Dr. Margaret Rutherford: Impact of a Global Conflict, Perfectionism, & Social Media on Mental Health

Dr. Margaret Rutherford Headshot

TUNE IN TO THE EPISODE:

In this thought-provoking episode, we discuss the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our mental health. Guest expert, Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a renowned clinical psychologist and author of “Perfectly Hidden Depression,” helps us understand how we can cope with the uncertainty and the fear caused by all the climate change, a rapidly shifting technological environment, and global conflict. She provides a helpful perspective on how global conflicts can impact individuals’ mental health and the importance of fostering understanding and empathy.

We also explore the concept of “perfectly hidden depression,” a term coined by Dr. Rutherford to describe a unique form of concealed emotional distress. We discuss how societal narratives can influence our mental well-being, particularly in the age of social media, and why it’s crucial to be aware of the messages we internalise. We also touch upon the challenges of labelling and stigmatising mental health conditions. This episode encourages self-reflection, challenges common assumptions, and underscores the need for open dialogues on both mental health and complex geopolitical issues. Tune in for an engaging and enlightening discussion with a leading voice in psychology.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford: Impact of a Global Conflict, Perfectionism, & Social Media on Mental Health Pin

About the guest-

Dr. Margaret Rutherford Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with thirty years of experience, is also an author, TedX speaker, and podcast host. Her book, Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism That Masks Your Depression, has reached thousands here in the US, as well as having an international impact, with translations reaching from Korea to Italy, Turkey to Germany. Her highly popular podcast, The SelfWork Podcast, has been continuously rated as one of the best podcasts for mental health and depression.

Shownotes -

00:00:00 – Coming Up

00:01:23 – Guest Introduction

00:03:50 – Coping with Fear Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

00:12:48 – Providing Guidance When You Haven’t Walked in Their Shoes

00:17:05 –  Dealing with Anger & Disappointment Caused by Human Cruelty

00:22:40 – Navigating Anxiety in an Era of Global Uncertainty

00:26:15 – Ideal Personal Qualities for Good Mental Health

00:31:10 – Fascination with True Crime Shows

00:35:00 – Understanding the Seriousness of a Mental Illness

00:40:00 – Dangers of ‘Social Media Therapy’

00:44:15 – Hidden Depression, Constructive, & Destructive Perfectionism

00:50:40 – Unhealthy Resilience

00:55:30 – Self-Talk vs. Professional Therapy

00:59:20 – Dangerous Social Narratives 

Resources + Guest Info

Krati: Thank you so much, Dr. Margaret, for being here. As I said, I am super thrilled that you’re here and this conversation is happening at a really, really like the perfect time. I think people need conversations like these a lot more right now. So let me just start by asking you about how you are feeling?

Dr. Rutherford: Oh gosh, thank you for having me by the way, Krati. It’s an honor and a privilege. I’ve done only one other Indian podcast that I can remember. So this is a thrill for me. So thank you. How am I being affected? I’m following my own advice which is only to get my news from one source.

So, I’ve been looking at the New York Times articles every morning, and trying to understand there was a really good synopsis of the history of the conflict with the countries that have been involved recently. So, I, you know what, I, I have tried to limit, I want to be knowledgeable. One of my best friends, her nationality is Palestinian and her father is Palestinian, her mother is American and she’s deeply affected and I want to be there for her.

I want to be there for my own patients who may be, whether it’s the Ukraine Russia conflict, whether it’s another conflict in the world, I want to be able to at least be educated enough to support them and try to understand what their feelings may be. However, just like we found out during the pandemic when things so drastically change and there’s a lot of trauma that’s unexpected and that we didn’t understand and we didn’t see it coming, then we can really get paralysed and people either avoid it and just, you know, either they drink too much or they spend too much or they they’re avoiding it.

They don’t want to deal with it or they just refuse to talk about it or whatever and then other people just dive right into it and want to know everything and keep their, whether it’s their TVs or their iPhones or their iPads or whatever it is, and keep glued to it. I don’t think either one of those responses is wise.

I think you have to be, or it’s much better to be, knowledgeable so that your sense of all of this is happening and I don’t know anything about it is eased, that you do feel like you at least have a grasp. And it’s also to understand that when we see these videos, I mean the people who are living this trauma whatever side that you are that you back or whatever, it’s still horrible trauma for the people that are involved in any kind of personal way.

And so that has to be reckoned with. And understood and have compassion for. But also there have been studies that show that when we watch these videos, and when we get glued to it, that it can give us so much anxiety and so much panic. And, you know, what is going to happen in your own country?

Your general sense of vigilance is heightened. Like I’ve got to watch for everything and I can, you know, I need to stay home and be safe. So I just think you need to watch for your reactions or your friend’s reactions, your loved one’s reactions that are sort of outside of the norm and make sure that they are doing the things that calm them whether that’s exercise, whether that’s contemplation, or yoga, or mindfulness, or meditation, or whatever it is, to make getting out in nature, to make sure you’re doing something to help calm your own soul and spirit.

Krati: That’s very helpful. I have to say like we in our home, I live with my parents and in our house, we pray a lot. There’s a lot of mantra chanting that happens in our house and we’re all practicing Hindus. I am super spiritual and we, like, there’s this general atmosphere and we have more festivals coming up.

So we decided that we’re gonna celebrate each and every one of them. So there are so many festivals in our religion that it’s just not possible to celebrate all of them but we decided because of what’s happening, we were like, this is creating a very positive environment. Let’s keep going with it.

Let’s celebrate everything. And I was in fact planning to travel later in October to the city, which is super religious, so I was gonna go there by myself. My reaction to this conflict was I told my parents. I’m not going alone.

