Making Yourself a Priority – Ep.92

Our Independence Day – Ep.91
May 31, 2023
Giving Ourselves Permission – Ep.93
June 14, 2023

Hawanya Lima discusses the impact of mental health and how it affects our social interactions. Lima shares best practices to prioritize self-care, becoming more mindful of your stressors and how to effectively manage these triggers. 

Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to The Jali Podcast, I’m your host Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity and inclusion. Each week, I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.

Hawanya Lima, born in San Francisco and grew up in the Bay Area. Married 18 years with three children, twin girls who are 11 and a 14-year-old son. She received her undergraduate degree in Southern California and graduate degree at San Jose State University, and currently works as private practice, licensed clinical social worker and a clinical social worker. She also actively volunteers at local women and family shelters where she provides therapeutic and case management services.

Motherhood started out extremely challenging for her since her oldest son was diagnosed with eye cancer at six weeks old. While health and wellbeing has always been important to her, that experience reminded her of the benefits of self-care, living a healthy lifestyle, utilizing healthy coping strategies to manage stressors, having a healthy outlet to alleviate stress, and being able to rely on others for support. Throughout that journey, she found herself providing support and assistance to other mothers and families dealing with similar experiences, which allowed her to understand the importance of prioritizing mental health.

Several years later, she began working with high-level group homes and foster care, which provided therapeutic services to adolescents. This was one of her greatest challenges because this population often has some of the greatest struggles with mental health, self-esteem, self-confidence, and very limited resources and support. She’s now been providing behavioral health services for more than 10 years now, and it appears society is currently dealing with a mental health crisis that has been neglected for years. One of the key areas people are struggling with is how to manage their mental health and how to tap into available resources and support. She’s found there’s an increased need for additional mental health providers to meet the demand.

What a great conversation we had, and I really wanted to get this out during Mental Health Awareness Month, but we couldn’t quite get it scheduled. So even though it’s hitting another month, there’s never a bad time to talk about mental health. So please join me for this wonderful conversation. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, listen to this podcast and we will also be providing some resources for you in the description that you can pass on.

Hey! So this week I am so excited, once again, to welcome Miss Hawanya Lima, and I’m so excited because I wanted to make sure that we really pulled you in for Mental Health Awareness Month, but I know there’s minority health awareness and there’s always time to talk about mental health because I think it doesn’t get the attention that it needs. So I’m excited to be talking to you. So thank you so much for coming to The Jali Podcast.

Hawanya Lima: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Melyssa Barrett: Yes. So I wanted to just start out, maybe you could talk a little bit about, because I do want to get into what’s going on with mental health, because I mean, people are talking about it, but I think there’s so much to talk about that it’s hard to figure out where to even start. But before we start, I kind of wanted to just have you talk a little bit about yourself and how you even got into mental health. What drove you there? Why did you want to get into it? And you being a Black mental health professional, I know there’s not a lot of them, although I’m starting to see a lot more out in public, which is encouraging. So it’s like, how did you get started?

Hawanya Lima: Well, as far as mental health, I mean, that’s been a passion of mine for a long time. Even in high school, right after high school, rather, I started helping others. So I’ve always kind of been in the helping capacity at a young age. One of my very favorite aunts was a teacher for the developmentally delayed. So we do volunteer work there. So I was exposed pretty early on to just in the helping arena and just helping others.

I would say probably what really kind of geared me toward mental health was just early on being a mom and then having a child who had eye cancer at a very young age. I mean, he was actually diagnosed at six weeks old. That definitely kind of changed my whole path as far as passion and wanting to help others. Just seeing some of the things that I went through and some of the things that I saw other parents going through, and just really understanding the importance of mental health and how it affects yourself based on family dynamics, based on stressors that people are dealing with.

So, yes, I definitely have a passion for mental health. I always like to add the physical fitness piece of it, and that’s really important to me. It’s been a passion for a very long time. We’re in a day and age where I’m getting up there in age, and sometimes I look at friends and friends that were once here are not here anymore. So all of those things really go hand in hand for me and for what I believe in personally and what I actually believe in professionally. I lead by example in many, many different ways.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Hawanya Lima: So I would say that those are some of the main things that kind of led me toward mental health. I love helping others. I love challenges that come with working with mental health and some of the clients and some of the different things that our community is facing right now. We’re dealing with a lot. We are.

