Dr Lardizabal2

Client Insights with Dr. Mary Beth Lardizabal

Wold Team

For Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to take the time to highlight how our clients are actively engaged in mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. The last year has been particularly challenging as, according to the CDC, more than 2 in 5 US residents report struggling with mental or behavioral health issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. To assist in our ongoing discussions surrounding mental health, we sat down with Dr. Mary Beth Lardizabal, a System Medical Director with Allina Health, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. The following includes more about her career, her insights and her outlook into the future of mental health.

How did you become a Psychiatrist?

Growing up as the daughter of a physician, medicine has always been a particular interest for me. As a young girl, I used to spend time with my dad in the ICU following him on his rounds. I had other interests in science and biology, but I always stayed close to medicine. Following my psychiatry rotation, I realized that I wanted to specialize in it. I enjoyed the idea that mental health is universal and that even if you can't always cure mental illness, we can help make someone feel heard and seen.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

Something I enjoy about working in psychiatry is that each day is different. In my role, I oversee around 12 psychiatrists throughout our system. As an example of this oversight, I lead our group meetings where we discuss topics specific to our specialty. Additionally, I still actively see patients whenever possible. Another facet of my work is being a system-wide leader in our hospital, where I provide my insights on a wide variety of hospital wide issues. This work is difficult, with real problems but is so rewarding.

Some of your interests include meditation, hiking and martial arts. What role do your interests play in your overall mental health?

I've always been an active person, and because of that, movement is essential to my mental health. During exercise, we are training our bodies and in meditation we are training our minds. As someone who is making recommendations for improving one's mental health, I want to make sure I "walk the walk" and perform those recommendations. If we take time to exercise and meditate regularly, we can help train our bodies and our minds.

What is one thing everyone should know about mental health?

The most important thing for everyone to realize is we all need mental health and wellness, and we all can be affected by mental illness. Depression is the most common disease on the planet, and it is the most significant cause of disability in the world. The next wave of the pandemic is the looming mental health crisis. We must take steps right now to prevent this potential crisis. As a nation, we have to focus on things that improve our well-being.

What advice do you have for those struggling with heightened mental health needs during the past year?

First, you must take care of your physiological needs. This includes basic needs such as getting enough sleep, eating a more nutritious diet and getting physical exercise. If we actively do all three of those things, we can cut the risk of physical and mental illnesses. Another factor that is important to consider right now is social isolation. Many people are feeling very isolated during the pandemic. Developing and maintaining social connections perhaps by taking a walk together in a safe manner is essential to improving one's well-being.

Children and young adults may be experiencing an increase in social anxiety and other isolation issues. What tips do you have for adolescents as we return to some normality?

We know many kids are excited to return and see their peers, but we also expect a period of adjustments for students. Being in a highly structured environment, new academic demands, and other factors may cause stressors for students returning to in-person settings. Students who performed better in a virtual environment may struggle by this return. With this, I hope school districts will continue to discuss how they can provide flexibility for students for both in person and virtual learning options.

How can school districts assist in mental health efforts in the next few years?

There should be increased opportunities for mental health services within the schools. These opportunities have been slowly growing, but I think now, there should be a greater focus. Since we're expecting mental health needs in schools to increase, we should be focusing on providing early screenings and assessments of students to ensure we provide adequate resources. Peer groups can be a great way to treat teenagers. Additionally, promoting social-emotional learning and coping skills such as meditation will help students navigate future stress and conflicts. Like every other life skill, kids need to learn these skills as early as possible and practice them.

What are a few goals you have for the industry/your career?

I'm hoping we can build upon the silver lining of the pandemic, where we realized that we can offer effective virtual therapy and increase the accessibility of our services. Expanding our reach of mental health treatment is something I'd like to grow upon. Additionally, I'd like to continue to see the stigma of mental health decrease. The pandemic has allowed people to see that mental health is for everyone and it is everywhere, and I'd love to see that awareness increase.

I hope we can start making mental health as important as physical health. I'd like to see mental health areas in hospitals grow in relevance. Traditionally, mental health was not spoken about and located by a hospitals' "back door,”. I’d love to see these services come to the "front door" with other health areas. By having beautiful, safe, designated spaces for mental health, and any specialty care for that matter, we can create a collaborative environment that helps heal our patients.

How does the design of a space affect the way you can provide care?

The environment of a mental health care center should include elements that make people feel comfortable and safe. When you're in anxiety-provoking environments, it's tough to focus on improving your well-being. And just by being in a hospital, a person's anxiety is already rising, so we must find design solutions that enhance recovery efforts for patients. On top of this, we want to design the safest possible places for those undergoing deep depressions or recovering from traumatic experiences.

As we look to the future of design, what are some considerations we should make for mental health? What are some features you'd be sure to include in a fully optimized mental health building?

Buildings have to be designed with safety first and foremost. Whether that’s in terms of secure doors, soft services or comforting aesthetics, we need to make sure everyone is in a safe environment. Additionally, I recommend views of the outdoors, and whenever possible, safe access to the outdoors. The ability to have a connection to the outdoors is essential for many aspects of our mental health. While these features may be challenging implementations for some building types, I believe it is important to begin discussions on how buildings can be optimized for mental health.

What are some resources everyone should utilize to better their mental health?

If you have any questions about mental health, one resource I recommend is the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). They provide insight into a wide array of topics, and they are actively involved in communities around the country. In terms of support, I encourage people to connect with family members and close friends to talk about things they’re experiencing. During these discussions, you can identify potential places to get help and therapy. Finally, I sometimes joke that we all should have a therapist. But I am not really joking. Mental health providers can be an essential support and can coach us in many ways, and provide us with skills to improve our mental health.

We want to thank Dr. Lardizabal for her time and the insight she has provided for this piece. We will continue to engage in discussions surrounding mental health, and if you have any topics surrounding mental health you'd like us to discuss, please let us know.

Additionally, if you'd like to learn more about Dr. Lardizabal, we encourage you to view her provider page on Allina Health.

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