You two have to come with me. I’m gonna book your flight and I’m gonna make the arrangements. We’re not getting separated right now so I also had that very paranoid reaction and I just like, you know, dynamics change between parents and children when a child becomes an adult So now I get to call the shots and they kind of have to be like, okay fine, you can protect us.

Dr. Rutherford: Well, good. Yeah, you don’t want to be separated from those you love because of the uncertainty and you don’t really know what’s in it. That raises your awareness. My son is actually in Jordan right now and was supposed to be in Israel next week. So we are just lucky that he, he and his friends who are half Palestinian, half Jewish, weren’t there.

And so because I don’t know if they could have gotten out. But, Anyway, I’m so, but my, my anxiety has been a little, I know Jordan is one of the much safer countries in that area, and so I’m not quote unquote worried, but my awareness is heightened for sure. And I think prayer is of course very important.

There are many people who will turn to their faith to try to understand or at least try to tolerate what’s going on.

Krati: yeah, because I don’t know how else to handle all of this. When the Ukraine Russia conflict happened I became part of these groups where we were trying to support each other, we were discussing things, and that honestly didn’t help because after every discussion, the only fact that remains is that we can have all of these chats, but everything is so completely outside our control.

Even if we were citizens of those countries, the government doesn’t actually listen to its citizens. The government does what it feels is necessary for them to do. The army does either what the government tells them to do or they follow their own lead. You know, whatever the system is in each country, but everything is so completely beyond your control.

At the same time, you also, at least I find it difficult to get past what is happening. And anytime I would be enjoying myself having a good time and I would just remember, Oh, you know what? There are people right now who are just in so much pain and look at me having fun. But at the same time, I just, yeah, I don’t know.

Dr. Rutherford: You know, I’m reminded of my parents. My father served in World War II and I can well imagine, and of course this was, you know, I live in the United States and so, you know, this was, we were very involved in that war and we were attacked by the Japanese and that kind of thing. And of course 9/11 here was much more recently was a huge Shock for the American people and we all gathered very close together and tried to understand what was going on But you’re right the the powers that be and and again, I’m not a politician nor do I particularly understand this But certainly there are factions that can control countries or parties that can control countries that do not necessarily reflect beliefs and the general disposition of the, it’s people.

They just don’t, they will convince in great PR campaigns that they do, but you know, we hear otherwise. So, and that of course is one of the beauties of social media that if you can get If you can reach it wherever you are, then you have a sense of what the outside world is saying and doing about your situation.

And whether that’s prayer, whether that’s support, whether that’s, you know, active support in the war, I mean, whatever it is. And so that at least is, you know, certainly I, I know that in Ukraine, or I’ve heard that in Ukraine, people are using social media to try to understand what is the world getting about this and that kind of thing.

But I’m, I’m happy to be here. I mean, just yesterday I posted something on Instagram and I said something about, you know, I feel a little odd posting something that is supposed to maybe have a shred of hope that, that, that there are, there is goodness in people and maybe goodness in their, people are discovering any, and even this horrible, I can’t even imagine.

It’s unimaginable to me, but there’s someone who’s offering kindness, there’s someone who’s offering compassion, there’s someone who’s trying to help someone else, and, we’re not all filled with hatred and vengeance and, you know, not at all. So I do, I mean, sitting here in my air conditioned home in the United States, well fed, you know, not worried about where my next meal is coming from or who’s going to knock on my door and pull me out of my house you know, that’s, it’s, I feel kind of, you know.

It feels a little bit pretentious for me to even say something like

Krati: Yeah, I get it. Anytime you are offering advice on something, being a coach, I mean, you’re a therapist. This is your job and you kind of have to do it because you’re so good at your job You can’t not do it. You have to be there for all these people who need you, who rely on you. I work as a coach and I have to talk to people who I know for a fact have been through things that I couldn’t possibly even imagine and I have to offer them advice And whenever I do that, there is this voice in my head that’s like, look at you lecturing this person who has been through so much more than you have ever in your life. There is this very sharp awareness of my privilege.

Dr. Rutherford: Well, Krati, the way I think about that is that it’s not really, I mean I’ve been a therapist for 30 years now, and it’s not really, some of it is my own, whatever, little bit of wisdom. I think we all have a little bit of wisdom, but I really feel like I act as a conduit. Let’s say someone’s child has died.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen in 30 years who’s, who’s had a child die. Many. Many. Many. What I think I offer the next person who walks in my office whose child has died is the experience or what I learned from the person before them. And I’m a conduit between that person and what their experience was and what I, I learned from that.

In trying to help them is what I have to offer this other person. It’s not necessarily, I mean, I’ve had people say, well, if you haven’t had a child die, I don’t want to talk to you. And that’s certainly legitimate on their part. If they want to find a therapist that has had that experience, I totally understand.

But it’s also You can’t sit and talk to people who’ve been through that kind of trauma and not learn something from it. And so, or at least try. And so that’s, that’s what I’ve, hopefully with some humility, try to understand and talk to people about that. It’s not that I’ve had the experience myself.

I’ve been in the presence of such palpable sorrow and shock and trauma, I’ve worked with people who, someone’s tried to murder them. I mean, I, you know, it’s just, it’s, you’re not, you’re not in this business for long if, when, you know, that’s, it’s not common human experience for someone to have tried to murder you, but it’s another way of thinking.

Krati: That, really helps me. I worked as a volunteer and I couldn’t be around women who had been sexually abused. I couldn’t do it. I would start crying anytime I would hear their stories, especially women who had been going through something like that since childhood.

So I have such respect for you for being able to be in the presence of that much pain. I had to like move to counseling women with entrepreneurial aspirations. So it’s like, let me do this because that is. I used to break down and I was, I would think that this is just making things worse for them.

They don’t know whether to hold their own grief or hold mine.