Melyssa Barrett: Yes, as far as mental health is concerned. Yeah, no doubt. So maybe we just take, because I mean, I think a lot of focus on mental health has really come out of COVID. At least talking about it has come out more. So I personally, I don’t know how we’re going to actually understand how COVID has impacted the world for probably decades. But it’s like, when you are dealing with mental health and the COVID crisis, what have you seen and how is it impacting people? And maybe you can hit on like, what should people do?

Hawanya Lima: Well, I mean, you have to think about just COVID in and of itself. When you have a society that has been so used to doing things a certain way, I’ll just give an example. Many people are parents and you’ve got people out in the community, and we’re used to our daily patterns. In the morning we go to work, we take care of our family. So these are learned behaviors. We’re used to certain routines and we do those routines every day. You have your kids, your kids are in school. You have your weekends sometimes, or your days off, I should say. We even have things that we do during our routine week days off. And so when you take that and you have to change everything that you have become so used to, which are learned behaviors, kids went from being in school every day to learning online.

So the structure that our families had, they had to adjust to something completely different. And that definitely took a toll on families. You had parents that were used to parenting, but not necessarily teaching. So that was an adjustment, I have to say, even for myself. I respect the teachers because I learned that I am not a teacher, but we had to roll with it and learn how to adjust to everything that was going on at that time and still affecting us to this day.

So the impact that COVID has had, it’s really taken a toll, I would say, on families, communities. A lot of support that was once there is not necessarily there anymore. You’ve got kids that were used to structure being in school, then they went to distant learning and now they’re back in school. But it definitely has affected the way that they socialize. I’m seeing trends with socialization being an impact with the kids, adults too, but with kids. You go from communicating daily to now everything is done through smart devices. That’s the way that people are communicating these days.

Structure looks a little bit different these days than it was looking before. You have two parents that are back to working and instead of there being the parenting, sometimes you have kids that are on social media. We call it electronic babysitters. And unfortunately I think that that’s just taken a big toll on how people are communicating with each other. You have people that live in the same house and instead of talking to each other, they are texting and calling each other, and they are literally in the same home, which unfortunately has affected not only kids, but adults too. Have you ever been out in a restaurant and watched a couple and everyone’s on their phone and no one’s communicating?

Melyssa Barrett: Oh, yes.

Hawanya Lima: That’s definitely unhealthy interaction. And unfortunately we’re moving toward a lot more of that. And I think COVID has impacted that in a sense, just because the way that people were communicating was through electronic devices, whether it be smartphone, computer. We moved from interacting socially in person to everything being on the computer, Zoom meetings. Things were closed down, people lost their jobs. Friends, loved ones, families died. People lost people that were close to them, people that were used to socializing on weekends and entertaining. That came to a halt for many people.

So I think with just the trend of COVID and how it affected people, and people lost that sense of closeness and it caused a lot of depression, it caused people to isolate. Resources were limited and unfortunately still continue to be limited in a lot of ways. A lot of support that was there, or at least that people felt was there before COVID, services that I’m familiar with, some of them actually are no longer in existence.

Melyssa Barrett: Oh, wow.

Hawanya Lima: It definitely has affected people in many different ways.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. I mean, I know I hear people talking about therapy, and I think in some ways therapy, it’s less maybe costly in some cases. I mean, people are doing stuff like calling into a therapist and all sorts of different creative ideas. So how do you actually know, I mean, especially when, and I’m going to focus a little bit more on the kids because I think it’s probably easier for an adult to say, “I think I need to talk to somebody.” But how do you even know if your kids need that?

Hawanya Lima: Well, what I’m finding is usually there’s a breakdown in communication. A lot of times what I’m seeing, the trend, especially with kids, adolescents, young adults, is isolation. Some of the behaviors that we were seeing before have changed. They’re dressing differently. They’re sleeping in more. They’re hanging out with different crowds. And I think a lot of what I’m seeing teenagers and young adults doing is they’re finding these support groups or chat rooms, and a lot of them are unhealthy. They are finding people that are also depressed and that are influencing different behaviors.

