Identity & Mental Health

How does who you are impact your mental health, and vice versa? To try and unpack that loaded question, Bey and Kirsten chat with photojournalist Octavio Jones, whose work has focused on black men’s relationship to mental health, and Grace Malloy, an LGBTQ-focused therapist. 

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Transcript
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Hey, there.

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Welcome back to So Curious, presented by the Franklin Institute.

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I'm the Bull Bey.

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And I'm Kirsten Michelle Cills.

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And we're your hosts.

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And today we're looking at a big, big, big topic identity.

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We are going to take a look at how our

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senses of who we are can impact our mental health and vice versa.

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Later, we'll be chatting with Grace

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Molloy, a licensed clinical social worker whose practice focuses on mental health

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services specifically for the LGBTQ plus community.

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But first, we're joined by photojournalist Octavio Jones to talk about his work that

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investigates this topic within the black community.

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I guess we should tackle the whole idea of identity first.

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Yeah.

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Bey, quick question, really low stakes question.

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Who are you?

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I'm an incredible hip hop artist from the

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dopest city on planet Earth, Philadelphia, PA. You know?

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That is exactly who you are. And Kirsten.

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Who are you?

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Who am I?

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I am Kirsten. Michelle Cills.

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I'm a stand up comic.

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I am a queer woman.

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I am a Birds fan.

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I am. Oh God. Who am I?

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Bey. Who am I?

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You tell me who I am. No, that's how it happens.

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I mean, after a while, you just have a little identity crisis.

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I'm this, and then you're like, what am I?

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You're like, I don't know anything for sure other than go birds.

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Well, now that we've sorted ourselves out,

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let's welcome our first guest, Octavio Jones.

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Octavio Jones, can you introduce yourself and what you do?

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I'm Octavio Jones.

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I am a freelance or independent visual

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photographer of visual journalist based here in Tampa, Florida.

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I've come from background of 15 years of

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journalism back in newspaper print experience.

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Now I delve into the world above being an

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independent photographer, still covering news, but also some commercial, and it

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encompasses all editorial work at this time.

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Wow, that's amazing. That's awesome.

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Well, it's wonderful to meet you.

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I'm Kirsten, and this is my co host. Yes.

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My name is the Bull Bey. You could just call me Bey.

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It's great to have you today.

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My first question for you is what drove you to pursue this career?

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How did you get into this?

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I was talking back to my cubicle days of

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being an HR benefits enrollment specialist.

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I was still confused, like, what I want to do.

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And even after doing college, I really kind of just picked any

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major. I was like hey let me just major in business administration.

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Right. Mhmm.

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So um. I love journalism during that time,

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and I wanted to see what photography was all about.

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And I just happened to come across a few websites that kind of specialize with

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these photographers that work for agencies like Magnum and Seven.

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I looked at the AP and see all these wonderful websites where we saw this

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incredible work, and I was like, yeah, I think I want to do that.

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Right?

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And I was like, hey, let me try this photo journalism thing.

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Right? I didn't really had any idea.

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I bought this N 90 Nikon film camera and I

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approached a couple of weekly newspapers that actually I just kind of told them

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that, hey, I think I want to be a photojournalist.

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Can you please let me take a weekly paper?

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Of course they said I didn't have any experience.

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So they was like, well, we can't pay you. That's fine.

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Mind you, I still had the HR job, so at

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least I had some to pay the bills with, right.

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So I think I just kind of fell in love

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with it, kind of being on the assignment, even though it's a weekly paper.

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But it gave me sort of like an introduction of what the career can be.

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Right.

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I got to say I love, so Bey and I are both artists in Philly.

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I'm a stand up comic professionally.

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Bey is a rapper.

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So I love any story that starts with, I

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was sitting in my cubicle, and then cut to now I'm an artist.

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I love those stories.

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So our season this is our third season of the So Curious podcast.

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This season's theme is all about mental

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health, and I know that your work features the American narrative, right?

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Highlighting human challenges that we have, like racial tension, poverty,

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overall struggle, things that are pretty uniquely American in this country.

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Can you speak to those themes?

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Like, why is it so important for you

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personally to be documenting people's journeys?

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Because I believe that everyone has a story.

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Right? And when I go out and tell these stories,

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I try to latch on what is a common thread when I talk to the subject, right.