Dr. Rutherford: I would say that’s wise on your part. I, when I got into graduate school I was 33, and I did not have any children and actually I didn’t plan to have any children at that point in my life. And I, my first rotation in graduate school was to work on the children’s board in a psychiatric hospital, a state psychiatric hospital.

And these were children who, I mean, I ran a sexual abuse group for five year old little girls. Five year olds, five and six year olds. And so, but I, I couldn’t work with them. I, I was too upset. I’d take it home. I, it was something, I would get mad at the parents. I would, you know, I was very naive in my own understanding of what a therapist needed to do, but I didn’t choose to work with

Now, I gradually began working. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with children, but I worked with teenagers and certainly I’ve worked with a lot of abuse, but you know, you grow in that you grow in that way and, and it’s wise of you to know, you know, what I maybe can’t do right now in my career until I’m more experienced or until I have special training of some kind.

Krati: Yeah, I went the other way. I tried to understand the mindset of the people who perpetuate that kind of violence. And there was always so much pain on that end as well. So, all it did was just make you so unbelievably angry because one person’s pain does not justify that person causing another human being pain.

So, you, you’re just left with so much mess, so much of a mess, and you just don’t know what to do with it. It just makes you, you’re still just as sad as you were before you went on this, what you would deem in your head an intellectual exploration of sorts, but at the end of it, nothing changes. You’re just angrier.

Dr. Rutherford: I, I think the hardest thing for me about being a therapist has been a growing cynicism about, and certainly the wars that we’re witnessing, and again, there are wars going on that aren’t necessarily in the public eye as much at least here in the United States. what people can do to other people especially parents, which is, you know, they’re supposed to be sources of love and compassion and guidance, and so often they are not.

And it is shocking to hear And I won’t give you examples, because I don’t want your listeners to walk away with some of the pictures I have in my head. But it is, it is shocking, and it is very what’s the word I’m looking for? Humans act very inhumanely. And we are seeing that, obviously, in the two wars know, most people are talking about the most right now.

It’s just the brutality, it is as if they have turned off any kind of compassion or empathy. And, and they’re truly acting in a sociopathic fashion where there are no rules that apply to their behaviour. There are no morals as our president said yesterday. And so it is you know, I have, I have heard my own version of that in 30 years of doing therapy, and, but I also hear the powers that be, whoever you believe the powers that be are.

I also hear kindness, and I also hear compassion, and I also hear patience, and I hear, you know, I hear things that, That balance that out, at least to a certain extent, some days are harder than others, frankly about what I hear, but you know, we humans are very complicated and when we feel rigidly and strongly about something, then unfortunately we can weaponize ourselves and do very, very cruel things to people who we believe need to, do need to be punished, whether that be our children, or our neighbour, or our, you know, whether, whoever that is.

Krati: Yeah, absolutely. I I just have this one thing like I learned from reading Bhagavad Gita. I don’t know if you know about it. It’s, it’s like one of the major Hindu texts. It talks about karmic cycles. Like. It believes in rebirth. So you keep reincarnating on earth for as long as it takes for you to find liberation.

And the only way to find moksha liberation is for you to only do good deeds in a birth and stay engaged in worship of God and like Spiritually assent. Keep your karma super duper clean. So, I have been asking this one question since I was a kid. And I would love to like, share these two things. Like the one thing I would ask constantly is why do bad people get away with the things that they do and why do good people suffer?

And understanding the karmic cycle has helped me a little bit Like you may think that they’re getting away with it because you don’t get to see what happens to them in the next life But they will pay for what they’re doing in this birth and they’re getting away with it If they’re getting away with it in the next life They’ll pay for it and those who are suffering in this life and they’re good people in the next life They get to you know, take birth in wonderful families get Like a whole bunch of love and then end that birth with liberation, like being liberated and ascending to heaven or whatever higher plane you believe in.

So that kind of helped me. The other thing I like to remind myself is anytime I get in this, Mental tirade that oh, there are no good people left and I’m always think that are you saying you’re the only good person I I believe myself to be a good person. I would always ask myself. Oh, so you’re saying you’re the only good person left That’s very arrogant So I remind myself if I am here doing something and I think I’m doing very little There have to be like thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of other people like me who are doing What I am doing, but also we’re doing way more than I’m doing and so that gives me a lot of hope. Yeah. I don’t know if that helps,

Dr. Rutherford: Well, I, I’m, I’m no religious scholar, so I, you know but I, I’ve, of course I know of that idea in Hinduism and so I’m, I don’t know, sometimes I just, well, I hope that’s true.

Krati: Of course, I mean, it’s not for everyone, that’s why I shared, like, the second thing, I’m always wary of the, like, any time I think about sharing these religious ideas, I’m like, is this the right audience? But my audience, I think, now knows that This is, these are the things that I practice. So I’m like, if you’re listening to my podcast, you know, you can take what you like and you can leave what does not resonate with you.

That’s perfectly okay. Nobody’s forcing anything here. When you force things is when you end up having conflict and bad things happen and but I would love to ask you like it’s not just that there is a war that’s happening. We’ve gone through a pandemic. There is another war that’s still ongoing. There are also all of these shifts that are happening with the environment, unexplainable events happening all around the world and then there’s the weather that’s just not changing and it’s getting hotter every day instead of getting colder. So, just I would love for you to share some advice that people can use to not freak out about all of what is happening and again, all of what is happening that also continues to be beyond their control.

Dr. Rutherford: The first thought that floats to my mind is something that I actually, it would be my advice for any time someone’s life gets out of control in some fashion. Whether that’s because they find out they have an illness, whether that’s, you know, these more global factors, whether that’s, more individual or more cultural, whatever it is, is to look for what you do have control over.

