The grief of losing a loved one to substance abuse, even if they’re still alive. The terror of a cancer diagnosis. The challenges facing teens who identify as LGBTQ+—and their families.
All of these are topics of the Mind on Mental Health podcast, which just wrapped up its Fall 2023 season. Produced by Penn Medicine Princeton Health (PMPH), the series features host Andrew Dean, LCSW, senior community relations specialist at Princeton House Behavioral Health, interviewing his colleagues about topics as wide-ranging as mental health self-care for health care professionals, to helping children cope with scary news coverage, to what Star Wars can teach viewers about post-traumatic stress disorder.
Filling a need
Mind on Mental Health launched in summer of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was directly affecting everyone’s mental health. Early episodes covered anxiety, parenting amid the pandemic’s challenges, disordered eating, and more.
Available on major podcast platforms and at the Mind on Mental Health website, the series quickly filled a need. Dean noted that in just over three years, Mind on Mental Health has racked up more than 12,000 listens and reached listeners as far away as Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. “It's cool to see that we’ve got a global reach, that people can go on their phones anywhere and they just search for ‘mental health podcasts’ and we pop up,” said Dean.
Along the way, the podcast has produced more than five dozen episodes (roughly 15-20 minutes or so each) and won recognition from the Healthcare Marketing Society of New Jersey and the eHealthcare Leadership Awards.
Voicing a range of behavioral health
To produce the show, Dean asks his colleagues at Princeton House to suggest the topics they’d like to speak about, and after a brief touch-base, they record a freewheeling session that he edits for length and clarity. This season, each of the participants chose a topic that’s important to them personally, as well as professionally.
For example, Danielle Bellina, LCSW, a senior primary therapist at Princeton House, recently emerged from a battle with breast cancer. As a new survivor of the disease, she looked back at her journey and realized how much her training in dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT)—which emphasizes mindfulness, tolerance of stressors, strengthening relationships, and emotional regulation—helped her cope.
Bellina related her experience in a four-episode arc on Mind on Mental Health. “At the time of my diagnosis, I had been teaching DBT for almost 4 years and I found the skills to be effective” in getting through cancer, said Bellina. “In the episodes, I focused on explaining the skills through telling my story.”
That personal angle also informed episodes about substance abuse and grief, featuring Sarah DeVries, LCSW, LCADC, team coordinator of Adult Programs at Princeton House (who appeared along with Sarah Carstens, LCSW, LCADC, addictions clinical director for Outpatient Services). In addition to her professional work in this field, DeVries has also lost her brother to an overdose. “So, approaching it from both angles, we thought, might be helpful for family members dealing with addiction and various types of grief,” she said.
Mental health talk with a human touch
Part of what made appearing on the program so meaningful to DeVries is Dean’s approach. She listens to several different podcasts and gravitates toward those “where there’s a human element to the story,” especially when the subject is clinical. Mind on Mental Health takes just that type of tack, DeVries explained: “Andy gives us the platform to be authentic and genuine. Rather than a one-sided educational approach, he made it warm and conversational.”
The season’s last batch of episodes featured Nina Narang, MSW, LSW, a primary therapist at Princeton House. As a person from the LGBTQ+ community, she shared what it’s like for young people to discover and embrace this identity, and how they and their families can deal with the struggles this raises. It’s a subject that’s resonant these days, when gender identity and sexual orientation are hot-button topics in the media and on many people’s minds. That’s by design, said Dean: “Depending on what's happening in the broader world, we try to keep the episodes timely and relevant.”
In addition to giving listeners concrete tools and skills they can use to tackle mental health challenges of their own, Dean believes that Mind on Mental Health helps to destigmatize mental illness and substance use. “I hope that we are normalizing having mental health challenges, and that a listener would come away thinking, hey, you know, I'm not alone in this,” he said.
The series is also a resource for professionals who work in behavioral health, and a way for PMPH to share its work in the field. Dean said, “We try to position ourselves as a thought leader, and the podcast is one way we do that.”