[TW: This episode opens with a personal account of miscarriage.] Mental health is connected to every part of who we are. In this episode, we’re having an honest conversation about it with two leaders in the mental health space—Elyse Cohen, VP of Social Impact + Inclusion at Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, and Tramaine EL-Amin, Assistant VP of Strategic Partnerships at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Along with host Alyssa Shapiro, Cohen and EL-Amin discuss mental wellbeing, Rare Beauty’s commitment to bridging access to mental healthcare, Mental Health First Aid, and more.
Hosted by Alyssa Shapiro
Edited by Manna Zel
Produced by Manna Zel + Alyssa Shapiro
Theme music by YTTP co-founder Greg Gonzalez + Hannah Fernando
Read the full conversation here:
Brett Marlow: I guess the best way to describe my mental wellbeing, especially in the last year and a half, has been like diving into a dish of shishito peppers. Right? If you've ever had those, you might know what I'm talking about. Most days, I'm fine. And then out of nowhere, my negative voice, my inner critic, and my self doubt start to get super spicy, which is always fun.
In these moments, I freeze and I panic and I just feel like this is how I'm going to feel forever. My brain completely goes into flight or fight mode, and I'm just searching for the mental equivalent of milk to sooth.
Jessie Giammalva: When the pandemic hit my anxiety skyrocketed, and I, I know my anxiety is bad when I start ironing out the wrinkles on the comforter when I make my bed in the morning. I usually like to tell myself, uh, if my apartment is immaculate and I get everything done on my to-do list today, then I'm okay.
Jamie Somphanthabansouk: I started to focus in on my mental wellness after the loss of my twins in a really late term, um, miscarriage.
I needed more support than what I could read and pick up, so I turned to therapy. I don't know why I didn't turn to therapy earlier in life and why it had to be this trauma to get me to go to therapy, but I've been doing therapy ever since. Now I'm a big advocate for normalizing mental illness and destigmatizing, you know, the need to seek care.
Alyssa Shapiro: Does any of this sound familiar? We all deal with mental health in our own ways and since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought, “Hey, this is a great time to have an honest conversation about it.”
At the start of the pandemic, Youth To The People offered BetterHelp——which is online therapy——to all employees.
Here's Haesue Jo, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with BetterHelp and is based out of the Bay area of California.
Haesue Jo: You know, mental health is connected to every aspect of who you are. Everything that we do is controlled, essentially, by our brain and if our brain is sick, as in, it's not doing well mentally and it's not doing well emotionally, then I think it's really hard to navigate so many of life's requirements that require a lot of concentration and focus, stuff that is often the first thing to go when your mental health is being neglected.
AS: And that is what I want to discuss with our guests today.
Elyse Cohen: I'm Elyse Cohen and I'm the vice president of Social Impact + Inclusion at Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez.
Tramaine EL-Amin: And I'm Tramaine EL-Amin. I am the assistant vice president for strategic partnerships at the National Council for Mental Well-being, formerly known as the National Council for Behavioral Health.
AS: Elyse and Tramaine are doing the work to destigmatize mental health in the workplace, the beauty industry, school, and beyond.
Get this: Elyse’s previous experience includes leading Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative during her time in the White House. And her career has spanned a social impact, public and private partnerships, and developing large scale campaigns to really move the needle on social issues.
EC: I think a lot of us come to this work from personal experience, family experience, and probably when you're someone like Tramaine or I and you step into a space and you see that there is such a need and such a gap, you're sort of like, “What can I do? Can I do something in my profession? Can I do something in my personal life?”
So that's where I sort of blended the two and I took my own experiences and felt like I could bring that into working with companies and how they address mental health. Then I'm just incredibly, incredibly fortunate that an opportunity that blended everything——the issue I'd worked on for so long, the brand side, and such an authentic celebrity voice on this issue——all came together because I feel like that is the perfect recipe for creating change and mental health.