We can be completely anxiety ridden by the things that, we do not have control over and that are happening to us. right? It feels like they’re happening to us. And so we in fact, you asked me to try to determine some of the traits that are good for mental health and that are bad for mental health and one of those bad for mental health things is to take on the role of a victim. I’m a victim of the weather. I’m a victim of global warming. I’m a victim of this, that, or the other. Well, I understand that again, especially the less developed countries are saying to the more developed countries, you’re the ones that are creating global warming and that kind of thing.

So I understand the global implication. I don’t understand it. I know a little bit about it. But at least on an individual level, what can I do? And what do I actually have control over and what I have control over is mean, what kind of electricity am I using, what kind of car am I driving, know, how am I contributing to the problem and how, what, I mean, in my own small way and if, and if, again, that is something that doesn’t particularly make you feel better than what.

Other things in your life can you feel, or what can you teach, or what can you, what kind of non profit, what group could you join, if you feel like your own individual efforts are Too small, then, you know, how can you, surround yourself with like minded people so that you have something to balance this fear?

You know, for example, in the pandemic, what people had control over was maybe, whether you believe it or not. Let’s take the people who did believe that the pandemic was real and that they needed to be vaccinated and they need to be very careful they could get together with friends outside and at least have an hour or two together, where you felt safe, but you, you had some control over, you know, you, you were socially connected, which is very, very important. So there were people who you know, didn’t do that. And I tried to help some people like that, that literally became they just stayed in their own homes.

They had their groceries delivered to them. They washed those groceries two and three and four times. They were just paralyzed with fear. And, and so they didn’t really say, what do I have control over? They let the situation control them. And that is what can really lead to horrible depression and anxiety and, and in a sense of being actively traumatized every day.

Krati: That really helps. But now that we are talking about this, I would also love to explore the other side of it. Like, what else would you recommend? What qualities would you recommend people cultivate in themselves to just generally have better mental health?

Dr. Rutherford: I had to smile when I wrote this list because I did it early this morning and I thought you know these are really just good things in general.

I wrote acceptance, courage, humility, honesty with yourself, persistence, and curiosity is what I wrote down and then some of the things that I wrote down that are bad for your mental health are blaming, passivity, pride, sense of victimisation, and resignation.

You know those things that you know, if we’re talking about mental health versus mental illness, those are actually, you know, two different kinds of concepts. Mental health is mostly, you know, keeping your mind healthy, keeping your body healthy. Keeping your emotions, regulated, and understanding that all those things work together.

Keeping your spirit filled so you know, there’s an analogy here in the United States about that it’s a four legged stool in your, your physical life, your spiritual life, your emotional life, and, and your relational life. All those. And I guess your mental life anyway, just think of them at four or five and that, you know, to be balanced, you have to have all those.

So, you know, and, and many of us don’t many of us don’t have our physical health, but we’ve got really good spiritual health or emotional health. Some of us are doubting our, our spirit, our spiritual world, but we’ve, we, have, our bodies are very strong. So, you know, there’s usually some imbalance.

There’s usually one part of your life that you’re doing, quote unquote, better than you are another. But how can you seek balance of some kind? And when you have mental, of course, mental illness is sometimes trauma based, it’s often trauma based, and there are going to be a lot of people who come out of what’s going on, both who are, who are actively involved in it and who are watching it who are going to be traumatized.

And so, how do you, you know, that’s a whole set of skills working through trauma versus when you have a mental illness that maybe you have inherited or is, has a strong genetic component. Of course, they, they are finding out all the time new avenues for what could be causing depression, what could be causing PTSD, what could be causing bipolar disorder.

And it’s really amazing what’s going on in the field as far as the, opioid sectors in the brain, the gut biomes and how the gut is talking with the brain. And, you know, depression is not a chemical imbalance anymore. That’s, I did two podcast episodes on that on my podcast. And so it’s far from a chemical imbalance.

So I think that that is something for everyone to try to understand that that balance is really important so that when things do happen to you or to someone you love that you don’t feel in control, that you have something that you can rely on. Your spirituality, your physicality, your strong mental sense, your emotional regulation, whatever it is that will help you survive the, the, the grief or the shock or the anger or the trauma of what’s happening to you.

And it’s, you know, it’s tough.

Krati: Yeah. I have so many questions now, but is it safe to say that in the absence of balance, because balance it can be very elusive. So in the absence of balance, is it like, can we draw comfort if we feel like if we feel generally supported, can we, can we be like, okay with the idea of not having balance if we are feeling supported within ourselves,

Dr. Rutherford: I’m not sure you can feel supported within yourself and not have some sort of balance, or at least have a sense of what it feels like when you do feel more balanced. Now, that doesn’t mean we always walk around balanced. I was off my game yesterday, and I thought, what is off? Something’s off. And I’m not sure I ever really figured it out.

Then I woke up this morning. I thought, okay, I’m more like myself today. And I think I know what some of those things were and they’re just, I’m not going to bore your, your listeners with it. But it was you know, sometimes we just feel off, but then again, we’re also being affected by what’s going on in the world, whether it’s global warming, whether it’s these wars and conflicts, whether it’s worry about humanity. I mean, these, some of these things are just so big. And, and again, I get back to, well, what do I have control? I’m talking in this microphone today to you in India, and that’s what I have control over. And whether I’m a calming influence, whether I’m an alarming influence that’s what I have control

Krati: Yeah, that that’s massively helpful. Thank you for that. Okay, this is something I’ve never been able to understand. I wonder if you can help me understand this and maybe there will be a warning in your answer. I don’t know. But, you know, with all of these, like you, the first thing you told me as we, you know, joined the conversation was that you are very careful of The news that you’re consuming and where you’re getting that news from.