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And I try to go in those inner thoughts

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being of the subject who's talking to me and just kind of tell their story.

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And I think that's so important.

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It's one thing that I'm very passionate about because I love people, but also

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understanding the five W's. Who, what Where, when, and why?

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How did you get in the situation?

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Where were some of the pitfalls that we all have in life?

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Right.

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And I always try to approach that with an open eye, with an open view, of course.

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Very non judgmental. Right.

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We kind of prejudge a lot about someone's character, but once you start talking with

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them, you'd be amazed with their backstory, and I think that's my approach.

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Absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that.

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I think sometimes it's an incomplete narrative, and so when you go into it with

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a little bit of an open perspective, you get to have a larger story be told.

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And Octavia, I wanted to ask you you published a piece for WUSF public media

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called Two Black Men Share Their Journeys With Mental Health.

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Can you tell us about that piece that you worked on?

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So I had this discussion with Mary Shedon, who's the news director, WUSF, and she

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told me that, hey, we want to work on black mental health, and we have mutual

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friends in the Task Bay area that the counselors are a friend of mine.

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Sheniace Morgan she went off and got

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certified in mental health counselors, some areas because of her brother, right?

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And her brother who's going through some

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mental health things that he was dealing with.

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So that inspired her.

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So Janice was a part of this project, and

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a couple of the people who who knew of other folks who they've had their own

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personal stories that deal with either friends or family.

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And my journey here in the Tampa area.

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Just like I'm sure in Philadelphia too, when I see either dealing with something,

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either those who may have some serious mental health issues, either kind of

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talking to themselves sometimes I can be walking down not even two blocks for me

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and say, why is this brother, why is he here on the corner?

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Why is he dealing with this?

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Is he getting help?

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So you have all these questions, right?

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And also not even that some things that are seen, but also those issues that are

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not visible as well that some of us we may deal with internally.

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And it kind of draw me to that.

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And when Mary says, hey, I love for you to kind of take charge of this.

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Tell the black man's perspective in

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dealing with mental health, and I mean that's a wide range of things.

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That's a heavyundertaking.

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Right. That's a heavyundertaking.

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So I want to ask, what are some ways, in

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your opinion, that the media can convey more positive, more impactful messaging

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around men's mental health, and specifically black men's mental health?

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I think the understanding of our past too,

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because some of people talk about generational trauma, right?

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We had this conversation four amongst our

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friends, other folks who deal with history and now we're starting to learn about

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generational trauma, even through being enslaved Africans.

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Right, or what have the impact of slavery,

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how that the conditioning of African Americans post slavery.

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We're starting to learn some of that behavior, some things that are taught,

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some things that are also just kind of taboo culturally.

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And speaking of mental health, I remember just even ten years ago or maybe years

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past, if you talk about mental health, especially within our families or within

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the church, the first thing we will say "Awe we want to pray about it." So

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now, because we have done this piece right, we've interviewed a couple of

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pastors who are now encouraging those who may need not only just to seek the pastor

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or a minister for counseling, but also seeking outside professional help.

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And I think that's some of the encouraging

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trends you start to see within our community.

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Octavia, I want to ask a lot of your work

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on this topic involves going into communities and speaking directly to Black

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men about their experiences around mental health.

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If you feel comfortable, could you share

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with us some of the stories that you've heard?

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Yeah, even just photographing Harold and him just kind of sharing the story.

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And when Harold says his grandmother was the matriarch of the family and how

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devastated he was, the long lasting impact when she passed.

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And by talking to him, you can see that.

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You can still feel that the pain sometimes

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in his voice, he may tear up, because sometimes the grandmother, especially

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within a black family, especially young black boys who's father may be present,

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who may be absent, the grandmother is like, like who holds it together.

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So true. So true.

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Yeah, personally my grandma, I miss her to this day.

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And I can see that Harold is definitely he

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misses her and of course he loves her so much.

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But you can just tell someone that just

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hurt, pain inside, that he's still coping with that too.

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Right. Even when I took a portion of him in front

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of that house, you can see that I think the house is going to be up for sale.

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You can see the attachment you had growing

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up in that house, you know that it was all sort of meeting place right, for family.

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You know what I like about that personally?