AS: You know, there's a lot of stigma around mental health and it's so important for us to be able to create change in mental health and wellbeing. Something beautiful about this is that everyone has the capacity to create change regarding mental health.
You don't have to develop large scale campaigns or work in the White House. It can be as simple as being a supportive listening ear, connecting a friend with much needed support and resources, and even doing Mental Health First Aid.
YTTP Studios presents To The People Podcast.
Greg Gonzalez: This podcast is powered by Youth To The People. We make pro-grade vegan, cruelty-free skincare for all genders, pronouns, skin, tones, passions, and people. And right here, every week, you'll meet friends of the brand who prioritize wellness, however it looks in their lives, and use their practice to learn more about themselves and heal their communities.
I'm Greg Gonzalez, co-founder of Youth To The People.
AS: And I'm your host, Alyssa Shapiro.
AS: Tramaine, tell me how you and Elyse work together and what your background is.
TEA: First of all, Elyse is the epitome of a connector. I would describe her as probably the most well-resourced individual I know. I have had the privilege to get to know Elyse as she's worked with companies, and partnered around a number of initiatives that had to do with mental wellbeing during her tenure at the U.S. chamber of commerce. Since then we've grown to work together on so many opportunities to impact communities.
Every day, I get to combine my passion for mental health, advocacy and education by serving as the assistant vice president for strategic partnerships at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. I am so excited for this conversation because I think it is such a critical conversation to have in every sector, in every place, across the country.
So, I also get the privilege of being a member of the Rare Beauty Mental Health Council. And so, really excited to work alongside Elyse to bring just this message around hope, healing, and support for mental wellbeing to everyone who will listen. I'm excited to also tell you a little bit about what we do at the national council.
And, you know, one of the things that really struck me as I started in this kind of space was the amount of access to support and services. Really, it's a staggering statement that nearly 30 million people across the country don't have access to quality care, and I saw that in my own community. Affordable, relevant care for mental health and substance use challenges is really where we focus at the national council. We really focus on promoting mental health recovery from substance use challenges, equitable access to high quality care, and we really are focused on ensuring that mental wellbeing is a reality for everyone.
We've been around for 50 years and helped to foster connections and community through services and supports and represent as a membership organization, more than 3,500, providers of mental health and substance use treatment and represent more than 10 million children, adults, and families that they serve.
And so, really, the thing that I think most individuals across the country are looking for is that connectivity, that support, and that access to treatment and care. Mental Health First Aid is our public education program that teaches how to recognize the signs and symptoms to get people connected to that care. We've trained about two and a half million people nationally to do so over the last several years.
AS: What is mental health? What is mental wellbeing and how do we measure that for ourselves? Like what are we talking about when we're talking about mental health?
EH: You know, it really includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. And, you know, I think, there's lots of conversations going around right now about, you know, do we call mental health what it is? Do we call it something else? And, you know, I feel like, yes, we call it what it is.
We call physical health what it is, we should be calling mental health what it is. It's also really about how our mind and body respond to different stresses and triggers in our environment and for some people, you know, there's an added level of actual imbalance that they experience and others, there isn't, but it's really how we navigate and how we feel on an emotional, and social and psychological level.
TEA: So a lot of times you talk about mental health and substance use, and separate them. Right? I think National Council's approach is really to talk about making mental well-being include recovery from substance use challenges, and include that opportunity for it to be a reality for everyone everywhere. Right. And so, for me, it really is about ensuring that we're not leaving pieces of the conversation on the table. You know, we're driving social change, we're driving policy change all with a lens on making sure that we promote greater understanding of mental wellbeing as a core component of comprehensive health and health care.”
AS: So I want to talk about how we experience mental health. Like what that means for us in our daily lives, whether we are dealing with illnesses or whether we're talking about well-being and just, you know, being well mentally. What does that look like?
Because I think in the last year, we've seen——or 14 or 15 or however many months it is at this point of the pandemic——we've seen a lot that has changed us.