\So we are, all of us are trying to do that because, you know, anytime you hear this news and you go into the details of it, like the numbers and the gender of the victims and all of that, you just wish you, you, you could [00:28:00] go back in time and not know about it. And just, you know, like you can just have general knowledge that this is happening.

But, at the same time, like, if you’ve noticed on Netflix, there are all of these documentaries that are coming out that are detailing, or even creating, like, movies around serial killers, around brutal, like, unbelievably horrible crimes and what is up with that? Like, why are people enjoying those things so much?

Clearly, they love it, that’s why Netflix keeps producing it.

Dr. Rutherford: Yeah, yeah, that’s a really, I’ve never particularly thought about it myself, but I heard someone discussing it the other day. You know, I, I think we can be fascinated by just how again, sociopathy and psychopathic behaviour is, is, you know, we see it as deviant and yet we hear these true crime stories, and I think that we realize, wait a minute, this may be closer to us than we realize. It’s happened to a neighbour. It’s happened to someone in our town, it’s happened to the town right next to us. We tend to comfort ourselves by thinking,  this isn’t going to happen to me and I can’t tell you the number of people who sat in my office and said, I comforted myself with this is never going to happen to me and it happened to me and so, you know, I think we you know, really when you think about it Krati I’ve often used this example when I’m sitting in my office.

I have this little small house I do my office in and I leave my doors unlocked and I say, you know, maybe some old patient or somebody whose wife divorced them after they were in therapy with me or whose husband divorced them, you know, are really angry with me and they could come rushing through that door with a gun and kill me.

Now, could I sit in this chair and think about that and do decent work? No, I could not. I, I pushed that away as if it couldn’t happen. Now if I hear somebody’s mad at me or has a, has a vendetta, I might be a little more careful. I might close, you know, I might lock that door. But, know, how, how people solve these crimes and the clues and it, it can, and, but we have to sort of depersonalize it.

We have to think of it, I’m watching a movie, I’m watching something that’s happening to other people, but it, it would never happen to me. And unfortunately that’s just not true I, but I don’t think we could live life if we thought my house is going to be the one destroyed by the tornado. My house is going to be the one that catches on fire and burns to the ground and I’m going to lose everything I’ve ever owned and my memories and everything.

My house or my child is the one that is going to get kidnapped or my, I mean, we, we couldn’t function like that. And so I don’t know. Does that answer your question?

Krati: Yeah, I guess. I mean, there’s this craving to understand what is so bizarre to you. And the only way to do that is to depersonalize it, which is probably what allows them to consume as much content as they do. So yeah, that does help me understand it. And I have to say like, this is something else like on the subject.

There is so much talk about mental health like my parents generation never talked about it So now when I do they’re like, this is an issue like seriously, is this an issue now? So they never talked about it. Our generation talks about it constantly and yet I feel like they’re not quite understanding the gravity of the situation Like I know horror movies disturb me, but I still watch them And when I know that I shouldn’t, I have interviews the next day, I have work the next day, I’m watching it anyways.

So I, I feel like despite how much we talk about mental health, how to take better care of ourselves, we, we are kind of [00:32:00] missing the gravity of the situation. How dangerous depression can actually be. How important your mental health actually is. Do you ever feel like that?

Dr. Rutherford: I think here in the United States at least there, there are many people who are younger that are looking after their mental health better and realizing that They don’t want to be like their parents. My mother had a prescription drug addiction. Now I’m much older than you.

I will be 69 in about 10 days. And so, so my mother would be in her late nineties at this point. But she. Never, when she had her first panic attack, her doctor just gave her a medicine for it and, and didn’t say get therapy or anything and so she became a prescription drug addict. I mean, she, that’s what doctors did back then and, and I came along and I had my first panic attack and I went, Oh no, no, no, no, I don’t want this.

And so I got into therapy I didn’t have a lot of support for that. It was like, you’re doing what? You know, yeah, I’m going to go into therapy. And so I, I think that, hopefully we’re turning this around where, I mean, that’s what my TEDx talk was all about.

But even… You know, perfectly hidden depression is, is a concept as a real thing that I’ve, I’ve talked about it and in my TEDx recently that I did I also said part of the solution is realizing that even the darkest thoughts we can imagine, well, other than hurting someone else is hurting ourselves, is something we can talk about.

suicidal thinking is common, much, much, much more common than people think. It’s just that we don’t talk about it, we’re considered kind of crazy if we talk about that, or not, or ungrateful, or out of control or you need medicine or you need something, you know, to fix that.

Well, you probably do, you know, you want to address it because that’s, you know, our lives are our time and our lives are all we have. know, They’re a gift. And so, the whole talk was about, I really want people to understand that, that kind of transparency as, as hard as it is sometimes to admit to someone that you trust, you know, sometimes I think about ending my life. That’s the start of the conversation. That’s not where you stop. That’s the start of the conversation and Then you say well, how long have you felt that way or you know, does anything trigger that tell me more about it and That way we can, when people can feel as if I can talk about this thing that is, the darkest thing that I can imagine talking about, about myself, and someone just goes, well, you know, you can talk to me about this.

It doesn’t give them permission to do it, quite the opposite. It gives them emotional space to talk about it. How many times has someone told me, for example, that their parent made them, this is maybe a trigger for some of your listeners, so be careful I guess the suicidal conversation might be too, the you know, that my father or my mother made me sexually abuse my sibling.

I’ve had that conversation with many people through the years. It’s fairly common, and that, but they have more shame about that than they do about their own sexual abuse because they, they could see I didn’t do this, but then they said, but I did that Rather than seeing they were doing it because their parent told them to do it And it’s a very dark secret that they’re carrying around and the whole idea about perfectly hidden depression Is that so many people have secrets that they’re hiding and often hiding through this perfect looking life You know, I I will prove that I am not That I, I will show everybody that I’m just fine rather than admitting I have this dark despair within me that I need to reveal again with people that I trust and therein lies my healing, not this picture perfect life.

