RUM: Outside of being “America’s Favorite Psychologist”, who is Dr. Nekeshia Hammond? What defines you?
NH: Wow, that’s a really deep question. What defines me would be trying to help people in as many ways as possible, whether it's in my practice, Hammond Psychology & Associates, with mental health care, working with non-profit organizations’ Board of Directors, consulting with the media, or speaking to different groups. I love having the opportunity to make a difference and to reach people, especially with a message about reducing the stigma of mental health treatment. Most people know that I juggle a lot! Being a wife, mother of a young son, private practice owner, “frequent flyer” for multiple projects, it can be overwhelming at times, but I have found what is most important is giving it my all. Most people see the current “Dr. Hammond”, but do not always know the trials and tribulations to get to this point. Not every moment has been easy, but I am grateful for all of the life lessons. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
RUM: I have found that many mental health professionals have a story, something that led them to the mental health field, what led you to the mental health profession and specifically working with children?
NH: I wanted to help children ever since I was a child myself at 7 years old. I started getting even more interested in
the field of psychology, specifically, back in high school after taking some psychology classes. When I went to college, it was really eye opening to see the immense mental health needs of people. I had a powerful and extraordinarily successful mentor, Dr. Carolyn Tucker at the University of Florida, who had me in awe of her ability to make a difference in her work. Seeing the potential impact on children in my undergraduate and graduate school experiences solidified by desire to work with youth and make a difference in their lives. Now that I am a mother of an 8-year-old son, I appreciate working with children that much more, because I personally see how important positive mental health is for youth.
RUM: Any regrets? On your journey of becoming a child psychologist.
NH: No, not really. Like anybody, I wish I knew the things I know now. It’s been almost 12 years that I have owned my practice and I wish I knew then what I know today. In the beginning of my career, I thought I would primarily see patients in the office for the next 30 to 40 years of my life, but the reality is I learned there is so much more to mental health interventions “outside” of the office. I ended up falling in love with the media, hosting a television show for a few seasons, and currently hosting a digital show, Mental Health Moment with Dr. Hammond. I am humbled and honored to consult with various media outlets, speak all over the country, and advocate for the field of mental health. I know now that outside of the private practice doors, there are so many other people who need information and resources.
RUM: Being recognized as such big statues in the mental health field, we are overlooked as being humans, so I want to ask what is your greatest fear?
NH: I know I'm only one person, but at the same time, it's hard to have the information I have, information that could be life changing for people, and not being able to share it with as many people as I would like to. I would say this is a fear and it just feels wrong on some level. Knowing the information that could prevent children from getting suspended, repeating a grade, having depression or anxiety, experiencing family distress..I want to shout this information from the rooftops! Not being able to reach as many people with this information that could greatly improve their quality of life, I would say that is my personal fear, which is why I spend a lot of time working with the media and social media, to increase how many people can have access to the information they need to know about mental health. Everyone deserves to have positive mental health.
RUM: So, are there any challenges in that perspective of just trying? What do you find are your challenges in being a child psychologist?
NH: There are a lot of challenges, I'll start with the system itself, because there’s such a stigma. When advocating for mental health education, there is a lot of misinformation to address. Then you have other obstacles, whether it's the education system, the health care system, the racism, the discrimination, the barriers for health care; there's this long list of things to overcome. For advocates, we have to understand that we have to educate the community, but also try to help people push through the barriers. It is extremely challenging because there are systems that have been in place for very long periods, but it is important we do not lose hope. I remember back when I was President of the Florida Psychological Association (FPA), and we were meeting with different legislators in Florida’s state capitol about state issues, as well as doing advocacy work in Washington D.C. on the national issues, there were so many people committed to advocating for policy and legislation change. It was invigorating to stand with others who advocate to reduce these challenges.
RUM: So, how do you balance your work, home and self-care to prevent from getting burnt out? Especially during these times?
RUM: Dr. Hammond, I read that you not only specialized in working with ADHD children, but restoring families back to a state of wellness and balance is important to you. Tell us why.
