Shomi Williams podcast interview – mental health and seeking therapy in marketing

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The amazing Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, joins me on the show this week, discussing the important topic of mental health and seeking therapy in marketing. You really do not want to miss this incredibly powerful episode.

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(Full transcript at bottom of page.)

Shomi runs a platform online called Lafiya Health that focuses on delivering mental and physical health education and services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a 1:1 level to support them with their emotional well-being needs.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Why she thinks looking after mental health is important.
  • What (if any) differences does she believe exist between white professionals and POC professionals in marketing who need help with their mental wellbeing?
  • What she thinks the perceptions are of mental health and wellbeing in the POC community.
  • What she thinks holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional to have a conversation with.
  • Advice for people listening currently struggling with their mental health.
  • Tips for approaching the issue with colleagues who you may feel are suffering from poor mental health.
  • Her thoughts on people having therapy and either being open about it, sharing with the public, or being guarded and saying nothing.

…and much more!

As always, if you enjoyed this, and previous episodes, please like, rate, share, and subscribe to the podcast – it all helps!

Useful Links:

Podcast Anchor Page: https://anchor.fm/azeemdigitalasks

My Twitter page: https://twitter.com/AzeemDigital

My website: https://www.iamazeemdigital.com/

Lafiya Health Twitter: https://twitter.com/LafiyaHealth

Lafiya Health: https://www.lafiyahealth.co.uk/

Episode Transcript:

Azeem Ahmad:
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Azeem Digital Asks Podcast. I know I say this all the time, but I really am excited for this episode because I genuinely believe that there’s a massive space for this type of topic to be discussed, which has not been discussed. And I’m very glad that my guest has agreed to join me today.

Azeem Ahmad:
She’s Shomi Williams, a psychological therapist, who runs a platform online called Lafiya Health, which focuses on delivering mental and physical health education services in a culturally competent and accessible way. She also works with people on a one-to-one level to support them with their emotional wellbeing needs.

Azeem Ahmad:
If you haven’t gathered already by the name of the episode on what I’ve just discussed, we’re talking all about mental health and therapy in marketing. So Shomi, welcome to the show.

Shomi Williams:
Hi, Azeem. Thank you so much for having me.

Azeem Ahmad:
More than welcome. How’s it going?

Shomi Williams:
It’s all going well. The weather’s good, so I’m happy. That’s all I need really. How about you?

Azeem Ahmad:
Very much the same. I don’t want it to get too hot though, because hay fever.

Shomi Williams:
Oh yeah.

Azeem Ahmad:
It’s real out here, which causes problems. But yeah, listen, that’s enough talking from me. I would love for you to give a quick intro to yourself for the listeners to learn more about you.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. Hi, everyone. My name is Shomi. I’m, as mentioned, I’m a psychological therapist. And I do a lot of outreach work to, I guess, broaden the education around mental health, to demystify it, destigmatize it.

Shomi Williams:
I run online workshops for different topics that would be beneficial for a lot of people, and then group therapy courses. And of course just general therapy as well. Yeah, so that’s essentially what I do. I also like playing video games.

Azeem Ahmad:
Oh, now I have to ask before we get going. Favorite video game?

Shomi Williams:
Ooh, that’s a really hard one. Do you know what? Just because when I look back of everything, I will say that my favorite of all time is Grand Theft Auto. Yeah, or Tekken, one of the two.

Azeem Ahmad:
Good, good answers there. Good answers. I’ll have to pick your brain some more about that after recording, because this is not what the episode [crosstalk 00:02:10].

Azeem Ahmad:
So let’s dive straight into it. I’d love to hear from you, why do you think that looking after mental health is important?

Shomi Williams:
I think it’s important just because it just, it contributes to everything really. Our productivity is down to our mental health, our social connections, how well we are in a community, how well we are in a family. And how well we feel in ourself is all down to our mental health.

Shomi Williams:
So it’s even linked to our physical health as well. When your physical health is good, your … Sorry, when your mental health is good, you have a better immune system, you’re less susceptible to pain. So it’s just good all around. Good mental health means good life, good living satisfaction levels are high, your immunity’s high. Everything is hunky-dory.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, that’s a great answer already. I’m very glad that I reached out to you. So again, thanks very much for agreeing to join me on this.

Shomi Williams:
No worries at all.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’d love to learn from you, because you must speak to a variety of people from all different backgrounds. So I’d love to learn more from you about what, if any, differences do you believe exists between white professionals and people of color, POC professionals, in this space who need help with their mental wellbeing?

Shomi Williams:
That’s an interesting one, because a big component of what I do is about being culturally competent, because there are gaps in the understanding of mental health between different types of people. And then that’s just down to what actually contributes to our mental health.