Certain groups of people have experienced higher levels of daily trauma whether it's frontline workers putting their health at risk, teachers and parents who are figuring out how the heck to do distance learning and to remain connected, and for kids who are used to seeing their friends at school to remain connected and for office workers to remain connected.
I mean, we're all dealing with a lot that's impacting our anxiety and all these other things. So. How, how is it that we experience mental health? What does that look like for all of us?
TEA: I love this question because there's such an opportunity for us to rethink what it really means to tend to our wellbeing.
We've had a shared experience. I've heard it said that we have all [been] going through the same storm, but in different boats. And so, that shared experience means something different whether someone's balancing teaching their young person at home at the same time that they're trying to work from home, whether that's battling financial challenges as a result of unemployment, whether that is dealing with social injustice, racial inequity, and so many other impacts to your mental wellbeing on a regular basis. In addition to the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.
There are so many opportunities for us to think about that shared experience and what we might be able to do to really tend to being good to ourselves, being patient with others, and allowing ourselves to share space and community in a way that gives us an opportunity to deal with our mental health and at least acknowledge how we're feeling.
I think that's where it really starts is an acknowledgement that, “Hey, I'm not okay” and then that conversation about what can I do to actually address that. And that could be something different for everyone.
AS: That would be my next question then, like, what are some ways that you would encourage people to figure out what that looks like for them? Whether it's——I mean, for me, and I've talked about this in past episodes, it's like being in nature, like put me in front of a tree for a couple hours and I will self heal a little bit, but what does that——that's not always, you know, easy access.
So what are other ways that people can access mental care and mental wellbeing in a way that works for them?
TEA: Absolutely. I'll start this off by saying that there's a tremendous amount of resources and awesome organizations that really focus on identifying and being able to provide access to service supports at whatever level someone might want. One of the things we teach in Mental Health First Aid is to ensure that whatever you suggest to someone that it resonates with them.
And so just like you said, Alyssa, there's this opportunity to think about, do trees really resonate with the person who I'm suggesting go out in nature? Is this a city person who's going to be like, “Are you serious?” Or, is this a crisis situation? And so it’s a lot more serious than a self care practice, right?
So sometimes, knowing exactly what you're dealing with. We teach a five step mnemonic to assess first and actually approach someone, um, then listen to them, then give them reassurance and information and then encourage help in either a professional standpoint, or maybe self care, and other support strategies.
That process helps us know what to do when and then there's also all kinds of apps, all kinds of lists of things that people might try, people to follow on social media. What I love about Rare Beauty is there’s always opportunity in content that really helps us focus on what we can do to attend to ourselves in the moment.
There's opportunity to get good information because there's tons of information out there, but we want to make sure that the information that we're sharing is safe, supportive,and resonates with the individual that we're suggesting it to.
AS: You mentioned that five step or five word check-in to assess the situation. Can you explain what that is?
TEA: Yeah, absolutely. So Mental Health First Aid is a program that really teaches someone to recognize the signs and symptoms of an emerging mental health or substance use challenge. And we say ‘challenge’ because we don't teach people how to diagnose someone and say, uh, you know, “Oh, well it looks to me like you have depression” or “It looks to me like you are experiencing OCD”.
It really isn't about that. It's about understanding “I see something, I'm going to say something, and I'm going to feel comfortable that whatever the person's response is, I will be able to handle it and either deal with it in the moment——if it's a non-crisis situation——or if it's a crisis, I'll be able to connect that person to the appropriate level of resource in my community, in my workplace, or in my family.”
Um, and so how we go about that process is this five step process, it's called: ALGEE. Now, it sounds like pond scum. It's not, it's an acronym. Just like if you took First Aid or CPR, you would learn to take the steps like the ABCs, right? Take those steps to know what to do when, what to do next, and how to support someone in getting connected to care and services and supports, and to know what those resources are.
Now that process, um, it can be a little scary. It could be a little challenging to really approach someone in a way——especially when we don't know what is at the end of, “Are you okay?” It could be “No.”
