with the tools necessary for you to help take care of yourself and others.
What signs are there to look for in friends or family who may be struggling?
I would say one of the earliest signs of someone who may be struggling is isolation. A lot of times people might isolate themselves away from family members and friends. But I think that at a time right now, when we may already naturally isolate, it’s so important to have a group of people around you who care for you and love you. So that’s one of the things that I would be on the lookout for.
What misconceptions are there surrounding mental health?
I think one big misconception that people have is that individuals with mental conditions are dangerous. In fact, evidence shows that individuals who have mental conditions are more likely to be victims of certain crimes as opposed to being the perpetrators.
How can people create a sense of community for themselves in a time where isolation is so common?
I think a great way to create a sense of community is by tapping into your online world and your online community. For me, it’s been so helpful to have my online community where I can go and talk about things that are important to me. I can talk to people who may need some advice on mental health. And that’s beneficial for a couple of different reasons. It’s helpful for them because they get the educational tips that can provide them so much value, and then for me it’s helpful because it reaffirms the notion that I am needed and the work that I do is important.
Why did you think it was important to start your mental health podcast?
I think it was crucial for me to start my mental health podcast because people are desperately seeking this information, but they don’t know how to go about it. Also, the way that information has traditionally been put out in the past hasn’t been the most effective when it comes to reaching the desired audience.
I wanted to create a podcast where we speak about mental health conditions, but we make it relatable, we make it fun, we make it exciting. Those things can really help somebody who is searching for information and may also want some entertainment. I think it’s very important to make mental health awareness and learning about mental conditions extremely fun. That’s going to help a lot of people be more comfortable with themselves. My hope is that as people will come more comfortable with themselves, they will be able to share their stories, which can also help somebody else who may be desperately looking for that connection.