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So we're in Philadelphia, I'm born and

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raised here, and the city is growing so rapidly, and you just brought up like, you

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know, someone's attachment to a physical place and the physical makeup of it.

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There's so much changing in the city from

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day to day, and we never account for how people might respond to that emotionally,

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mentally, traumatically, like, all these different ways.

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And so thank you for highlighting that.

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That's what really stood out to me.

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Yeah. Especially I live. Bey lives in West Philly, I live in South Philly.

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And especially with just the sheer amount

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of gentrification in the last 5-10 years in Philly, and you see people having to

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move out of their childhood you know their homes that is their family home.

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And it's like, obviously awful for many reasons.

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That's your life, that you're uprooting,

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but then yeah, you don't think about like damn

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Your mental health.

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Yeah, that connection that you have.

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And I love what you said about the

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grandparents because it is interesting the way that people react.

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If someone says, I lost a parent versus I lost a grandparent.

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People seem to think it's a lot less of an effect on you if it's a grandparent.

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And it's like, I grew up with a single mom.

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My grandmother was my other mom.

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So it's almost like if you did grow up in

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an environment where your grandparents were very involved yeah.

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You go through that process of losing a parent and that trauma many times.

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So I want to ask, what are some of your final thoughts you

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hope people take away from your line of work and about men's mental health?

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Finding a subject to someone that we can

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all relate to, even with the other gentleman, uh Jai, right?

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Single dad, father of four children.

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And the line, I will never forget that he

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says to me is like, black man we all want to wake up and be superheroes.

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Right? And I'm like, what?

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Dang, man. I can relate to that too.

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Every day that we wake up, we want to be great in whatever we're doing.

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like We're going to make this a good day. Right.

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And I think that with black men, I think

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we kind of deal with that inadvertent pressure on ourselves, right?

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Because when he said that, after that, he just started tearing up while he was

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talking about how he just wanted to be a great dad and making sure that he's there

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for his children, he works, and making sure that he can still provide for them.

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you know I just want to be great whatever I do, right.

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I want to kind of succeed.

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And he says, every day has to be better than yesterday.

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That's amazing. Thank you for the work that you do.

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Thank you for picking up that camera.

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Thank you so much for joining us.

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I love the work that you do.

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It's so awesome to hear that somebody is

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out there listening to these stories, like you said, with an open mind and hearing

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out these people, because mental health is health, right?

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I was just there in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago.

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I was coming through New York, and a couple of friends of mine, they worked up

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to the Inquire, so to Denise Keenan and Monica Herndon.

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So not to call them out, but I just want to call them out anyways.

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Shout out to the Inquirer

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They are also journalists and also great people.

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So I mentioned Denise Keenan's name

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because she called me up one day, and speaking of mental health, she was trying

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to make work on a project, and she says, what are some of the joys of black men?

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And it was such a deep question, right?

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What are- What do we find joy in?

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Do you have an answer?

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Oh yeah absolutely, my daughter. Even though she's 15 now so. I find joy.

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She brings me joy, even probably in my down days.

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She brightens up my day, maybe having a bad day.

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So she makes you laugh.

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Oh, that's so wonderful. Dad of the year.

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Yeah, for real! Yeah.

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Thank you so much for your time.

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Octavio, thank you so much for coming on to so Curious.

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I really appreciated the conversation

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around matriarchs of family and things like.That that hit for me because I have a

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grandmom, who's getting up there in age, and I love every bit of her.

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I love the stories that she shares.

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And so I can only imagine the deep, deep impact of a loss like that.

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And I'm really grateful to have my grandma so shouts out to Grandmas.

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Yeah. We love Grandma.

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All of our grandma listeners, you rock. Let's go.

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Our next guest is Grace Molloy.

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Grace is a licensed clinical social worker.

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Grace, welcome to the show.

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Thanks for joining us. Yeah yeah.

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On the So Curious podcast.

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Grace, can you introduce yourself?

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Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do?

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Yes, I am Grace Malloy, and I am a therapist in the Philadelphia area.

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My practice is both virtual and in person

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right now, so I have clients really all over Pennsylvania, and I specialize really

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in working with the queer population as well as folks with depression and teens

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who are kind of going through family conflict.

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That's wonderful. Yeah.