And so a lot of times, we don't have that conversation. Um, and so what the program is designed to do is just help you be comfortable with that conversation and give you those tools about what to do next and make it not such a scary conversation to have.
AS: Is the first question of ALGEE, “Are you okay?”
TEA: So the first question around ALGEE could be, “Are you okay?” It really is ‘Assess for risk of suicide or self-harm’ and just assess and approach the situation from a place of support and from a place of comfort. And to understand what you're looking at. Each of us has to ask a question, whether that question be “Are you considering suicide?” or “Are you doing okay?”
It just depends on the circumstance, and that's what the first letter really teaches you and reminds you to do. It's a non-linear process, so it doesn't have to be done in order, but that's where we always come back to: what is that thing that we need to say, do, or respond to?
AS: So what comes next after you assess the situation and understand kind of how you could direct things next, how you could help someone next?
TEA: Absolutely. So the ‘L’ is really about listening, right?
We all think we're great listeners. I know I did for a while. Um, and then had other people tell me otherwise, so life tells you like, “You're, you're good.” You think you're good, but you're always listening to respond. And so how do we adjust that and make sure we're listening to really hear a person out, understand where they're coming from and be clear on how we might support them, and have it resonate with them.
I've said that a couple of times because, you know, um, a lot of times we think we're hearing what someone says and until we repeat it back and until we demonstrate with our body language that they're being heard, uh, they really may not be. You might be waiting for an opportunity to jump in with your suggestion to fix what's happening.
And a lot of times, that's because we're uncomfortable with the conversation and we want to fix the situation someone might be in. And so it really is about being non-judgemental about the situation, whether we think it's something that they should be seeing as very easy to go through from our perspective.
Or, we honor that purpose, that person's experience. It's really about honoring the person's experience and suspending judgment so we can support them in ways that resonate.
AS: That is such a beautiful lesson, I think, for anyone to be able to repeat back what someone has told you so that they know that you heard and understand them, and so that you make sure that you understood what they were trying to say too. I think that's such a great life lesson for anything in any situation.
EC: I was just going to say, something that I love about that piece of the program is like, we're trying to shift the culture and the conversation, the way people connect with people. And if you think about it, if you just go about your day for the next few days, and you see how many times someone says, “Hi, how are you?”
But they don't actually expect that someone's going to really tell them how they are. They assume someone's going to say, “Hi, I'm good. How are you?” And that's it, right? We are so wired to feel that way. It's almost like an automatic behavior and we have to change the way we listen and connect to people.
We have to ask these questions and welcome the chance to actually hear how someone is doing or else no one's ever going to really, truly share that. I have felt it on my own where someone's asked me and they're not actually listening to anything I have to say anyway. Um, which ends up being even harder, especially when you are in a hard place and you are in a moment where you are sharing, but nobody's listening.
I know that I am guilty of doing that too, where, you know, I've sort of just bumped into someone, “Hey, how are you?” And that's it. Like, I am not looking to hear your seven minute story. I’ll just keep going, which is not the right approach.
AS: Oh, but that's such a good point that like saying, “How are you?” is almost like part of the greeting. Like it's not a question anymore, so to take the time and actually——I mean, maybe what we need to do is rephrase it: “Are you doing okay?” Like just to shift our brain structure around, like how we're asking the question, so we actually stop and listen and can be there and be present in that conversation. That's such a good point. I do it all the time, too.
TEA: Yeah, it's like before you ask that question, make sure you have the time for whatever comes after, whatever comes out, hold space for that person and be willing to be there or tack somebody else in the ring. Right? Making sure like, “You know what, I'm on my way to a meeting, this sounds really distressing to you and I want to make time, so I want to come back to this, but I think in this moment, are you okay if we bring in so-and-so to this conversation?” especially if it's something——I know for workplaces as I've worked with so many companies who are really starting this conversation around mental health in a way that before, uh, it was an uphill struggle to get buy-in from leadership.
