( ENSPIRE Mind, Body, and Health ) Pia Johnson Discusses the Importance of Mental Health and How Everyone Can Better Their Own in 2023
ENSPIRE Contributor: Alexandra Rivera
Pia Johnson is the owner and founder of Transformation Counseling Services in New York. She also works as a licensed Master Social Worker with a concentration in clinical social work. She graduated with a BA in Psychology from SUNY Empire State College and an MSW from Hunter College School of Social Work.
Johnson has years of public service and nonprofit experience in many clinical settings. She has worked with individuals diagnosed with serious and ongoing mental illness, substance use disorders, members of the LGBTQ+ community, depression, and more. Working from a blended theory approach with an emphasis on strength-based focus she provides support and teaches others to form healthy therapeutic relationships. Her goal is to improve one’s overall well-being and seek a healthier balance in their life.
ENSPIRE recently chatted with Pia Johnson about how to improve your mental health this year and more.
How did you become interested in mental health?
There are several reasons I became interested in becoming a mental health professional. One reason was and still is from a very young age seeing family members I love struggle with what I now know to be mental illness primarily because of past traumas and substance abuse. I remember gravitating toward them and wanting to understand and wishing I could help them. Unfortunately, because of a lack of understanding and cultural norms, those individuals were isolated, misunderstood, and never received the help they needed.
The second reason strongly ties in with the first—my desire is to understand and help people. I am interested in improving human connection and strengthening relationships with themself and with others. I want people to live the best lives they can by helping them find the skills, resources, knowledge, and space to create that life. I became a mental health professional to empower and co-create healing spaces for all.
Having years of experience, what is the most common form of mental illness you have seen?
It’s hard to say what the most common form of mental illness I have seen in all my years of practice is because it depended on the setting in which I was working. However, I will say that within the past 3 years, the most common reason people have given for reaching out for mental health services has been anxiety and depression. The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on the mental health of individuals.
Some of the most common concerns I hear are people feeling anxious or depressed over feeling isolated, grief over the death of loved ones, loss of income, and the fear of catching Covid themselves. But the one silver lining is that I have also seen an increase of black and brown people reaching out for therapy. Historically, these communities have faced challenges accessing mental health care.
Mental Health continues to be recognized with more people diagnosed with mental illness daily. What are some signs/ symptoms people can look out for if they do not realize they are suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, etc?
Signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression can depend on age, gender, socialization, and cultural background. But some of the most common and recognizable signs people can look out for are:
- Excessive worrying
- Feeling restless or on the edge
- Muscle tension and chronic muscle pain
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Reckless behavior including an increase in substance usage
- Persistent depressed mood
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Suicidal thoughts
Why should people take their Mental Health more seriously?
People should take their mental health more seriously because our emotional and psychological well-being affects how we make daily life choices and whether those choices are healthy and in our best interest. Also, there can be negative physical implications to not addressing mental health concerns such as high blood pressure and chronic pain, and body aches.
What are some tips you have for people trying to better their mental health as a New Year’s Resolution?
The first tip I would give people trying to better their mental health as a New Year’s Resolution is not to look at it as a New Year’s Resolution because as we know the majority of New Year’s Resolutions are not kept. People should approach this journey as a lifestyle change and in doing so another tip, I would recommend are to increase their social connections, get active, take up a relaxation practice, make dietary changes, change their sleeping patterns and get more sleep. Consider what is important to them and find purpose and meaning and don’t be reluctant to ask for help from friends and family members and mental health professionals.
Once you have bettered your mental health what are some ways to maintain it throughout the year?
Once people have bettered their mental well-being and achieved their goals it’s very important to continue to do the work. Take inventory of what worked to get them to that good place and continue to do those things. I have found that all too often people reach their goals and fall back into their busy lives and stop doing the things that worked for them. Remember this is a lifestyle change that needs to be maintained.
Mental Health is something you need to stay committed to because it is a huge lifestyle change. Johnson’s goal is to support and help those who are struggling effectively learn how to form healthy relations with themselves and others.