DANIELLE JOHNSON, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
Director, Women's Medical Health Program
Lindner Center of HOPE
Q. How did you become a champion for women’s mental health?
A. I became pregnant with my son during my residency and, while I didn’t develop full-on postpartum depression, I had the baby blues. I wondered if it got worse, where would I go? Who would I see? There really wasn’t anyone around here who worked in that area, and we didn’t learn about women’s mental health issues during my training. That experience made me realize I wanted to learn more and stay in that area after my residency so that I could be a resource for women. Lindner Center of HOPE has been open for 12 years now and I’ve been here since it opened, having worked my way up in various leadership positions. I’m the first woman in this position, and I hope that I am part of the influence that we have, not only in individual people’s lives but in the community as a whole. Especially now with COVID-19, everyone is struggling. We need to be there for the entire community and be a part of the bigger mission.
Q. Please tell our readers about your passion for minority mental health and how it interfaces with women’s mental health.
A. I originally wanted to become a surgeon, but as a Black American, I realized how big of a stigma there was surrounding mental health in minority communities — Latino, Asian, and other religious communities — and I wanted to make a difference. I think when people see someone who looks like them, it’s easier to seek treatment. I’ve seen the ravages of mental illness. It’s important to help people understand that mental illness is just as important as physical illness. I also enlighten women about the reproductive life cycle of a woman — the triggers and stressors and how it all interfaces with what’s going on in their environment. This type of information empowers women to not feel so alone as these feelings are very common. Sometimes we feel out of balance. Sometimes we feel depressed. Sometimes our anxiety is at an all-time peak. Asking for help during those times is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength. There is so much connectivity between mental and physical health. You can’t have one without the other. They are so intertwined. That’s why when we address mental health issues, overall health improves.
Q. What are some of the mental health challenges women are feeling these days in light of the pandemic?
A. During COVID-19, a lot has changed for new moms. For instance, when they visit the doctor, they can’t bring their support person with them. When giving birth, only one person is allowed in the room with them. Stays in the hospital are shorter. Everything has changed. Due to fear of transmitting COVID-19, parents may not want people over to visit the baby. As a result of all of this, moms have not had the support that they usually have. So, during this time, it’s important to find support in other ways. Maybe that’s virtual calls, checking in by phone, dropping off meals, hiring a cleaning crew decked out in PPE equipment to clean the house. Then there are the seasoned moms who are now home schooling their children. Even in 2020, most of these responsibilities still fall to the mom, so women need to make sure they are not getting overwhelmed and that they delegate what they need to do.
Routines are disrupted, which is extremely stressful, and if you’re working from home and the children are at home, nobody has personal space anymore. It’s hard to keep everyone from getting angry and irritable and still give everyone their quality time. Managing this new normal is tricky because we must be sure not to get too isolated or stir crazy and yet still stay safe from COVID-19. Getting through these days really requires a lot of grace for yourself and others, and acknowledging that everyone needs to take time to do some self-care.