Women In Wellness: Dr Shairi Turner of Crisis Text Line On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Dr Shairi Turner of Crisis Text Line On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Life is truly a journey — it is winding and non-linear. Try to enjoy the journey and not focus too heavily on the destination. You will miss the beautiful moments along the way.

Today, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of societal discussions. From mental health to physical well-being, women are making significant strides in bringing about change, introducing innovative solutions, and setting new standards. Despite facing unique challenges, they break barriers, inspire communities, and are reshaping the very definition of health and wellness. In this series called women in wellness we are talking to women doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, fitness trainers, researchers, health experts, coaches, and other wellness professionals to share their stories and insights. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shairi Turner.

Shairi R. Turner MD, MPH, is an internist and pediatrician with expertise in public health and trauma-informed practices. She originally joined Crisis Text Line as the Chief Medical Officer leading the Crisis Supervision Team (2017–2019) and returned in 2020 as Chief Transformation Officer, responsible for guiding the organization’s culture transformation focused on embedding equity throughout the organization. She currently serves as the Chief Health Officer leading the Public Policy and Advocacy Team focused on the organization’s external policy, advocacy and partnership initiatives related to mental health.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Things few people know….As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then I was bitten by a dog and decided I would be better off helping people. My parents were artists. Deeply engaged in Black theater in NYC.

I decided I wanted to be a pediatrician. I received a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University, a Doctor of Medicine degree from Case Western University School of Medicine, and completed the Harvard Combined Internal Medicine and Pediatrics Residency Program. During my medical residency, I lost a very close family friend to suicide. He was incarcerated at the time. I had visited him in prison numerous times. Looking back now, he came from a classic cycle of generational trauma. It was devastating.

So when I finished my residency program, I became interested in public health but I was not exactly sure how that would fit with my career goals. I applied and was accepted to the Commonwealth Fund Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy. For my practicum, I chose to work with the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts. I studied their substance abuse policies and programs for minority adolescents. I learned how incarceration affected communities of color.

Before joining Crisis Text Line, I served as the first Chief Medical Director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, responsible for the oversight of Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Services. My office’s focus included the impact of childhood trauma on youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Following this role, I served two years as the Deputy Secretary for Health and the Interim State Surgeon General for the Florida Department of Health. From there, I was a faculty consultant for the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care, co-leading national trainings on the neurobiology of trauma.

Currently, I am the Chief Health Officer at Crisis Text Line leading the Public Policy and Advocacy team. My team is responsible for the state, government, education, and non-profit partnerships. We help guide legislative initiatives and partnerships in the mental health space. I am also one of the spokespeople for Crisis Text Line, handling media engagements, interviews, and podcasts.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

So many stories of being in the “right place at the right time” professionally. Very few of my career moves have been “planned”. I believe that the Universe guides us to align with our purpose if we are alert to the possibilities. This will probably be the most interesting part of my life story. I always find myself guided to what is next. I know for many (including my husband), this can be anxiety-provoking….No five-year plan. But I stay in tune with my body and intuition. Usually, when I feel like it is time to move on to another position, opportunities arise. I never let fear keep me from taking a leap of faith. I believe that we should enjoy and be energized by our work (most of the time). That feeling lets us know that we are aligned with our purpose. The common thread that runs through my professional decisions is that of advocacy. Am I helping someone? If I don’t see an opportunity for impact then I know it is not the right move for me to make. Whether with youth in the juvenile justice setting or people texting in to Crisis Text Line, I want to know that I will be a part of making lives better.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is such a difficult question to answer because I do believe “mistakes” hold the key to our deepest learnings. I believe that the Universe gives us opportunities to learn our life lessons. When something seems like a mistake or I feel like I have experienced a negative outcome, I reflect back and look for a pattern. Have I been in this situation before? What is the lesson for me? Early on in my career, I would let other’s expectations guide my decisions. Parental and familial expectations can hold a great deal of weight for young people. I tell my young adult children to make the choices that feel right for them. I don’t want them to make their career decisions based on what they believe will make me proud. What makes me the most proud of them is when they find something they love and pour themselves into the experience.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

When Crisis Text Line first launched 10 years ago, few expected we could provide substantive help through text messages. Today, nearly 9 million text conversations later, we proved it’s not only possible, but highly effective. Anyone anywhere can get fast, free, and discreet support from our community of thousands of trained, LIVE volunteer crisis counselors in English and Spanish.

Our mental health support via text is distinguished by its discreet, accessible, confidential, and anonymous nature. Individuals, especially our youth, reach out to us from various settings such as school, work, while on the go, or from the comfort of their homes. What sets our service apart is the assurance of a private conversation, allowing people to share their concerns without the fear of being overheard. This secure platform provides a safe space for individuals to seek the help they need without compromising their privacy, ensuring that mental health support is accessible to all.

Advances in telehealth, remote patient care, and virtual reality (VR) are on the horizon. Looking ahead, it will become more common for people to meet with a mental health professional remotely, in the VR space or even perhaps within the Metaverse. This could increase access in innovative new ways, and we are proud to serve as a leader in providing remote-based mental health support to those who are seeking help. Mental health services (in some form) should be a reality for everyone, and learnings from our text-based care can serve as a model for other providers, who are working to make a bigger impact on the world.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better well-being?

1 . Listen to your body. Ask yourself ‘where am I feeling discomfort in my body?’ It helps some people to actually write out the answer to this question. Understanding where your body holds discomfort can help you better manage it.

