A Deep Dive Into Mental Health, An Interview with Rachel White, CSW

A Deep Dive Into Mental Health With Rachel White

A Deep Dive Into Mental Health: An Interview with Rachel White, CSW

In this interview, we asked one of our volunteer licensed therapists to clarify some mental health terms and explain the difference between anxiety and panic attacks.

“Your brother is a psychiatrist? So not a real doctor?”

“That ride was so scary! I’m going to have a panic attack.”

“I think you’re overreacting; I know people who’ve had real trauma.”

These statements may seem familiar to you if you’ve been in discussions about mental health. Unfortunately, these discussions can be riddled with misperceptions and misunderstandings about mental health terms and mental health itself, from what it is to how it manifests.

Understanding Mental Health Terms: Q&A

When it comes to mental health, terminology matters. In our ongoing efforts to promote understanding about mental health, we spoke with Rachel White, one of our volunteer licensed therapists who has practiced for more than a decade in northern Utah. We asked Rachel to clarify commonly confused mental health terms, and she answered some of the most asked questions in the mental health space.

Is a therapist the same as a psychiatrist or a psychologist? What’s the difference?

This is a question we get a lot in the mental health field. I don’t blame anybody because there are so many acronyms MFT, psychiatrist, PsyD, Ph.D., CSW — so there’s a lot of acronyms that can be overwhelming for someone looking for a therapist. First, there’s a whole slew of types of therapists: you can get a marriage and family therapist, you can get a licensed professional counselor, you can get a social worker—there are tons of different types. The biggest thing with a therapist is finding someone that fits you, right? So, look at their bio, and do the research.

  • A psychiatrist is actually an MD (Doctor of Medicine) of mental health and that’s more of the prescriber base of psychotropic medications. They go to medical school and then specialize in psychiatry. If they want to do child psychiatry, it’s an additional four years after medical school. It’s a very specialized kind of doctor for that, whereas a psychologist has a doctorate in psychology and a clinical base.
  • A therapist usually has just a master’s and they’re certified in therapy. So, there’s a lot of different questions with that, but the main one comes down to their education. That’s something you want to think about when you look for a therapist: Are you looking for medication? Are you looking for more advanced testing, which is more of a psychologist route, or are you needing mental health? They’re so intertwined. Starting out, someone usually goes to their medical doctor first and they’re like the gatekeeper. They help figure out exactly where you are and what route you might want to go. So that’s always a good starting point.

What’s the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

People use these mental health terms interchangeably, but they’re actually very different. There’s a somatic or a physiological difference in them. The first thing you want to know about panic and anxiety attacks is that it’s our adrenal glands secreting hormones, and they secrete them very differently based on panic or anxiety.

  • Anxiety releases cortisol, which is the worried or anxious hormone; we’re worried about something we’re perceiving as a threat, right? Where something might happen — maybe you have a test coming up, you’re really anxious about bills, or whatever it may be.
  • Panic secretes adrenaline, which is very interesting because adrenaline is more fear-based, life-threatening, dangerous. It wants you to take action quickly. There is an imminent threat. If someone comes in your room charging, or you see a tiger or something else that feels very life-threatening, you respond.
A man sitting on some steps covering his face while having a panic attack

When you have a panic attack versus an anxiety attack, you have a very different physical response. A lot of times it’s the anxiety, right? You have a perceived threat. You’re having these thoughts. Things are going on around you. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in that that it can lead to a panic attack. “Oh my goodness, this is going to happen.”

That can lead to adrenaline being released, so you need to be very careful and be very cognizant when you are a little anxious. It can be a good motivator to help you work through a test, help you study because there is the “Oh, what if I fail? I want to do well.” That can be a good motivator, but if it’s taken too far, it can lead to panic.

How to Alleviate a Panic or Anxiety Attack

The best thing that you can do to help with those panic attacks and anxiety attacks is through grounding. Grounding helps you realize, “Okay, where am I at? Is there a perceived threat? Is it okay to be worried about this?” Noticing what’s going on around you and what is relevant around you too. “It’s okay that I’m worried about this test. Is the world going to end if I fail this test?” Sometimes our thoughts take us to those extremes, so it’s important that we keep those in check and there are specific skills that we can talk about. Knowing the difference—that your body is responding differently to panic and to anxiety—and noticing your own triggers and your own responses is important as well.

