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Mary Albertoli Nadia Sarmova & Maureen Isern Bring The Tough Topic About Youth Mental Health Issues In The New Series The Shift

Today’s youth is having to deal with more mental health issues than any other generation before.  What has exacerbated this issue is the lack of confidence today’s youth has being able to talk about these issues. The Shift is a series dedicated to bring this topic out in the open for a genuine discussion. This woman-led project engages a diverse team of collaborators from a range of racial, gender, age and cultural backgrounds and aims to engage a community where conversation becomes the access to well-being and human connection. I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with Mary Albertoli (former social worker, creator and executive producer) Nadia Sarmova & Maureen Isern (co-creators and producers).

The Shift

Nancy Tapia: I checked out The Shift promo, you guys have available on YouTube and wow! What a way to open a subject. But at the end there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mary Albertoli: Right, and that was our intention. I was a social worker for 12 years actually. I work with teens, young adults, children, families, and individual therapy in hospital settings. And you know, it’s always been my calling to be aware of mental health. I noticed the statistics just staggering in terms of the suicide rates that were escalating, especially in the population that ranged from anywhere from 15 to 24, as well as the shootings on a daily basis, prior to the pandemic and the mental health devastation, that seems to be happening really from… it could be the different ways of not using the social media outlets in a way that are effective. But I really felt like there was a calling to take action, especially when I heard about a nine year old who had taken her life because they were a peer bullying racial peer bullying actually.

I just said, I have to really get in there and start making something happen. So I actually went to Mo worrying and we discussed the idea for the show where we can invite celebrities as well as experts and have resources available for participants on the show to talk about these issues that they face on a daily basis. And they don’t have the outlet I would say, to speak or be heard. So when I explained that to Mo, she… And you can take it over Mo, she was very excited to be a part of it.

Maureen Isern: Sure. I mean I think that what brought all of us so closely to the project was exactly what you’re pointing to Nancy that you saw on the promo, which is it is a very intense topic that is deeply personal and it strikes a chord, a very visceral reaction to consider sharing things that are very personal and normally not discussed as openly as these young people took on in the promo.

And yet there is that opportunity to discover another way of feeling about it or relating to what you’re going through, that they experienced in sharing that we really were just expecting that there was going to be something. I mean we knew that there was something cause you know, Mari’s clinical experience and then all of our personal experiences in just the journey of life, we knew that like the conversations would open something up.

What was just so encouraging and reaffirming about what we experienced with seeing the actual joy that came up. I mean, these were young people who didn’t all know each other, some of them knew each other, but not all of them knew each other. And by the end they connected, like they were family and long time friends. And it was just really recognizing each other. Like themselves in each other that showed us that this was something that could speak to people on such a deep and wide level, that there was no turning back from it. There was no stepping away, especially with what we’ve been seeing more and more in the headlines.

Nancy Tapia: Just to clarify, it’s going to start pre production, or did you have a chance to start before  the pandemic?

Maureen Isern: So we started some pre-production in terms of development of partnerships and story structure and things like that. And a good amount of research. We have paused on pre production as far as the docu-series, knowing that we need to navigate a lot of changes happening right now and what we’ve been putting our efforts in like really wholeheartedly has been producing live content on it on IG, on Instagram

Getting the conversations going in the format that we can produce now in a way that people are accessible. And so the timeline as to when we’re going to get back to sort of that original docu-series on the ground tour is really still to be determined based on a lot of what you know is going to be unfolding in the next six months to a year.

Nancy Tapia: Right now mental health today is a national crisis, especially adding this pandemic affecting everyone. So where can this helpful content can be found?

Maureen Isern: Sure. So I know that our live IG’s are on our handle, which is the shift_series, and you can find our stuff tagged under hashtag feel the shift and hashtag start the conversation. And we’re re-sharing that on Facebook. We’ll soon be able to have some more content on our website, but I would say IG is, Instagram is really the place to go to follow our most current content, Instagram and Facebook.

Nancy Tapia: Yes. I briefly went into your Instagram Live, you had a little while ago with one of the kids that is in the promo. Lovely gal.

Nadia Sarmova: She really is. She is powerful. She was also in our proof of concept video. That we got to really get to know her and she has emerged as a very powerful and eloquent mental health activist.

Nancy Tapia: May was the month of mental health awareness. Can you tell us a little bit about what you had going on with the shift challenge?

Nadia Sarmova: So we really wanted to, in light of the pandemic and having to switch our plans around, we adapted and really wanted to come out of the gate as a powerful resource for young people and communities to help them cope with the pandemic.

So we created the hashtag feel the shift social media campaign. And what that consisted of was four challenges that would roll out one per week during the month of May, which was mental health awareness month. And some of the challenges were lighthearted and fun. Others were a little bit more sentimental and, and thought provoking. And we really wanted to give, like I said, young people and their communities, an opportunity to express themselves, however they needed to, to actually hashtags start the conversation with themselves, with each other and with the shift. So in addition to that, we also rolled out a hashtag shift starter IG live series. And at least once a week, we have our youth council ambassador, Adrian Finch, host conversations with youth, experts and thought leaders to just have really candid, open conversations around a variety of topics that deal with emotion on mental health.

