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Salt Lake professor and musician encourages other men to care for their mental health

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Nov. 19, 2020 at 10:15 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Men throughout Utah are participating in No Shave November this month. It's not just a time to grow facial hair, but also a time to reflect on men's health — both physical health and mental well-being.

Michael Wall is a composer, a performer and an educator. As a young boy, he fiddled around with his brother's trumpet. "It was that moment right there that just the magic of music really revealed itself," he said.

Even for someone as talented as Wall, practice never gets old. He's been in higher education for more than 20 years and is currently a faculty member at the University of Utah teaching music to dancers.

"I really love practicing. That's why I love music so much," Wall said.

He's found the same principle holds true when caring for his mental health. "I grew up in Mississippi in a really, really challenging and somewhat violent household," he explained.

The trauma he experienced as a child continued to affect him, especially when he became a father. "That brought up all this anxiety, and I started having really bad panic attacks. I couldn't get on airplanes. I couldn't drive on highways anymore," he described.

That's when Wall sought therapy and found help. He realized there were so many resources to help him cope, in addition to therapy. "There's all these different types of mental health practices, like meditation and journaling; there are supplements that you can take; there's medications that are really, really on point these days," he said.

Michael Wall has established a regular habit of meditating which helps him achieve balance in his everyday life. (Photo: KSL TV)

He's found it takes discipline and balance. "That's the thing, is it really is an active practice that still continues," he said. "Finding a balance in my relationships and my friendships, in my career."

Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Travis Mickelson, a psychiatrist and associate medical director of mental health integration, encourages people to find what works for them.

"The best coping strategy is the one that we know works best for us," he said.

"If I didn't feel like meditating, there was journaling; and if I didn't feel like journaling, there were different types of exercise and different books I could read," Wall said. "You can really find something that that speaks to you."

Mickelson says studies show spending time in nature and practicing mindfulness can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress. He says when you go about your day mindfully, it means you do things with focus and purpose without being distracted by things past or present that might cause someone to feel anxious.

"Mindfulness is my ability to notice those thoughts, and then come back to what I want to be focused on right now," Mickelson explained.

He says this skillset is vital to the success of another tool he encourages his clients to practice. He calls it "Three Good Things."

He encourages people to take 2 minutes each day to identify three positive things that happened during the day, and do this for two weeks straight. "There's always positive things going on in our world if we can be mindful," he said.

"If we could do that every day for two weeks, studies have shown that it has as powerful of an effect on helping to manage anxiety — symptoms of anxiety and depression — helping us to remain socially connected, helping us to have improved sleep, and work-life balance," he said.


Mindfulness is my ability to notice those thoughts, and then come back to what I want to be focused on right now.

–ntermountain Healthcare's Dr. Travis Mickelson, a psychiatrist and associate medical director of mental health integration


He says these benefits can last for up to six months.

Wall says it's helped him find the right balance. "I'm not living with deep depression or anger or overwhelming anxiety anymore," he said.

He tries to model these healthy behaviors for his own 14-year-old son. "Most importantly, being able to change that script of not repeating my parents' behavior, but being a very present father," he explained.

"Imagine how powerful it is for that boy to see their father take a couple moments and just do a mindfulness meditation, do some deep breathing or say to the family, 'Hey, let's all go out for a walk outside and let's just get some fresh air,'" Mickelson said.

He hopes men understand how powerful of an influence they have on other men to seek out a provider.

"One of the best predictors of a young man being willing to talk to a doctor or a therapist about some of the struggles that they're having is if they have been encouraged by another important man in their life," he said.

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"That's really powerful because men age 16 to 24 are at the highest rate of death by suicide, at the highest rate of dealing with issues of substance use, and they're the least likely of any population to reach out for help," Mickelson added.

While women have higher rates of depression than men, Mickelson says men more often turn to substance use or suicide rather than seeking help. "The data suggests that and supports that men are likely dealing with a lot of these struggles without necessarily reaching out for help, but instead using other strategies that are far less healthy," Mickelson said.

Wall encourages others to start developing a skillset to care for their mental health now.

"It doesn't need to start when you're struggling," he said. "When COVID hit, I was so happy that I had a practice of mental health and all of these wellness practices already ingrained in my day-to-day life."

"Reaching out for help is ... a sign of strength and a sign of intelligence and a sign of courage," Mickelson added. He encourages people to find a mindfulness app or tool online to help them get started.

If you or someone you love is struggling, reach out to your primary care provider or call Intermountain Healthcare's Emotional Health Relief Hotline, available seven days a week at 833-442-2211.

Photos

Aley Davis

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