A lot of times as a parent, we know our children for the most part. And a lot of times our instinct will tell us when something is not right. You see behaviors, you see your child is not acting the same. You see that they’re not at their baseline. I think it’s really important as a parent that we bring that to the child’s attention. We try to talk about it. But if you see that you’re continuing to have that breakdown in communication or you’re not getting the answers, or your instinct is just telling you that something’s not right, I would reach out. You can always go to your primary care health physician and get a referral. You can call your insurance and talk to them about maybe getting a referral for your child to maybe be assessed to determine if they need some support. Sometimes it’s hard for young adult kids to talk to their parents and having someone neutral that is open and knows how to communicate and uses different techniques and methods to talk to kids and young adults is helpful.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, definitely. So then in terms of, I mean, I know a lot of people have insurance and they can go to their primary care physician. What about other people? I know you do a lot of claims work and all of that, but is there… Nowadays, at least when I know I had insurance, I could get referrals to different things. But if you have your own… There’s a lot of people of color out there that are small business owners, they may or may not have insurance or they’re on affordable healthcare options and stuff like that. What should they be thinking about or how do we actually get the information we need to access the resources, I guess is what I’m asking?

Hawanya Lima: Well, so the agency that I work for, we’re all private practice, we’re all African American, we’re all women, and we take a variety of insurances and we also do private pay, and there are some therapists that do sliding scales as well. There is an option for everyone. So I definitely want people to know that don’t limit yourself just because you do not have insurance. You have providers that are willing to work with people.

The thing with right now is because there’s such an influx of struggles with mental health, you will find that sometimes when you reach out to therapists, particularly [inaudible 00:17:09] therapists, there may be a wait list, but don’t get discouraged. Get on that wait list, maybe see if that agency can refer you to another therapist. There’s also telehealth that’s an option. Sometimes with this day and age, technology is the way that people are going. So you can also do therapy where it’s strictly online, telehealth. And many of my clients, I have actually never met them, but we have done a lot of great work through socials, through the computer, through telehealth.

Melyssa Barrett: Oh, nice.

Hawanya Lima: That is an option as well.

Melyssa Barrett: Fantastic. So tell us a little bit more about, I mean, for mental health awareness, are there things that we should be talking about, or maybe I should be asking that I don’t even know what to ask? Because I just feel like, especially when you start thinking about people of color and all the things they go through, my mother being an immigrant, you talk about Black Lives Matter and just all of the things going on between equity, diversity, all of those things, it’s trauma that it just-

Hawanya Lima:

It really is.

Melyssa Barrett: It’s just this continued sense of trauma.

Hawanya Lima: Definitely.

Melyssa Barrett: So I’m just going to figure out, is there actually like a… I’ve heard people say, “I’m on the other side.” I’m like, how do we get there?

Hawanya Lima: Yes. I feel like we have gone through a lot and we’re still continuing to go through a lot. I feel like every week there’s just something new going on, and some of it is minority focused, and there is a lot of trauma that goes with that. It impacts people in many different ways, and it causes people to experience trauma just related to some of the things that they watch or that they feel is happening in the world, particularly our elderly population, because they’re the ones that sometimes there are forgotten ones or that we don’t always check on all the time, and that are impacted by the trauma that has occurred. And a lot of minorities, there’s the taboo of, we don’t go talk to therapists. What happens in this house stays in this house. And unfortunate…

I mean, I think it’s good that we have seen a lot of people reaching out more for therapy, but I would love if we can see a lot more because our people, minorities, African Americans, we are impacted a lot, women. And we carry a lot, especially us that are mothers and that are wives, and we’ve got all these different hats that we’re wearing, and a lot of times we’re not able to find the balance. So I always like to remind people that it’s important that you prioritize things. And sometimes it sounds easier said than done, but I believe, and what I practice is that you have to prioritize yourself first. And that’s hard for a lot of people. But if you prioritize yourself and you make yourself a priority, which means self-care, which means managing your stressors, which means incorporating physical fitness, whatever it might be, health and wellbeing, if you can prioritize yourself, you in turn will be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, a better neighbor.