  • If you need sleep — get rest.
  • If you need a sick day — request it.
  • If a situation is causing you physical or emotional distress…get out of it.
  • Our bodies communicate to us all the time. Especially when we are engaging in less than adequate self-care.
  • Eat well
  • Exercise

2. Set boundaries. Take time to reflect on your own boundaries. Use this self-awareness to determine when you are feeling down. Set boundaries with people in your life and set boundaries around what enters your mind. This means…take a break from the media to manage your exposure to difficult conversations and traumatic stories. I like to say: “Find the world news. Don’t let the world news find you”. What I mean by that is that we are in a tumultuous and traumatic time nationally and most definitely internationally. You can spend 24/7 imbibing images of death and destruction if you so choose. Recognizing that there is only so much that we can do when we watch these images repeatedly, it stresses our mind and body. It puts us in fight or flight mode with nowhere to run. When I update myself on the news, it’s either by audio or digital print, not video and not for extended periods of time.

3. Maintain Social Connections: Nurture relationships with friends and family and engage in social activities. Social interaction can reduce feelings of loneliness, boost mental health and provide a sense of belonging. Again, I am very intentional about spending time with people who are positive and uplifting. With the pandemic, we have moved into virtual or hybrid work opportunities that can keep us limited in our in-person interactions. I am very intentional about setting up meaningful opportunities with people I care about. I find one-on-one interactions to be very special at this time in my life.

4. Consider volunteering: Helping others has been shown to improve people’s overall well-being. Volunteering for a good cause can make you feel connected while helping others who may be in need. There is really nothing better than sharing yourself and helping others. Find something you enjoy doing. If you prefer helping animals then volunteer at a pet shelter and not a homeless shelter.

5. Reach out for support. When feeling down, you don’t have to go through hard things alone. Reach out to a friend or family member. You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach a live volunteer Crisis Counselor. We’re here for you, 24/7. Everyone deserves to feel joy in their lives. Too many people still think they have to wait until they are in a rampant crisis to get any type of help. Not the case.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We are currently in the midst of a youth mental health crisis. According to Crisis Text Line’s Youth Resilience Report, from 2019–2020, overall mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 31% for 12 to 17-year-olds. To reverse this trend, doctors and mental health professionals must address symptoms early on, which can mitigate issues like anxiety and stress before they become full-blown crises. One way to do this is by adding routine mental health screenings during primary care visits, helping doctors get early access to patient populations that are especially at risk for under-treatment. The model of integrating behavioral health into primary centers needs to be the standard of care. It is an all-hands-on-deck moment that we are facing in our nation. We cannot continue to lose our children. At this point, everyone is a candidate for good therapy. To process all that has happened to us in our own lives and the world around us. We need to support parents in having these difficult conversations with their children. Equally, we must help parents understand how their personal childhood trauma impacts how they parent their children.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Life is truly a journey — it is winding and non-linear. Try to enjoy the journey and not focus too heavily on the destination. You will miss the beautiful moments along the way.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff: Too often we get caught up in how we think things “should” be. That causes us to reach for an alternate reality. We then put energy into forcing a relationship or a situation that doesn’t need to be. Go with the flow. Very few things that are DONE can’t be UNDONE.
  3. Stay present: We cannot control the future, no matter how hard we try. We can miss incredible opportunities and meaningful interactions when we are looking ahead instead of resting still in the moment.
  4. The time you have with your children is so finite: Meet them where they are. Appreciate their unique qualities and don’t be so focused on your career that you miss moments to connect.
  5. Stay strong and active: Sitting is truly the new smoking. Advances in automation have been incredible but they also have us moving our bodies so much LESS. Don’t ever be too busy to have an exercise regimen. Prioritize your health.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health equity. I have always been a strong advocate for health equity and ensuring access to mental health services for all individuals. Mental health equity means that the right services are available by the right provider in the right modality at the right time. Currently, we are in the midst of a youth mental health epidemic. Particularly as it pertains to youth of color. Since 2017, suicide has been the SECOND leading cause of death for children ages 10–19 years. All BIPOC youth have mental health concerns that exceed their white counterparts.

  • Rates of suicide among Black youth have risen faster than in any other racial/ethnic group in the past two decades with suicide rates in Black males 10–19 years old increasing by 60%.
  • Early adolescent Black youth are twice as likely to die by suicide as compared to their white counterparts.
  • Intersectionality: Black girls and young women and LGBTQ Black youth are at even greater risk.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native youth also have higher rates of suicide, with a rate of 36.3% per 100,000 in 2021.
  • For Hispanic or Latino youth, the rate was 7.9% and 9.4% for Asian youth.

We, at Crisis Text Line, have played a pivotal role in leveraging virtual care to expand access to mental health support. By embracing digital platforms and implementing strategies to address language barriers and accessibility needs, we have worked towards bridging the gap in mental health support and making it more available to underserved communities. A true public health intervention!

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

Visit our website www.crisistextline.org or follow us on Instagram for our latest work.

Follow me on @DoctorShairi on Instagram.

Individuals seeking support can text HELLO or HOLA to 741741 or via web chat to be connected to a live volunteer Crisis Counselor.

If you would like to make a difference by supporting individuals in need, you can make a huge impact by volunteering as a Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line. You will then be on the front lines of helping people in their darkest moments. Visit www.crisistextline.org/become-a-volunteer to learn more and apply.

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com .

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