Shomi Williams:
Some societies are more individualistic, I guess, in a Western society, we’re a bit more individualistic. The connection that we have to our parents, it’s a lot less dutiful, whereas where I’m from anyway … So I’m West African, I’m Nigerian. What you might find as well is the way in which people relate to their family is very different. Very, what I guess over here, might be seen as unhealthy is just the norm over there.

Shomi Williams:
And I guess with mental health things are very … It’s very subjective. What is a problem in one area isn’t a problem in another place of the world, or what was a problem 100 years ago considered … For example, hysteria in women was a mental health problem, now it’s just life.

Shomi Williams:
So there’s just a difference of understanding of, I guess, just what’s important to everyone. And sometimes that can make people feel very overlooked when they’re speaking to a professional about something that they hold near and dear to them, and the professional is from a society where it isn’t held in the same way.

Shomi Williams:
Yeah. Sorry, I know I’m being a bit roundabout. But yeah, sometimes there can be a bit of a disconnect when it comes to what’s important to you, based on where you’re from in the world.

Azeem Ahmad:
I love that, and you’re absolutely not being roundabout at all. It’s really interesting. So thank you for sharing that.

Azeem Ahmad:
I’d love to dig a little bit deeper then and say, specifically looking at the POC community. From my own personal experience I’d love to know, I believe that there is a specific perception around mental health and wellbeing. I’m absolutely not going to put words into your mouth because the episode is about you. So I’d love to learn from you. What do you think the perceptions are of mental health and mental wellbeing in the POC community?

Shomi Williams:
I think at the moment in the POC community, it’s very secondary. It isn’t a priority in the way that physical health is. I think because a lot of people have come to the UK, and they’ve had to have their immigrant mentality on where it’s all about the hustle and building some kind of generational standing for their children. Thinking about mental health and how satisfied and happy they feel and self-actualization, isn’t a priority.

Shomi Williams:
And when their children are in a better position due to their hard work and the children are not functioning to a certain level and they’re like, “I’m not feeling great and quite depressed in uni,” the parents can very easily be like, “What are you talking about? I’ve just come here on a boat and survived the brutality of severe racism, and university is getting you down.”

Shomi Williams:
So there’s a massive disconnect where it’s not a priority. As long as you have two legs, why aren’t you walking forward? They don’t understand that your mind is slowing down those two legs. So I think it’s seen as very secondary, very frivolous, and something that only the privileged can focus on.

Azeem Ahmad:
Completely agree with you. And I’m glad that I didn’t put any words into your mouth, because that’s exactly the experience that I had when I was younger. When I was younger and I was in that space where I wasn’t feeling great literally, my parents would say exactly the same thing.

Azeem Ahmad:
A lot of similarities like, “Oh, I’ve dealt with X, Y, and Z, and you’re only dealing with A, B and C. You just needed to get your head down, work harder and get on.” But I truly believe, as you alluded to, that we are slightly more culturally aware that our parents are, slash, or were. Which is brilliant, so thank you for sharing that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Which leads me very nicely to my next question. I’d love to draw on your experience. So without being too specific, I’d love to know what you think holds people back from taking that first step and seeking out a professional like yourself to have a conversation with?

Shomi Williams:
I think one thing that holds people back is the fact that they need to acknowledge that there’s a problem. And who wants to have a label, who wants to acknowledge that, “There’s a problem with me. I need help.” Especially if you’re still able to function. The problem isn’t stopping you from functioning, so you’re still able to somewhat do the things that you think are important.

Shomi Williams:
It can feel a bit humiliating, especially when you’re conditioned to see it as a weakness. Nobody wants to say, “Hey, I’m weak.” And I think already there’s such a stigma. People can very easily use depression to insult each other or anxiety to insult somebody. So it’s almost like claiming in insults to a lot of people, because of the way in which it’s stigmatized. So they find it very hard to say, “I am this thing that I find to be so negative and I need help to not be it.”

Shomi Williams:
And also, it takes a lot of work as well. And I guess as well, just being a person of color, the services have historically not been the most favorable to us. So we’re very used to being dismissed from, for example, if you’ve grown up in schools where being black means that you are more likely be expelled or you’re more likely to be put in certain classes despite your ability. And then your encounter with the police is negative as well. You’re kind of conditioned to not have that much trust for, quote unquote, white services.

Shomi Williams:
So already you’re less likely to even go to the hospital, even if there’s a physical problem wrong with you. Let alone a mental health problem, which is invisible. There’s already that distrust that’s been ingrained. So first we have to admit that there is a problem, then you have to go to people that you are conditioned to not really trust and to try and avoid. So it’s not easy to do, it’s not easy to confront that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Again, you’ve led me very nicely to my next question, specifically drawing on, and calling out POC marketers.