But that takes a change in the thought process because that’s not the way that we were raised to make yourself a priority. Who tells someone to do that? Make yourself a priority. What does that mean for people? But that means you take care of yourself first. You do what you need to do to take care of yourself, and in turn, you will help others in a more effective way. So I don’t know if I answered your question because I-

Melyssa Barrett: No, that’s right. So can you talk a little bit about maybe some of the things that either you do or recommend for people when they are thinking about prioritizing themselves? I know for me, meditation has totally transformed my mental state, I think. But are there tips and tools you can share?

Hawanya Lima: Definitely. Mindfulness techniques are very important. Deep breathing, meditation, going out for walks, and sometimes when we just feel ourself getting to that point where we’re stressed out, just if you can’t get out of your situation, just take a deep… Go off on someone before you respond. Think first, count inside of your head, excuse yourself really quickly, go outside and come back in. Just getting the oxygen and just being able to redirect is really helpful.

But we want to get into healthy patterns, which means, you may have to get up 30 minutes earlier and go for a walk, or maybe go get in the gym and get a good workout in, just doing some mindfulness techniques, reading your Bible. That’s something that I do. I wake up in the morning, that’s the first thing that I do. But for others, it could be something different, maybe journaling, but I would definitely suggest not getting on the phone. That is not the first thing that we want to do because that’s not a healthy pattern. We want to definitely fall into healthy techniques and healthy patterns and healthy coping strategies because it will make us in turn a better person and help us to manage our stressors better, which is really what it’s about with mental health.

A lot of people deal with stressors. Everyone deals with stressors, I’m just going to say. I would say maybe 95% of us deal with depression or a depressive episode at some point in our lives. It’s just part of life. It’s just how we manage it that makes us different from others. Many people, when they have stressors and depressive episodes that come, we are able to manage it in a healthy manner. And you have somewhere it affects your daily routine where you can’t get back to your baseline, and then that’s where you really want to seek out and get some help. If it’s affecting your daily routine, you’re not able to complete tasks and it’s starting to pile up and it’s affecting your sleep and your wellness, your health, that’s when you definitely want to make sure that you seek some help.

Melyssa Barrett: Oh, wow. That was really helpful. So depressive episodes versus depression. Because I know my husband had what they called moderate anxiety disorder, and they had explained this kind of pendulum of anxiety where it’s like you’re on this level, but to be able to bring it back to maybe a more manageable level. I don’t know if depression is the same way, but I mean, I’m not a health professional. I guess the question I would have is, if you’ve got all these depressive episodes, if one of them now is taking you into a place where you can’t manage your daily activity, is that enough? It’s like that’s when you’re saying, hey, you might want to reach out.

Hawanya Lima: Definitely. If you feel that you are in a place where you’re definitely not at your baseline, which means you don’t feel like your normal self, and it’s something that is continuing and you can’t… You know how sometimes people say they can’t get over that hump, they’re stuck. Or sometimes we like to call it like a pit. So you’re at the bottom of the pit. Someone will put a rope down and you can pull yourself up just a little bit, then you slide back down, but you just can’t get out of that hole and it continues. That’s when I would definitely suggest it, I would encourage people to seek some help.

Sometimes it’s a matter of utilizing your support system as well. Sometimes we have great support systems, and it’s just a matter of maybe reaching out to a good friend, being able to talk about things. Sometimes people can help us to redirect. Maybe you ask for some extra support. “Hey, can you check on me two or three times this week? Or can I call you if I need to?” Sometimes it’s just maybe having someone to check in and having that extra support. Maybe having someone come over and maybe going out to dinner might help. But if it’s to the point where that’s even hard for you to do, or you’re finding that you’re isolating more or you’re not eating or overeating to the point where you’re miserable, those are signs that something is off.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. Oh, wow. Well, that’s good to know. 

Now that I feel like I’ve had my own therapy session… No. I get the sense that people get to different levels of depression, but in some cases, suicidal thoughts and things like that can often come out, but a lot of times other people don’t necessarily recognize what’s happening either. So is there a way to, I mean, aside from me wanting to harm myself, are there other things maybe to look for or just to connect with a person? I don’t know.