“I feel that my problems aren’t nearly as bad as others,” is it still okay to see a therapist?

One of the big rules of mental health is you can’t compare. Don’t compare traumas; everyone has their own weaknesses, troubles, or traumas, and it’s important that you don’t compare them to somebody else’s. If we were to do that, no one would get the help that they need.

Same thing if you had a cut on your arm, went into the hospital, and saw that someone broke their back. Is your cut still important? Absolutely. We need to make sure that the cut is cleaned, taken care of—that’s part of the emotional first aid for mental health. We have to take care of ourselves in whatever capacity. So, when you feel like your problems aren’t as bad as somebody else—yeah, I can see where you might think they have it worse, but that doesn’t mean that they are. It’s something to be aware of. We have to take care of ourselves.

A woman wearing a coat and backpack walking along a small bridge in the woods

As Rachel White explains, it’s important to understand when and how to talk about topics like therapy and attacks. While the terminology around mental health matters, we hope our discussion will help you understand the context in which these terms are used. Using the right terminology and framing the discussion appropriately promotes compassion, understanding, and support in your community.

About Rachel

Rachel White is a clinical social worker who has worked in the mental health field for over a decade and has helped multiple populations overcome a wide range of challenges. Her specialties include trauma/PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief and loss, emotional healing, self-word, and overall wellness.

Rachel White | Family Solutions Counseling (familysolutionsutah.org)

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

It's Okay: Addressing the Mental Health Stigma

It’s Okay: Addressing the Mental Health Stigma

It's Okay: Addressing the Mental Health Stigma, by Codee Seehagen

Throughout history, a strong stigma has existed around the topic of mental health. A stigma is something that degrades or takes away from one’s character or reputation. Evidence of mental health can be found during the middle ages but didn’t become commonplace discussion until the 1900s. As you begin educating yourself around mental health, you begin to recognize that there are levels of severity and diagnosis. Even today, clarity around these levels can be a little foggy, although I would like to point out a distinction between mental illness and mental wellness. When talking about mental health, people often lump mental illnesses into the same category as mental wellness causing much of the negative stigma surrounding mental health. Because they are lumped together, many people think something is wrong with them, rather than recognizing events and environmental factors that significantly impact their mental wellness and health.

Confusion Around Mental Wellness

The mental wellness category is where most people experiencing struggles with their mental health reside. These struggles include challenges like anxiety, depression, panic attacks. Contrary to the popular culture and stigma, it isn’t right to group every disorder or illness into the same category or severity. We need to understand that most people will experience some type of mental health challenge at least once in their lifetime. So why should it be perceived as something so negative or scary?

This stigma is potentially more dangerous than the mental health struggle itself. It is the cause of countless destroyed families, addictions, and even suicides attempts. Often, it stands in the way of an individual seeking and more importantly receiving the help that they need.

Confronting the Mental Health Stigma

I grew up in a stable home with two loving parents that did their very best in raising their four children, me being the youngest. While all of us experienced our ups and downs, at age 26, I was the first in my family to seek out support through therapy. Growing up I created the belief that asking for help is a clear display of weakness, but as I confronted this stigma around mental illness and asked for help, I found the strength that I had never felt before.

A glass orb held in hand with the image of an ocean sunset refracted through it.

I remember the first time I told a close family member that I was seeing a therapist for my anxiety and panic attacks. Shortly after the brief conversation, which informed them that someone they loved was needing a therapist, I was told the news brought tears to their eyes and made them feel like they failed me in some way. So, this stigma hits close to home for me. Gratefully I wasn’t suffering from a severe mental illness, I just needed someone to talk to and help coach me through my emotions. What my family member, and so many others in a similar situation, don’t often realize or understand initially, is that therapy was helping me become a better, more capable son, brother, and man. It has helped me understand the reasons for different emotions, it has helped me understand the emotions and actions of others, and most importantly it has made me a more kind and empathetic human being.