Azeem Ahmad:
If there are POC marketers who are listening to this that are struggling with their mental health, but have not yet taken that first step to seek help, what advice would you give to them? And then separately, if there are any marketers, not necessarily POC, in the same situation, what advice would you give to them?

Shomi Williams:
I would say it’s very easy to think … When you’re in that fog, it’s very easy to think that whatever you do, isn’t going to work. But it’s good to at least give it an attempt, and then you know if it’s going to work or if it’s not going to work. And at least cross that off your list that, “Okay, I’ve tried this. It hasn’t worked out for me.” It’s really important to advocate for yourself. You know that you’ve had times when you’ve been better and you deserve to go back to a time where you’re feeling better.

Shomi Williams:
So it’s definitely possible, these mental health problems are not … They’re not definers of you or your destiny. It’s just, it’s a very human thing. Just like having the common cold doesn’t mean that you are now a cold-haver and that’s it for you. If you do get help, you’re on the right track and it’s possible to get better.

Shomi Williams:
So I would just encourage people to advocate for themself. Seek help, give it a go, continue trying. Even if it doesn’t work, try again, reach out to … You can speak to your GP. Some work places, they have their own therapy systems within the workplace that you can call up. Go to people that you trust. Obviously not everyone is so clued up, but people that you trust and you believe are clued up. Go to them, speak to them about it as well.

Shomi Williams:
Try and reemerge yourself into things that you used to do. If now, because you’re quite low, you’re not doing the things that you enjoy and you’re not socializing, try and take baby steps towards re-immersing yourself into that.

Azeem Ahmad:
Love that, that’s absolutely brilliant. And I’m about to throw a question your way that I haven’t prepared you for, so apologies.

Azeem Ahmad:
Contacting a GP right now, in my experience, is pretty much impossible. I’d probably have more joy going back to the first ever house I lived in, finding out where my next door neighbors have moved to and if they’ve got any pets or not, it’s that hard. So if there are people considering taking that step but are finding it very hard to speak to a GP, what alternatives or what other options would you recommend?

Shomi Williams:
There’s a national service called the IAPT service, so I-A-P-T. If you’re based in England, you should have a local one. Just Google your area and the word IAPT, see what’s available. And a lot of the time, most places allow you to make a self-referral. Some places you can only refer through your GP, which should change, and I think a lot of them are trying to make self-referral accessible. But as of now, I’d say about 70% of them do already allow you to make a self-referral, so do that.

Shomi Williams:
There are charities that can support you as well. Even like Lafiya Health as well, I do workshops to, I guess, get you kick-started. And I know it’s not always helpful because I know it’s not the most accessible, but if you can try low-cost therapies, there’s counseling directories that are available and people that have different prices as well.

Shomi Williams:
Some people really benefit from books. So there’s actually therapeutic books and it’s a cheaper alternative. You can buy a book for 15 pounds and that has given you a lot of therapeutic advice and tools and tips and workbooks. If you’re someone that operates in that way that’s a very cheap way to access therapy.

Shomi Williams:
Yeah, I would say IAPT service, speaking to people, trying to reintegrate yourself into activities that you enjoy, possibly using a self-help book or a therapeutic book. And then there was something else that I … And private therapy or low-cost therapy are alternatives to contacting your GP.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolutely brilliant. Thank you very much for sharing that. I should have mentioned much earlier on that this entire project, this podcast, was something that I started to protect my mental health last year during the lockdown because I could have quite easily … I think I’ve even put it on my website, I could have quite easily just watched nonsense on YouTube over and over again and not actually doing anything. There was one point where I felt like I was burning out and doing this every single week. So I stopped and I started reading, so a plus one for books. Absolutely brilliant.

Azeem Ahmad:
Got a couple more that I haven’t prepared you for.

Shomi Williams:
No problem, go for it.

Azeem Ahmad:
It’s always fun. This one is interesting, because I’ve spoken to people who are in this similar situation. So hypothetical situation, I work in an agency and I’m concerned about one of my colleagues who are throwing themselves into work. I think they’re overworked and I think they’re burning out. I don’t think that they recognize it.

Azeem Ahmad:
How can I approach the situation? How do I get them to see what me and other colleagues are seeing?

Shomi Williams:
I think that honesty is always the best policy. Say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve been really, really in work mode lately. Is everything okay? How are you feeling?” Just a check-in, let them know that you care.

Shomi Williams:
I think what’s really important when it comes to checking in on people when you’re concerned about their mental health, is having your concern, understanding where your concern is coming from, communicating it to them. But at the same time, you still need to let go. And they’re going to do with that what they’re going to do. Some people will take it in and maybe reflect and maybe dial it back, and some people won’t.