Nancy Tapia: So when Camille contacted me about this subject, I jumped on to covering. it. I could relate with the concern because my little brothers life kind of spiraled after one of his friends committed suicide during his sophomore. This school year as a senior it seemed like he was finally getting back to himself and then this pandemic came.  Now back on medication and professional help. What do you say to the adults around kids in this type of scenarios?

Mary Albertoli: What the parents need to remember is that sometimes the issues are struggling for the language to actually label their feelings. And they don’t know how to process some of the scary things that are happening in a way where there’s their safety at the end of it. It’s really letting the parents feel like they can be generous with themselves around what they’re feeling, because I’m sure the parents still feel all the time in control and knowing what they’re dealing with, but their own emotions and taking whatever’s in their space around stigmas, around sharing emotions. Because we’ve had interviews where culturally still there’s struggles around being okay with a son or daughter coming to a parent and saying, I’m very depressed. I want to hurt myself or I need to come out, I think I’m bisexual. I mean, there’s still so much stigma there that it’s really important for parents to let go whatever in their space and just be there as generously as possible with their child who is suffering. Does that make sense?

Nancy Tapia: Yeah. I’m sorry, I’m asking such a strong question that is also personal at the same time. But I am sure other adults can relate. Not being sure how to handle the situation. Perhaps being afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing for them. So it’s tough, especially right now with most people being isolated.

Mary Albertoli: Yeah. Definitely. I’ve had to call and be on zoom much more than I’ve ever had in my life just to see people’s faces and connect. So parents, if your child is isolating you might want to suggest having more calls or interaction with people in their life because it’s a time where no one has faced this before.

Nadia Sarmova: Nancy, I’m not a parent, but I grew up in a family where talking was always encouraged. And so what I learned from a really young age that I would love to pass on to other parents is just be a safe space for… to establish yourself as a safe space, to be able to come and open up. And sometimes just hearing like, I love you and you’re not alone. And we’ll get through this together is all that a young person may need to know that they’re not broken, that what they’re going through is normal and that they don’t have to figure it out all by themselves.

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Nancy Tapia: Thank you for that. I’m not a parent either, this is my little brother.  But I’m sure most viewers  have a  loved one that’s going through some sort of mental struggle.

Maureen Isern: Yeah. I mean, that’s part of why it’s, so we’re really encouraged by an opportunity to work with some of the nonprofit partners that we have around. What are the ways that we can create content that supports people to take actions that they… to have conversations that they wouldn’t normally have had, or to start to identify that it is difficult to have the conversation that there’s been a conversation they’ve been avoiding. I think a lot of times we kind of go around like acting like there’s, there are things in our space. And then when you really stop to look, you start to actually ask yourself. There’s more there than we’ve necessarily given time and focus to. And going to what you said about like, what if we’re sitting here saying, okay, we start the conversation, but then what do you say? Like someone starting a conversation that’s really important too, how do we, as a community support people who are taking on having these conversations?

And there’s obviously like the line of, you don’t want to start giving people advice or you don’t want to say the wrong thing. And then there’s also like, what if we just started saying, thank you? Thank you for sharing. Like thank you for trusting me or thank you for choosing me to share with, and I don’t know what to say, but thank you. I know that it probably took something to share that. And what can I do to help you find the help that would make a difference? Do you need help? It doesn’t mean taking on being the one to help because we don’t always, we’re not always the person to help, but just support someone in their journey. Say like, I’ve got your back while you’re going through this. Sometimes the only conversation you can have is in terms of your own comfort, your own ability with it. But the more we take that on the more we get to get comfortable and, and move into different spaces about it.

It’s really taking it on like a practice, right? Like when we talk about things like meditation or exercise, or even art, dance, sports, there’s practice, you practice things to get better. It’s a muscle that you exercise. And we haven’t exercised this muscle at large, we do it on individual levels like Nadia and her family. That was a support that was built in and not all families have that. And so how do we connect or create… Deal with that gap that we’re all individually, wherever we are based on kind of luck in some way or circumstance. So that’s what we’re really excited about, I think, is creating this at a scale where people can network together and go, Hey, like, are you, whether it’s referencing a shift or not just, are you taking the conversations on?

And the show, once it’s hit the road, that our intention is really for the show to elevate how important it is to start the conversation and have the conversation on a mainstream level. And the show will also lead viewers and participants to resources. So that, as Mo pointed out, if they’re not fortunate enough to have the family support, that they have access to resources at their fingertips, regardless of the environment or the geographical proximity or communities that they find themselves in.

Nancy Tapia: Well, ladies, I want to say thank you for working together and bringing this project to life that is very meaningful, very important that can save lives.

You can follow the journey of The Shift at

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others, please know you are not alone. Support is available and one conversation can make an enormous difference for you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day

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