I think that narrative has shifted significantly over the last 14 months. The needs were always there, but the willingness to have the conversation has completely changed. And so I think that this skill, this ability and, really, these are real concrete skills based tools from a leadership, from a management perspective that are really helpful in ensuring that individuals are supported or feel supported within the workplace specifically.
AS: A really interesting point that it took buy-in from leadership and it might've taken this last year to get there. I wonder if it's because collectively, as a society, we are just experiencing higher levels of stress, even frequent trauma not just with the pandemic, but also with climate change and increased natural disasters.
I mean, we really have to have a society open to mental wellness to accommodate for what's going on in all of our lives.
EC: Absolutely, and I think what's been interesting in the last 14 months is——and Tramaine alluded to this——so much of what I worked with Tramaine on previously, and what I've been so excited to bring to Rare Beauty, is expanding Mental Health First Aid to more workplaces because it is about leadership and culture. The same way we train around communication, strategies and how to communicate in a workplace.
And in these past 14 months, while as Tramaine mentioned these problems have always existed, but now we're seeing that no one's unaffected. So, you have folks in leadership positions that are home with their three kids and a wife, or they're a single parent, or God forbid someone's ill.
No matter what, someone's life and routine changed in these past 14 months and, no matter what, that change impacts someone's mental health. And so it allows people who otherwise felt either untouched or unable to speak vulnerably in their workplace to sort of actually lead with vulnerability.
That's where that culture change happens and Tramaine and I work on this day in and day out, so we've probably seen, every other day, multiple headlines, but I bet if folks did research on how much mental health and mental health in the workplace specifically hit headlines in these past 14 months compared to the previous decade, we'd be blown away.
Because it is the topic of conversation both in the workplace and just in society.
AS: Yeah. I mean, it used to be taboo to talk about and that placed a stigma on experiencing mental illness. That's something that I love about NAMI and about Rare Impact and about what Youth To The People have signed onto is, like, creating a stigma free workplace to be able to have these conversations and make sure that people don't feel ashamed of what they're experiencing or ashamed if they need a mental health day. If they need to step outside for a minute, or if they need to, you know, “I need to go on a walk instead of joining this meeting, otherwise, it's not going to be great for me or for anyone else”.
So I love that, like that openness and that removal of stigma.
I love Rare’s approach, which is like positioning mental health as something that should be prioritized in school the same way that classes like PE, science, and history are taught. Like, it's this knowledge of self and this self-understanding that I think we should be moving toward as a society, like getting there where everyone has access to that and has resources to help further themselves along that journey.
Can you talk about how that came to be part of a Rare Beauty’s and Rare Impact’s approach?
EC: For us addressing mental health, and self-acceptance has always been at the center and the core of our business. Selena Gomez, our founder, knew from day one. She wanted to make sure that this focus was part of her brand, that it was really more than a beauty brand and something that was incredibly authentic to her.
Everything from her life: growing up in a makeup chair to her own diagnosis with bipolar disorder a couple of years ago. And what's been interesting is we've taken this issue and, by putting it sort of at the center of the business, it's really embedded in everything we do from educating our own community.
We partner with mental health experts like Tramaine, who's on our Rare Beauty Mental Health Council and nonprofit organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and many others to take that content and put it into digestible resources for our community, which is primarily Gen Z. We know that educating and sort of that storytelling piece is one of the biggest ways that we can change stigma and shift the culture.
What happened early on was we started to see that the content we were sharing on mental health was really, really resonating. Some of this content was our most saved content. The comments we were getting, the feedback, we saw that we were uniquely positioned to create this educational platform.
And, so what we did was: we thought about that and we thought about our own audience and leaning into them. And we thought about Selena's authentic story. She's told me many times how she has felt that, you know, if only she learned and understood emotions and mental health early on, her own journey would have been different.
And she knows that there are so many other people out there that her own story resonates with. We had this aha mo