Hawanya Lima: I definitely would say yes. And it kind of goes back to what I said before. If you’re seeing that someone is just not at their baseline or at their norm, especially if it’s a friend or someone you know, that’s the person that you want to check in on a little bit more often. If they’re not answering the phone, maybe go to their house. And it doesn’t hurt to ask. A lot of times people are very uncomfortable asking, “Hey, do you have a past of suicidal thoughts? Have you ever tried to harm yourself? Have you ever been placed on a psychiatric poll?” A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.

And if it’s someone that we’re concerned about, there’s nothing wrong with asking or maybe referring them to someone where they could talk to someone like crises, like the lifeline. That’s actually a really good resource. It’s available 24 hours a day, and it’s a place that they can call and talk to a professional, especially if it’s someone that maybe has disclosed that they’ve struggled with suicide ideation in the past. They’d have to be assessed correctly and if you don’t have the expertise in that, it’s probably not something that you can thoroughly assess, but at least refer them to the lifeline or to a therapist or maybe even their primary care physician. But there are a lot of resources available that they can call, that they can go online and chat with someone live. When they do their assessment, if they feel that there’s imminent danger, they will make a referral to law enforcement and they’ll follow up.

Melyssa Barrett: Oh, wow. Okay. Good to know. We definitely want people to reach out and gain access to resources. I know I will try to make sure that we put at least some resources into the description for anyone that’s looking for that. So we definitely want to make sure that people have the ability to find some resources for mental health. So with that, I know we’ve been going for a while, so is there anything else that you might want to chat about? I know we talked a little bit about social media and the kids, and I know there’s a lot of bullying and other things that are happening.

Hawanya Lima: Oh, god, yes. My kiddos have talked about just some of things that they’ve seen and heard and my kids are… It’s happening at a younger age, which is very alarming. But as parents, I would definitely encourage us to talk to our kids and find out what’s going on and make sure that you’re engaging conversation where they’re comfortable communicating with you. That’s really important. So you’re asking questions like, what’s the best thing that happened today? What is the worst thing that happened today? And then talk about how us, as parents, can help to support them, because kids have to be comfortable in order to talk about things, especially if they’re in a situation where there may be some signs of depression or maybe they’re not comfortable talking to their parents. And make sure that we, as parents, if we know that our kids might not be comfortable talking to us, maybe there’s an aunt that they can talk to or a friend or their godmother or someone else that maybe they can also refer their kids to.

But bullying, it’s definitely real. It happens every day. It’s happening a lot more. And it’s not just happening with kids, it’s happening with adults as well. But the kids, it’s really alarming because not all of them are comfortable talking about it. So that’s where the concern is. But I would definitely make sure that as parents, we open up that conversation and we probably want to start talking to our kids pretty early on. Unfortunately, I’m hearing six and seven year olds and eight year olds, there’s forms of bullying occurring even with the young ones. So we want to make sure that we talk about that so that they’re aware of what’s happening, because it doesn’t always look the same for everyone. And so that they know that there is that door, an open door policy with parents or with maybe someone that they are comfortable talking to, where they can talk to their family and get some support and resources and maybe even therapy if it’s to the point where it has started affecting their daily routine.

Melyssa Barrett: So what’s the best way to go about selecting a therapist then? Or do you just go to one and then you go, “Nah, we don’t click?” How does it work?

Hawanya Lima: Yeah, I’m glad that you brought that up. Our referrals work through insurance and through referrals through former clients. And then there’s different organizations that will refer. But I tell clients sometimes a therapist is almost like shopping for a car. Just because you didn’t like the first one, give the next one a try. Maybe go to a different dealership. You may even have to go to the third dealership, and it’s a charm. But please, if you’re struggling, find some support somewhere. There is good therapists out there, there’s therapists that will meet you where you are, and all clients are not right for a therapist. So it definitely works both ways. So please be mindful of that. People are really struggling with mental health right now. We’re seeing depression, we’re seeing suicide ideation among our elderly. There’s a lot going on. And yes, COVID has impacted a lot of what we’re seeing as a result right now. But please, if you’re struggling, if you’re not able to get past what you’re dealing with and you can’t find support within friends, that’s when it’s time to maybe reach out and look for a therapist.

