How Growing Up in Poverty Inspired My Career in Mental Health and Aging

How Growing Up in Poverty Inspired My Career in Mental Health and Aging

Episode #61

Today, I launch the Center for Mental Health and Aging website. As I unveil this exciting website and resource hub, I realize that despite pouring so much of myself into this website, you don’t know much about me.  

So, today as I celebrate the launch of the Center for Mental Health and Aging, I’m sharing a little bit more about myself, and some of the very personal experiences in my own life that have led me to creating the Center for Mental Health and Aging. 

Here’s a peek inside the episode: 

  • [01:39] I share about my experience being raised by a single mom with no dad.
  • [02:40] Learn how school and a local food bank shaped my view of the world.
  • [06:27] Stigma and shame about poverty and mental illness resulted in secrecy and hiding my true self. 
  • [08:49] I did therapy with an older adult who abandoned his children and worked in therapy to process remorse, grief, and loss. As I was helping him, I found healing in my own experience of being abandoned by my “bio dad.”
  • [12:40] Learn what keeps older adults out of mental health care and how I aim to change it with the Center for Mental Health and Aging: the “go to” place online for the mental health care of older adults and families.
  • [17:54] Calling all licensed mental health providers (therapists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists) who specialize with older adults >> Claim your profile here.

Regina Koepp’s mom, Bithia Sherman, her 4 brothers (Jonathon Sherman, Israel Sherman, Nicholas Sherman, Victor Sherman), and the trailer they lived just prior to moving into a small apartment.

Regina Koepp (middle) delivering boxes of food to “Care & Share”, the local food bank. The next day Regina and her family received food from this same food bank.

Regina Koepp and her “Big Sister”, Paulette Dwyer,  from the Big Brother Big Sister program when they won “Big Sister/Little Sister of the Year” in 1990. Paulette and Regina are still together, more than 30 years later.

Dr. Regina Koepp 0:00

I realize that you don't know much about me. So today as I celebrate the launch of the Center for Mental Health and Aging, at www.mentalhealthandaging.com, I want to share a little bit more about myself, and some of the experiences in my life that have brought me to this place.

Dr. Regina Koepp 0:22

I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a clinical geropsychologist, which means that I'm a psychologist who specializes with older adults and family. And this is the psychology of aging podcast, your go to resource for mental health and ageing.

Dr. Regina Koepp 0:40

Today, I have a big announcement, the Center for Mental Health and Aging has finally launched, you can check it out at www dot mental health and aging.com. If you've been listening to the podcast, you know I have been working day and night to get this resource and website ready. And I have put so much of myself into it. And before I tell you all about it, I realized that I have put myself into it. But you don't know much about me. So today as I celebrate the launch of the Center for Mental Health and Aging, at www.mentalhealthandaging.com, I want to share a little bit more about myself, and some of the experiences in my life that have brought me to this place to this place of making the Center for Mental Health and Aging.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:39

So I was raised by a single mom. And I have four brothers. I am number four of five kids. And we're all about a year apart except between me and my younger brother, we're two and a half years apart. We basically lived in poverty. So you know, a single mom with five kids, my mom struggled with her own mental health concerns. And we were homeless until I was about eight, when we got connected to welfare and supported housing. And we benefited from basically every community program you could imagine from welfare to supported housing, supported employment, Boys and Girls Club. And I had a big sister in the Big Brother Big Sister program named Paulette, she's still in my life, we're actually going to visit Paulette and her husband, Jack, next week in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And I tell you all of this, because it's actually relevant to why I created the Center for Mental Health and Aging.