Shomi Williams:
So know that because you’ve noticed it and you are bringing it to their attention, it doesn’t mean that you have to then save them. You can’t save somebody that doesn’t want to be saved. Sometimes for some people it just takes a little check-in and that’s enough for them to reflect and dial back. Some people, they do need to crash and burn before they reflect.

Shomi Williams:
Either way, continue showing that you care and that you’re concerned. Mention it once and then if they continue down that path, maybe bring it up a week or two weeks after. But just gently, continuously let them know that your presence is there and that you care. That you’re available if they do want support, or that if they do … Not even necessarily support, you don’t have to make it so formal. You might say, “Do you want to head out for lunch one day?” Or just to let them know that you’re there essentially, that’s the most that you can do.

Azeem Ahmad:
Fantastic. Thank you very much for sharing it. I promise, this is the last one that I’m going to throw your way.

Shomi Williams:
No problem.

Azeem Ahmad:
When it comes to having therapy or seeking a professional’s help, for me, it’s very binary. And you may disagree, but for me, people either come out and say, “I’m having therapy.” Or the complete opposite, they’ll have therapy in silence and get on with their lives.

Azeem Ahmad:
What do you think specifically about the former, where people come out and say, “I’m feeling a bit low and I’m having therapy, and I feel great for it.” I’ve seen people jump into each other’s mentions quite rudely and say, “Oh, I thought you were stronger than that.” Where it’s an admission of you might be seen as being weak publicly.

Azeem Ahmad:
But the question I want to get around to, is what you thought some people who are open about having help professionally with their mental health and wellbeing.

Shomi Williams:
I think sometimes, when it comes to taking care of your mental health, because it’s not a new concept. Or because it’s newly popular I guess, some people they find it almost like joining a new religion. They’re so excited about it. There’s this new discovery of their inner world, and they’re making all of this progress and they want to share it.

Shomi Williams:
And I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but obviously it’s unfortunate that there are people in the world that are going to interpret it really poorly or might make you feel down about it. If you feel like you want to share it regardless and you can withstand that, go for it. If you feel like it’s quite sensitive for you but you still want to share it, I’d say share it with people that you care about. Share it with your friends, with your family members, maybe not somewhere so public that it’s easy to attack if you’re in a space that you’re quite sensitive.

Shomi Williams:
But ultimately there’s nothing wrong with sharing it. If you’re happy about something, celebrate yourself, celebrate it. But just be careful the way in which you’re doing it, and just be aware that it may possibly rub people the wrong way. How prepared are you for that if they retaliate? If you’re able to withstand that, go for it, put it on all the social media and to the world. If that’s something that you’re a bit worried about, just keep it with the family and friends and the people that you care about.

Shomi Williams:
But there’s no reason to … If you don’t want to share it, absolutely don’t, it’s up to you. It can be as private as you want. You’re in control. That’s the most important thing, do what you want, but just be aware of what may happen.

Azeem Ahmad:
Absolute gold. Honestly, this has been brilliant. I could genuinely talk to you for hours. Thank you very much for sharing this.

Azeem Ahmad:
Before I let you go, I would love for you to share how people can contact you, follow you on social media or connect with you.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. So the main social medias that I’m most active on would be Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, I’m Lafiya Health. I’m also Shomicita, but I’m less therapeutic on Shomicita and more talking about TV shows.

Shomi Williams:
And Instagram, that’s Shomicita. So S-H-O-M-I-C-I-T-A. And there’s Lafiya Health as well. Lafiya spelt L-A-F-I-Y-A. Yeah, that’s how it’s spelt.

Azeem Ahmad:
I love how you had to double-check that. Shomi, thanks for being a fantastic guest. Before I hit Stop Recording, literally the final word on this episode goes to you, so you can say whatever you want within reason. But once you’re done I’m going to hit Stop Recording. So no pressure, you get to end the episode however you want.

Shomi Williams:
Okay. I think my takeaway word would be for everyone to just be kind to themself. To give themself a bit of grace, because I think naturally we’re a bit inclined to be a bit harsh, be super-critical, expect ourself to be further than we are. And just beat ourself up for whatever we’re doing or whatever we’re not doing.

Shomi Williams:
It’s really important to just let yourself be … Let yourself make mistakes, let yourself explore what works for you, what doesn’t work for you. Be honest with yourself, be honest with those around you, and just accepting of whatever it is, let it be. Because at the moment, there’s just a lot of pressure on everyone to do whatever for this person or for themself, or whatever expectations are on them. And at the moment, especially in this time where things are particularly difficult and very different, the pressures getting to a lot of people.

Shomi Williams:
So yeah, my takeaway is just to be kind to yourself. That’s the most therapeutic thing you could do.

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