NH: Now that I specialize in psychological evaluations, like examining ADHD and learning disabilities, what happens a lot is that parents who I work with can be overwhelmed with what is happening with their child, understandably. I love conducting psychological evaluations and providing the results, as well as a roadmap for families. Families need resources, so they can get back on track and stabilize their family unit. While I do not provide therapy at this point in my career, I am grateful to have a strong resource network, where I provide referrals to families frequently. It is so important for families to restore their state of wellness so they can thrive! Even when I am not in the office, I always remind people in my outreach efforts they can connect with me on social media and ask questions at any time, and I am happy to provide resources.
RUM: The other thing that I want to talk about while we are here, a topic that I'm sure has come your way; many children are either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed until they are adults. What is your opinion on that?
NH: It's horrific! With ADHD, for example, there are so many children I have met throughout the years who are misdiagnosed because a provider does not know “the whole story” of what is happening with the child. This child might get a quick five-minute visit somewhere, and parents are being told their child has ADHD. I cringe every time because when you are misdiagnosed, this misdiagnosis can have negative implications for this child and family. If the child really had anxiety, trauma, or a learning disability, for instance, you totally missed all of that by not looking at the entire child. I've heard heartbreaking cases of children and teens where no one ever completed a psychological evaluation with them during the time that they struggled through school, and nobody took the time to tell them they had anxiety or a learning disability or trauma that contributed to their mental health distress. It is awful and unacceptable! We have to do better for the sake of our kids.
RUM: You are an Author! You wrote, ADHD Explained, What Every Parent Needs to Know. Tell us a little about your book?
NH: Yes, I am an author, thank you! I would say ADHD Explained: What Every Parent Needs to Know is my favorite book that I have written to date. In speaking with hundreds of parents over the years about their journey with a child with ADHD, I was really inspired to write this book. I specifically went into detail about what a psychological evaluation is in the book, because many people are not aware of what a psychological evaluation entails. Parents deserve to know if a child cannot concentrate, it is not always because of ADHD. My book talks about the myths and truths of ADHD, as well as what parents can do to empower their child at home and what can be done at school to help children and teens.
RUM: If you want to give some advice and support young people or how can others support young people that's experiencing mental health challenges?
NH: There are a lot of great ways to support people who are having mental health challenges. Mental health varies a lot from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms, other people have more severe symptoms. Other people are very resilient and some people have difficulties with coping. No matter where you are on the spectrum of mental health, every single person has “mental health”. To answer your question about how people can support others, one tip I would emphasize is to check in with people. You do not have to be a counselor to check in with someone. Checking in means a quick text message “How are you?”, an email “I’m thinking about you,”, a phone call “Hey, just want to know how you're doing and checking in on you”. There are a lot of people who need someone to simply check in on them. Now if someone is thinking about going to a mental health professional, which can be very intimidating for a lot of people because of the stigma, be encouraging for that person. Therapy is not for every single person, but there many people who can benefit from therapy. Another easy thing people can do is share reputable information. It’s completely free to share information! When you see something reputable online about mental health, retweet it, reshare it, post it, and share that information because it can potentially be life saving for someone.
RUM: It's so powerful, because potentially saving someone's life is definitely important. And I'm glad we were able to touch on that. So just closing out, there may be readers, or even listeners who have thoughts of giving up or having thoughts of harming themselves. What encouraging words do you have for them?
NH: Understand that you are here for a purpose! Everyone truly needs to be here on this planet. There are people who care about you. It may not feel that way because sometimes with depression or anxiety, your brain plays tricks on you and it feels like nobody cares about you. You may think you are worthless, but that is not true. Everyone has good things about them. And I would highly encourage people to really start to look at some mental health resources in the way that works for them to really try to get the help that they need.
RUM: We Pray this interview blesses you the way it blessed us! It is always good to hear about mental health from a professional perspective. Our Mental Health Warriors, Keep Fighting! Hold on! Don't Lose Hope! Don't Ever Give Up! We Need You in this World! and thank you, Dr. Nekeshia Hammond. We need you in this world and many more of you to continue to do great work in the mental health field because it is definitely a need.