Krati: yeah, my perspective on this is like, you know, to say the term terrorism is still not easy, like it has a very visceral reaction in your body because it has a gravity all its own. It sends like a shock through your body. It’s still not something that just gets discussed anywhere and everywhere.

Like maybe, and people are very like careful of who’s standing next to them when they talk about this stuff. But I feel like with mental health, like there are pretty little posts on Instagram. There are nice little pinning pin boats on Pinterest. It’s become such a common topic that even though there is so much more awareness about it, which is awesome.

And everybody’s taking it like are focused on it. Like it’s a part of their life that they consider constantly, but at the same time, because there’s so much like content around it, sometimes when somebody is having like certain thoughts in their head, instead of actually thinking, Oh, this could be the start of something like you talked about in your TED talk event.

They would be like, let me look up what’s been shared on Instagram. I, I noticed that. I’m like, do you understand what it means to want to hurt someone and constantly have thoughts about that? I’ve had conversations like that or to want to hurt yourself. There is something that that’s actually very serious.

You shouldn’t. You should seek help. Like, maybe therapy would not be the first thing you would do, but at the same time, instead of grabbing a phone and scrolling social media, maybe you should grab a journal and write out your thoughts. It’s just, that’s what, that’s what disturbs me about the whole thing.

That people think that there was a time when you couldn’t say something like, Oh, this person in this family is mentally disturbed, because that would, like, destroy their reputation, because it was such a serious thing. Now we are all very comfortable saying, yeah, he’s a little, you know, mental health is not so great.

And if nobody takes it like, Oh, what, what do you mean? And dissociates

from the family. And that’s great. That’s great. But at the same time, the flip side of it is people can say things like that about themselves, about others. And it gets set in such a, like a casual way and then move on to the next topic and the next topic.

This is serious. Like, saying that someone is not having not enjoying great mental health. It’s not like, oh, the coffee wasn’t so great today. No, this is, this is serious.

Take it, that’s, that’s, maybe it’s just my perspective. Maybe I’m seeing thing.

Dr. Rutherford: No. I did a reel on the idea that people look so quickly outside of themselves for answers. Oh, I’ll go see what, you know this influencer on TikTok has to say, or I’ll go look at, you know, somebody, a huge influencer on Instagram. Instead of, like you said, sitting down with a journal or sitting down with a therapist or sitting down where the focus will be on themselves and that, you know, trying to understand now, I’m not certainly negating the idea that you can feel supported and you can have insight when you realize you read something and go, Oh, this, this pertains to my life as well.

I could Okay. I could apply this to my life. That’s very, very helpful. When I first read about enmeshment, I realized, oh my gosh, I’m highly enmeshed with my mom. Now it took me years to not be, but, it was the beginning of an understanding of what was wrong between the two of us. So I could apply it, but the, the real change, the real behavioral change, the emotional change had to happen within me.

And I think that’s your point. We look outside and say, Oh, if I go do what so and so says on Tik TOK, then My problems will be over rather than saying, no, my problem is unique to me and may or may not be caused by the same sort of, or that, you know, what is my trauma? What am I avoiding calling trauma that actually is trauma?

So anyway, it can be kind of complicated, but I agree with you that sometimes we, we dilute. Or try to dilute what’s going on by saying, Oh, everybody feels this, or this influencer feels this, or whatever. And if I just wear this perfume, or if I just eat this food, or if I just weigh this much, or if I just, you know, whatever it is, I will, I will feel better, rather than going deeper than

Krati: Thank you for that. You just gave a lot of structure to my very chaotic question. So, thank you for that. And I would also love to share with my audience more about hidden depression because I think that would like really add to the point that you’ve established.

Dr. Rutherford: Sure, of course, of course. Now I want to point out perfectly hidden depression is a term I made up. I just kind of pulled it, but it’s actually, I, I just, the gods were with me that day because the term has meant a lot to a lot of people. It even has awakened people to the idea of there could be something wrong with this.

You know, that feeling. I had a patient one time who said he tried to kill himself and he said, and he’d had three affairs which his wife was forgiving him for, and they were trying to reconcile. But he said people came up to him all the time and said, gosh, I wish I had your life. You just have the perfect life.

And he thought, oh my gosh, you don’t know what in the heck you’re talking about. My life is far from perfect, but it looked perfect on the outside. So perfectly hidden depression is you know, I got accused by some Facebook folks who were just kind of trolling. But some of them were serious about, that I was pathologizing resilience.

And courage, and walking through hard times, and that’s not what I’m doing at all. Actually, there’s a certain thing called constructive perfectionism. And resilience is very important. But constructive perfectionism is just having this sort of innate, desire to do things you do very well.

Maybe you learn that in your family. Maybe you come out of the womb like that and it’s just something that brings you joy and is fuelled by generosity and creativity and wanting to give back. Maybe it’s your spiritual faith. Maybe it’s just your emotional connection and, and that’s the way you, you have joy is to engage very much in doing your best and in providing wonderful experiences for other people. It is, it is fueled by those positive emotions. Destructive perfectionism from my point of view is quite different than that. It is usually fuelled by fear. I have to be successful because I can’t let anybody know how scared I am.

I can’t let anybody know that I make mistakes. I can’t let anybody know, that, you know, what happened to me as a kid. I’ve got to cover all that up. So I’m going to cover that up. By being very task oriented. I’m going to get this done. I’m going to get that done. I’m kind of president of that I’m going to become i’m going to raise the most money for this non profit that’s ever been raised I’m going to you just you focus on what you do And that becomes how you get some form of esteem except there’s a prominent researcher from Canada who who said to me it’s like being on a treadmill where You don’t have any control of the slant. Of the treadmill or or the speed and so you are on the treadmill and all of a sudden here comes this expectation from a teacher, from a coach, from a supervisor, from another parent, from a school, from I don’t care what it is. And so you’ve got to go harder, harder, harder to reach that task.