Melyssa Barrett: Well, my gosh, that gives a lot of food for thought for not only adults, but for how we may be able to help children. Because I think there’s a lot of… We talk about allies and things, but at the end of the day, I mean, you talked about even adults being bullied, and I know in corporations or at work, you deal with a lot of that. So it’s nice to be able to kind of go, okay, here’s my baseline. Something’s not right, and let me see if I can get some help. Because you’re right, I think that conversation and whatever you all do magically in the background that probably people don’t know the techniques that you might be using. When I see a child that is going through therapy, you actually can see the difference in how they’re speaking, what they’re talking about, how they’re feeling, their reactions. It’s an amazing thing when they are getting the support that they need. And certainly from an adult standpoint, there’s no lack of challenges for us. I feel like everybody needs therapy, but that may just be me.

Hawanya Lima: It’s not a bad thing. And one of the things to be mindful of is sometimes therapy is short term. There’s crisis intervention where it’s just more about getting a person back to where they need to be versus long-term therapy. And sometimes we have clients that come in for that. So there’s different types of therapy. Every therapist is not the same. Every therapy style or modality is going to be different based on a client’s need. So definitely something to be mindful of.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Hawanya Lima: Yeah. One of the things I always try to also let people know is with social media and it being so prevalent in our lives, a lot of times people will revert to social media, Instagram, these different types of platforms where people will look for a quick fix. You have people that are struggling with self-image, with self-esteem, with body image, different types of traits that maybe they’re not happy with, and then they may go to these different formats or make decisions to Botox and BBLs and all these other things that we’re seeing right now in hopes that that will solve the problem. And I always call that a quick fix because despite what happens, if you are not addressing the root of the problem, it’s going to still be there. And at some point you will still have to deal with whatever it is mental health wise that’s going on. Because a quick fix is usually just a quick fix, but the long-term problem has not even been addressed. And at some point it will need to be addressed.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, such great words. Really, one of the reasons I wanted to really talk to you is because I feel there’s so much going on with mental health. I just feel like we can’t talk about it enough, and we have to make sure that people kind of make sure that it’s part of who we are. It’s not taboo. We should embrace it when we need it. Use it.

Hawanya Lima: Definitely.

Melyssa Barrett: And I think the more we can make it a topic of discussion that hopefully people will get out there and say, “You know what? Maybe I should talk to somebody.” So I’m hoping maybe there’s one person out there that maybe is listening that needs a little bit of help. I hope that they will reach out and get it.

Hawanya Lima: Yes, I agree. And I hope so too because mental health, it’s very important and it’s often overlooked or misdiagnosed. I shouldn’t say misdiagnosed, self-diagnosed. And oftentimes we don’t get the support, the tools, the resources that we need to empower ourselves.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. Such a great, great words from you, and I cannot thank you enough for joining me for this podcast. I hope that we will continue the conversation. When I’m talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, everything has a lens that you can look through that has an element of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, justice, equality, whatever you want to call it. And so I really appreciate you coming on and just talking about some of the challenges, not only in general, but specifically even for people of color who may not feel like this is an option for them. So I appreciate you saying, yes, it’s definitely an option, and let’s definitely take advantage of it because I just think we all need it.

Hawanya Lima: Oh, yes, definitely. Definitely.

Melyssa Barrett: So thank you so much. I know we’ve been talking for a while, and I could probably go on and on and on, but-

Hawanya Lima: I probably could too.

Melyssa Barrett: But you might start charging me, so.

Hawanya Lima: I’ll send you my bill.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, exactly. Awesome. But thank you so much for joining me.

Hawanya Lima: You’re welcome.

Melyssa Barrett: Let me know if there’s specific resources that maybe you want us to deliver to folks so that they can call some 800 number or whatever. We will include that in the description of the podcast so that people have access to that.

Hawanya Lima: Yes, I’ll definitely provide some resources for you, just so that anyone that wants to follow up, there’ll be some resources available because I think that’s really important.

Melyssa Barrett: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much, and I look forward to our next conversation.

Hawanya Lima: Me too. I’m excited for the next one.

Melyssa Barrett: Yes.

Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.