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Thank you for your work. Yeah, seriously.

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Really good stuff.

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So you're a therapist who specializes in queer care.

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So can you talk about what that means, why

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it's so freaking important for the queer community to be having mental health

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providers who specialize in that, who get it, all of that?

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Yeah, I think a huge piece of it is definitely in the queer population, you do

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see a lot of higher levels of different mental health issues.

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And I think a lot of that is due to societal factors and feeling challenged or

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pressed or anxious about just kind of being who you are.

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But I think for myself, my interest really lies in being a queer person myself,

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so you know wanting to provide that space for my clients where they feel like their

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experience is understood and that they're represented.

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Yeah.

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And you touched on the importance of being who you are, your identity, and likethe

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fact that there has been, like you said, so many more young people who feel

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comfortable being unabashedly who they are.

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And can you talk a little bit about what

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role have you seen identity play in mental health?

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I think identity is huge in mental health, I think in both directions.

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I think someone's identity in terms of their socioeconomic status, their race,

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their gender, their sexual orientation, all of those things play a part in how

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someone experiences the world, which can impact their mental health symptoms.

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And then I also think on the flip side,

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some people really do identify with their mental illness.

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And there is a lot of research out there around kind of biological factors that

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contribute to mental illness and genetic factors.

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And so this sense of wanting mental

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illness to be thought of as along the same realm of other disabilities and wanting

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that to be something that people can both feel honored around and accommodated.

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Yeah, I love this. I love this. And just

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to take a quick step back and we have a ton of questions for you.

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What is identity?

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When do we develop that?

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Is it from birth?

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How do we think of ourselves?

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Walk us through that very complex concept of identity.

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That is a huge question.

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I mean, an identity is a huge piece of adolescence, like identity formation.

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Oftentimes folks will kind of begin to

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form senses of their identity based off of their environment, their family, friends,

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whoever the important people are in their lives.

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But yes, in terms of adolescence, that's

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really when we see a lot of experimentation around identity and a lot

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more knowledge around what identity means and how it impacts us.

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Now, is identity like a fixed thing that just stays solidified forever?

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Or does it grow, evolve, chain?

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Can I be like one person one day and then completely a new person the next, or does

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that start to really delve into real deep mental illnesses?

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Yeah

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No, I mean, I think identity can absolutely change.

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So in terms of thinking about it from the perspective of sexuality and gender, a lot

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of more of the research in theory now shows that those things exist in a much

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more fluid way than we normally think of them.

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And then I think there is just the sense, too, of identity formation.

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Like it takes a while for all of us to figure out who we are and how we identify.

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And so in that process of figuring that out, there's a lot of

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grasping for different labels and ways to quickly explain ourselves to others.

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Of like, hey, this is what I'm thinking right now.

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But that's something that I definitely see

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for sure and talk with a lot of parents around when teens do come out, is this

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sense of, okay, why is my kid picking this very very very specific label?

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And how do they know that this is what fits them right now?

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And how do we know that it won't change?

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And I think the big piece to that is that

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you don't necessarily know that, but a lot of the time the labels serve as a way for

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a kid to kind of quickly express to other people who understand what those labels

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mean, like how they are thinking of themselves in that moment.

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And that can change.

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I'm curious, you work with, like you said, parents and you work with teens.

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So what does for our maybe teen listeners

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or parent listeners who are grappling with identity, gender, sexuality?

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What does the conversation of mental health and identity in your experience

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look like between modern day adults and their modern day teenagers?

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Yeah, I think there's a huge spectrum in the conversation that I see.

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There are families that are very willing and able to just kind of jump into these

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conversations. Maybe have some knowledge around gender and sexuality and feel

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equipped to kind of guide their teens through that.

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And then there are other families where it

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is something that is much more conflictual and contentious.

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And I think that also can have a huge impact on the mental health symptoms that

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the teen or queer person is presenting with.

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The Trevor Project is a great example.

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They do research on suicidality and LGBTQ

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youth, and their research shows overwhelmingly that with the trans

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population in particular, when their pronouns and their preferred

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names are honored and used, then suicidality drops significantly.

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And so those are the pieces that I really

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bring in because most of the time when I'm working with families, whether they are

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accepting of their queer teen or not, they're coming in because they can see

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that their child is struggling and they want their kid to get help.