And then as soon as you finish with that one, there’s the next one and you can’t get off the treadmill. It is exhausting and it’s lonely because no one really knows who you are. No one sees the real you. And that’s what I call perfectly hidden depression. It has several traits. You know, being very overly responsible, carrying a lot of shame and fear about yourself, negating any kind of trauma or discounting trauma.

Staying in your head most of the time so that you are, you stay away from emotionality. Now, it doesn’t mean you’re not laughing and you’re not engaging with people emotionally, but you avoid conflict, you avoid pain, you avoid anything that, that makes you feel that you think, Oh, I’m going to be down about that, so I’m just going to avoid it.

You do focus on the well being of others. You’re a great friend, but they don’t know you very well. They’re the friend, it’s your friend, and you go, you know, I never hear her talk about her childhood. And I think she told me her mother died, but you know, I never hear her talk about her mom. That kind of thing, you know. you believe in strongly counting your blessings. I do too, but you, you, you are, it’s called the term here in the U. S. is called toxic positivity. You always have to be up about something. You can never have a good thing happen to you that you also go, well, wow, I mean, I talked to somebody yesterday in my publishing house that’s very interested in me writing a sequel to Perfectly Hidden Depression.

And I’m really excited about that. And I’m like thrilled to maybe get the opportunity, who knows, but at the same time, that’s a lot of work.

And so it’s a blessing to get that opportunity perhaps, but it’s also a lot of work. That, you know, it’s going to, that’s not going to be a blessing. So, usually we, we also professionally, we reward perfectionism.

We like people who get things in on time or before time. We reward perfectionism and so they can get real stuck in that. And then there’s another thing that’s really important and the clinician part of me wanted to make sure this was part of the description. You actually can have another form of mental illness.

You can have panic disorder. You can have anxiety disorder. You can have anorexia. You can have a hidden addiction. You can have OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. You can have those things. And I don’t want you to think ever, Oh, I’m, I just have, I have perfectly hidden depression because you could also really have a mental illness that you need to address. perfectly hidden depression is what I call a syndrome. It’s a group of behaviours and, and beliefs that kind of group together and you find them together kind of like salt and pepper. It’s, it’s not a diagnosis and so it’s really important for people to understand that I’m trying to describe a way of being, not a mental illness.

Krati: This is something that’s interesting. This point that you brought up about resilience. I remember having this conversation on the podcast with someone who had done a mark champagne. He had done a profile on Elon Musk. And we all know Elon Musk is like the father of resilience.

Like he has really mastered resilience and he’s a tough guy. Well, something that Elon Musk said was that he would not recommend the way he works to other people because he works, like, he would sleep on the factory floor, he would stay in the office around the clock so working so hard all the time and never stopping at all, but he would not recommend that to other people. But at the same time, with how the world is changing. How crazy competitive everything is. And I know like resilience has its role. Like there is a part of the world. It’s all about self care, self love, and then that feels too much.

And then there are people like Elon Musk and that feels too much. And then there’s this conversation that we just had about hidden depression, which makes you understand how serious something can be. And that, yeah, to a certain degree, you have to be on guard. About things like that like anything related to your mental health.

How do we figure this out? Like when we are Like going to one extreme or the other when we are just being resilient Versus when we are rearing towards making ourselves sick?

Dr. Rutherford: Rudy Giuliani has become someone in American politics that he’s really seems seemingly has changed a lot, but he was mayor of New York when 9 11 happened and either one of his speech writers or he said, you know, I’ve learned today that courage is not the absence of fear.

Courage is being afraid and then, keeping on, keeping on being resilient. So, I think if you deny the fear, if you deny that you have feelings like fear, like sadness, like fatigue bone tired is a phrase that my grandmother used to say. I’m just bone tired. You know, that, that if you think, okay, I’ve no, I don’t have those feelings.

I’m very happy on this treadmill that Dr. Fleck talked about. you know, that you are, you’re not admitting things to yourself and you’re not being honest with yourself. I’ve been very, I was very blessed to do that TEDx. But I was petrified and that fear definitely gave me some troubles medically before I did it and so, you know, if I had only been thinking about the joy and the, and the honor of doing a TEDx, then I, I might’ve ignored that my body was giving me signals that said, Margaret, this is too much right now. You know, you’re not, you gotta calm down about this. You know, you’re taking yourself a little too seriously.

And so, you know, we have to be, that’s why I said honesty is really helpful and objectivity in your mental health because, you know, you can think everything’s going great. I, and, and yet you’re lying to yourself. You’re, you’re, you haven’t talked to your best friend in three weeks. You’re sleeping three and four hours a night. You’ve either gained a bunch of weight or you’ve lost a bunch of weight. When’s the last time you actually had a real conversation with one of your children? You know, it’s just these things that we can avoid thinking about. But when we’re being honest with ourselves and, you know, there’s a, there’s a school of therapy.

It talks a lot about, and actually it’s woven into a lot of different therapies, but you know, am I creating a life that fits my values as a person?

And we can convince ourselves we are, until we look a little closer. you know, and we’re more honest with ourselves. And so in some ways that’s how a good therapy can help is because, you know, a therapist can say, well, what are your values?

What are you wanting to create? And you can say, Oh, I want to be compassionate or I want to be successful. And so how do you define success? And they’ll talk about that and then they’ll say, well, so, you know, have you noticed that, there are some things that you’re doing that are really, when you, when you define success is having a close family and yet you spend.