Hope for the Future

Fortunately, for the future of the world, the stigma around mental illnesses and wellness is being challenged. More and more individuals are seeking the help they need. Young people are major contributors to this change in culture. They believe in individuality, to embrace our faults, and love each other no matter what. Breaking down this degrading stigma is what the world needs. Let us continue to find strength in leaning on each other and becoming more capable and loving individuals.

Every person on this planet is a unique individual, who sees, touches, and feels in their unique way. It is our purpose at Overt Foundation to help more people recognize that there is power in being open and accepting to whatever challenge and severity they are facing as an individual. We all face challenges and we all need to support each other! So please share your story and donate to further our cause of restoring one community and individual at a time.

Codee Seehagen

Codee grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in International Business. His passion for mental health comes from personally experiencing the challenges that anxiety and other mental or social pressures create in our day-to-day lives.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

What to Expect: Beginning Therapy, by Cody Seehagen

What to Expect: Beginning Therapy

What to Expect: Beginning Therapy, by Cody Seehagen

Beginning therapy can be a daunting and sometimes frightening task. Here is an example of what your first experience might look like, outlined in four simple steps:

  1. Recognize
  2. Search
  3. Select 
  4. Attend


It was in April 2019, When I came to the realization that I needed help, I was experiencing anxiety and frequent panic attacks doing normal day-to-day tasks. Due to social stigmas around mental health, it was hard for me to accept that I needed help. But once I came to the realization that I couldn’t do this alone; everything became clearer and I found hope that I would push through these challenges. So, I began my mental health journey and started searching.

When beginning therapy, I found it somewhat difficult to find a therapist. Some therapist hours didn’t fit into my busy schedule, others would only see a certain type of patient, and some were clearly out of my price range. So, some of the things you should be aware of while searching for a therapist are availability, personal schedule, location, and of course price.

One resource that I found most valuable was my health insurance company. Most insurance companies have resources that assist in locating practices near you. Usually, this is the best and most convenient method because they will most likely be covered by your plan. In the case that you’re not covered by an insurance provider, there are many other resources in the community that exist and may be ready and willing to help. If your insurance doesn’t offer a service to help you find a practice, the internet is the next best thing! Try searching “therapists near me”, this will bring up a broad list of practices that specialize in many different areas of mental health.

Step 3 – SELECT

Once you’ve found a practice near you, the next step is to select a therapist. I’ve found that it is important to find a therapist that shares your same values. It is common for therapists to post a bio on their practice’s website so during your search for a therapist pay attention to what they say in their bio and try to identify similar values that you hold dear. Religion, family, marriage, friendship, honesty, or loyalty are just a few examples of values. Therapist fit is potentially the most difficult challenge in beginning therapy, but once you find a therapist that you work well with, it is a GAME CHANGER!

A person walks up some concrete steps

Step 4 – ATTEND

Now you have found a practice, selected a therapist, and are ready to make your first appointment. Plan on arriving about 15-20 minutes early as you will need to fill out some personal information such as name, DOB, insurance, and medical history. During the introductory session of the therapy, your therapist will be filling out something that’s called a DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual). This may lead to other forms they will fill out with you, although this depends on the treatment you are needing and/or seeking. The DSM helps the therapist record your symptoms and ask the proper questions for diagnosis. This is just a tool to ensure they are well equipped to support and help you in the areas that you need. When beginning therapy, the main purpose of the first appointment is for introductions and getting to know each other. Be open and honest with your therapist.

Begin Your Therapy with Bravery

That’s it! It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3, 4. You can do this! It is time to be brave and find hope in seeking support! Bravery isn’t always overcoming some huge life-threatening challenge, bravery is vulnerability, openness, and kindness. So be brave, and begin by sharing your story with our Overt community, support others, show them there is hope, and donate if you are able. Be Brave.

Codee Seehagen 

Codee grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and graduated from Utah Valley University with a degree in International Business. His passion for mental health comes from personally experiencing the challenges that anxiety and other mental or social pressures create in our day-to-day lives. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.