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And so being able to kind of connect

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around this piece of, hey, this is something that could help your kid is a

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way to kind of shift the conversation from like, is this real?

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Is this not real?

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How do we all have different beliefs around this and focus more on this is

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something that research shows will be beneficial to your kids.

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So how does the outside world affect

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people's relationship with sense of identity?

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Can you talk about that a little bit more?

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Will people have strong identities if they just stayed in the house all the time?

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I think the outside world plays a huge part in it.

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I mean, obviously, it depends on the environment that you grow up in.

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But there are some folks who have never

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met a trans person, have never met a queer person.

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And so not having that influence, actually, for a lot of queer people, if

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that's your experience growing up, it makes it a lot easier to pathologize your

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own identity and to think like, oh, there must be something wrong with me because

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everyone else is straight, everyone else is cisgender, and so there's something

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wrong with me that I'm not. and so being able

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You can confirm that's not true, right?

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That's just not true.

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That's not true. No.

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Far from it.

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No, not at all. No.

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That notion is the thing that I think oftentimes can be really

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really detrimental to folks in the queer community just because there's nothing to

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be treated mental health wise in terms of your gender and sexuality.

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That in itself is not a mental illness.

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It is something that unfortunately has been categorized in that way in the past

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because of a lot of misunderstanding and oppression related to that identity.

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But I think having environmental factors that kind of expose you to different types

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of identities can bring a lot more awareness to your own identity as well.

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Yeah.

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And so what have you seen as far as what happens when a person is constantly

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perceived by an identity that they do not identify with?

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What is that like from your perspective?

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Yeah, well, that's, I think, a really easy

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kind of example of that is the experience of being misgendered.

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Oftentimes trans folks.

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They're not perceived as the gender that they identify with, especially kind of

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during the transition process, and for some oftentimes after transitioning as

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well, because there is, I think, especially non binary folks can encounter

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this a lot, kind of this notion of like, okay, we're still breaking this mold of a

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binary gender and thinking about gender in more inclusive ways.

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And with that, there's a lot of people who are not thinking in that way yet.

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And so you see someone who is non binary

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and you try and put them in a specific box.

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And I think that's the place where

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absolutely stress is a huge thing that it causes.

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You can also think about it in terms of

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microaggressions every time someone is misgendered.

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There's a lot of research around

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microaggressions and stress and the relationship between the two.

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So really just kind of having all of these experiences where you're being perceived

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in a different way and this sense of conflict between yourself and the way that

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others see you just creates a really stressful space and also, I think, for

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many people, a lot of feelings of depression.

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Thank you for sharing that. Yeah.

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Yeah, absolutely.

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Is there anything else that you want to say to our listeners?

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Final words.

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The only thing that I can think of is just overwhelmingly when it comes to all

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identities in the mental health field, feeling as though you have representation

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in terms of your treatment team, like your therapist that you're working.

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With your psychiatrist that can feel

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hugely beneficial and just feeling like the people who are working with you

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understand you and understand your lived experience.

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That's awesome. Yeah.

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Thank you so much. That's amazing advice.

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Once again, thanks so much to Grace and

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Octavio for coming on the show to talk with us.

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And while we went internal for today's episode, next week we're going external.

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Next episode is going to be all about how the environment around us impacts our

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mental health from the physical spaces we live in.

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"And so we had to take into consideration

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the psycho emotional impacts of the environment."

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To puppies.

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I do have a five month old puppy here at my feet.

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We're super excited about next week's

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episode, so be sure to subscribe wherever you listen so you don't miss it.

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This podcast is made in partnership with Radio Kismet.

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Radio Kismet is Philadelphia's premiere podcast production studio.

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This podcast is produced by Amy Carson and Emily Cherish of Radio Kismet.

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This podcast is also produced by Joy

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Montefusko, Jayatri Das , and Aaron Armstrong of the Franklin Institute.

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Head of operations is Christopher Plant.

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Our assistant producer is Seneca White.

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Our mixed engineer is Justin Burger, and our audio editor is Lauren DeLuca.

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Our graphic designer is Emma Seager.

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And I am Kirsten Go birds Michelle Cills.

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And I am the bull Bey.

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See you next week. Peace.

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