15 minutes a day with your family, that seems a little contradictory to you saying you want to have a close family. So, you know, that’s what a gentle kind of, mirroring that a therapist can, can offer. Or sometimes a really good friend can offer, let’s face it, if you trust. And so you know, it, it’s, that’s what we can try to do is to check in and be very, very honest with ourselves.

Krati: I’m someone who is constantly talking to myself. And I know that this is something I’ve noticed that a lot of people who are very hardworking, very focused, because they spend so much time by themselves, they’re in the habit of talking to themselves, and it plays into a healthy mind.

Good mental health, but I wonder if that is just like this, because I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I never had friends. So it was just something I got into like talking to myself, being my own best friend. It was awesome, but not everybody does that, right? So do you think that it is something like a

Dr. Rutherford: Not everybody does that.

Krati: Okay, now I feel weird, but is this like a habit you would encourage?

Dr. Rutherford: Most therapists do, by the way. There’s this euphemistic phrase in psychology called a rich Inner world and basically what that means is you got a lot of fantasies going on and you’re talking to yourself in your head all the time.

Krati: Yeah. My mom used to take my birth chart to these people who read those birth charts and they would tell my mom always the same thing over and over again that your daughter has a very rich fantasy life. Please tell her to get some control over it or she’ll never get anything done.

They were right. They were very right about that.

Dr. Rutherford: That’s funny.

Krati: But at the same time, I feel like because of that rich inner life I’m very protected like the outside world, like I have this ability to go into like retreat within myself and then outside events don’t affect me that much. Now then there’s therapy. I think therapy is the alternative to it. And it’s like the most awesome thing is then you’re talking to someone who can actually direct you into directions that will really help.

But so therapy is definitely something, you know, we all. We would endorse, but at the same time talking to yourself, is that something you would encourage.

Dr. Rutherford: Well, actually, I think, you know, being aware of what’s going on in your own mind, just sort of the backdrop of this chatter that we all have in our head, that’s sort of giving us a, a play by play of what we’re doing. That is good because sometimes that voice can be destructive, and sometimes it can be constructive.

And so you want to be careful that it’s not just heaping you with shame. But I also believe a lot in journaling, and in writing, and getting some of those thoughts down. And so, because you can see it in black and white. And it somehow makes it more real or makes it it just gives it something that if you keep it all in your head, that that can be, as you say, sometimes you can, you can get overwhelmed by that.

So I think that being aware of what your inner chatter, your inner voice, whatever you want to call it is telling you is very important at the same time, sometimes recognizing when it I have some memories, for example, that I don’t know, I’ll be driving along in my car and all of a sudden I’ll think about this really stupid thing I did or embarrassing thing I did when I was really out of control. And I’ll just start thinking about that and think, Oh, and here it is, this bright, beautiful October the 11th, 2023 day. And here I am thinking about something that happened years ago and just sort of pummeling myself with it. Why in the world am I doing that?

And so, you know, you have to challenge that; those voices sometimes and say this is self destructive and this, and if it’s leading me to be a better person on October the 11th, 2023, that’s one thing. But if it’s not, then why am I, why am I, why did that pop into my mind? And so that kind of awareness is very important.

Krati: What popular social narratives do you like not approve of that you would want people to be careful of?

Dr. Rutherford: Yeah that was another really interesting question. You, you, you obviously are a thinker and, and that, that is wonderful. I’m saying something that a lot of people are saying now, right now. One of the things that jumped to mind was all this self promotion and self comparison. There’s an old, old saying comparison is the thief of joy. And I really think that it is because we, and it’s very hard not to do when you’re on social media. When I first got on, I first started writing, I became very aware that You know, I was checking to see how many people had read my stuff and I, I got a little obsessed with it. And then I thought, stop it, be aware of it if one thing, but to be obsessed with it is something else.

And that’s ruining it for you. Because then I’d look at somebody else’s, well, they got this and I got that. And you know, it takes the joy out of it for you. So that, that kind of very, what. social media has done is, is lend itself to all of a sudden we know what’s going on in the world rather than, you know, maybe a town next to us or something.

When I grew up, maybe, maybe I knew a few people in the town 30 miles away, but I didn’t know too many people from there. I was mostly, it was just us in our, in our small town. And that was hard enough.

And so I think people, younger people, really have a struggle with that, understandably, and then, you know, social media can also, or a social narrative also can, you can teach bad behaviour, you can teach anorexia, you can teach poor mental health, but I also think that some of the things that are, that, and you kind of touched on this, people are taking psychological terms like narcissism and they are, they believe they understand it and they begin accusing other people of being narcissistic or now it’s one thing to understand that something has a label and that it, it, it has a name and that someone might be manipulating you in that way or might be that that is helpful for you to label that.

But it’s gotten too loose. I mean, it seems like every decade. Yeah. We have a term, in the 90s it was borderline, in the beginning of the century it was bipolar, and now it’s narcissism. It’s like all of a sudden everybody was bipolar, everybody was borderline, and now everybody’s narcissistic. And not, and I wrote a post one time, it says, not every jerk is a narcissist.

So you know, I think we, we’re, you, it’s better to stop and understand those terms, really, or try, And to realize that to start diluting them and their meaning because you think you understand it, is just, I, I think it’s, and actually people who are bipolar or who are, do experience borderline personality disorder, which is a horrible way to live your life can get offended by that because these are, these are real problems. And just because you’re moody doesn’t mean you’re bipolar, for example.

Krati: Yeah. Thank you for saying that. That is massively helpful.

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Hi! I'm Krati Mehra

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I know what it’s like to fall apart and gradually put your pieces back together to build something better than what you had before and I share all my lessons in this space hoping that you will share my learnings without the struggle.

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