Dr. Regina Koepp 2:40

As I was growing up, I mentioned, we benefited from all the community programs. And one of those community programs was Care & Share, and Care & Share was our local food bank. So I didn't you know, as a kid, I didn't really understand what it meant fully to engage in all the community resources that we did. I didn't fully understand what poverty meant, though, I did understand messages that living in poverty was bad and shameful, which of course, it is not. But those were the messages that I received from society. And so I would keep it quiet. And one of the values that my mom always instilled in us was education. And so school was my jam. I loved going to school. I would be upset if we were late to school. I was just it was just my place to be. Because I had such a love affair with school, you know, I got free lunch I got and you know, this is a fit. I lived in a family where we didn't have regular milk, we had powdered milk. So at school, I got like real milk, I got real food. And, and I love just like the structure and the education and opportunity and hope. And I thought like if I could make it anywhere, it's through education. So I loved being at school, school was my favorite place to be. So since it was my favorite place to be, I was always like in school leadership or student body leadership. So in my elementary school, I was Secretary of my elementary school in fifth grade and then president in sixth grade. And one of those grades I don't remember which one, we had a canned food drive in our city. And this is a city in Southern California, and a pretty working class city. And we had a food bank, a food drive for the local food bank, which was called Care and Share, and our elementary school gathered the most canned foods and so big as a result. The student body cabinet like me and the other student body members. Were on the cover of the newspaper delivering food to the food bank. And that was exciting. And so the next day the newspaper came out and my mom cut the clipping, I'll put a photo of the clipping in the show notes. So you can see it. But the next day, as far as I can remember, I think this is how the story goes. The next day, my mom picked me up from school, and drove up to the front of Care & Share, which was like a storefront. So the food bank had like a storefront. And you could go, if you were a family in need, or a person in need, you could go and pick up food, like, like you would at a grocery store. And so my mom drove to the front of this Care & Share. And the previous day, I had been in the back delivering boxes. And that is when I realized, oh my god, we are the family that we're serving. And it kind of blew my mind. When I was a kid, I would hide that part of my life, I would hide living in poverty, I would hide the need for Care & Share, or food bank or all these other resources. And because I was ashamed because I would get these messages in society that that was not okay that there was something dispositionally wrong with us for needing these resources, when of course, that's not true. That there's something wrong with society that allows people to be so poor and something right with Care & Share.

Dr. Regina Koepp 6:27

So as I matured, I realized, wow, how how beautiful that experience was of delivering food, to a food bank, and then the next day, receiving food from that same food bank. And it led me to this kind of belief that I've lived with for decades. This idea that I am my community, and my community is me. And when I have surplus I give, and when I have need, the community is there for me, and kind of helps to meet that need. That community can be family could be friends, it could be church or your place of worship. It could be Care & Share, could be all sorts of governmental resources. So my family lived with mental illness and poverty. And my family lived with shame and stigma around mental illness and poverty. And I lived with stigma around mental illness and poverty. And so I wouldn't talk about it. When I went to grad school, I didn't talk about it, I would hide the fact I would hide where I came from. And I would do whatever it took to, to let people believe that I belong there with them in this, you know, academic institution, I went to a graduate program at Stanford. And I was I felt like a fraud. So I would do anything to let people believe that I belonged there. But, but that was buying into the shame, and that was buying into the stigma. And that's, of course, not healthy.

Dr. Regina Koepp 8:11

One of my goals with this podcast going forward is to share a little bit more about my own mental health and family journey, maybe to speak to some of you in your own experiences with mental health and your family journeys, with caregiving with mental health concerns with medical concerns. So that we're all a little less alone back to this concept of "I am my community and my community is me", I am you and you are me. And we are all in this together.

Dr. Regina Koepp 8:49

So I went to grad school and I was working on my doctorate in psychology and one of my rotations was in hospice. And in hospice, I had the opportunity to work with generally older adults at the end of their life. And I would sit with older adults bedside or with their families bedside, I lead family therapy groups for family members of people who are dying. And we even led therapy groups for people who were dying. And we would do bedside therapy with people who are bed bound and dying, and just kind of being there and sitting visual, providing support. And what I loved about hospice and what it taught me there were no secrets. And these in these rooms, sometimes there would be and in in my therapy with older adults over the years, sometimes, you know, there would be stories of redemption. Like this is how I struggled. This is how I failed in my life. I abandoned my three daughters. I worked with an older man who had abandoned his children, and didn't speak with them for decades and felt horribly guilty about that, and tried to make a reunion with them in his final years of life, and just his deep knowing of what it meant to abandon his daughter's in the last that he experienced in his life as a result of that. And that really, that case in particular, really, really spoke to me because I was abandoned by my own dad, I never knew him. And actually, my bio dad transitioned to a woman later in life. So I will call her by feminine pronouns, but all refer to her as my "bio dad" so you know the role in my life for her role in my life. But I never knew her, because she left before I was born. And working with older adults who had made similar decisions, maybe as my bio dad, you know, kind of gave me an opportunity and seeing their healing process and their grief process and their remorse and their wish to change things really helped to heal kind of some of my own abandonment deep inside of me, and that I got to be a part of these healing journeys for people on hospice, and then just an outpatient mental health care. It really taught me the beautiful lesson and power of redemption, and just this spiritual opportunity for transformation. And then, and then I was sold, I was like, I can't do anything else, but work with older adults.

Dr. Regina Koepp 11:44

When I was growing up, I did not get good modeling of older adults, I was I didn't have close relationships with my grandparents, my grandparents were very abusive. And so we didn't have relationships with them, or any contact that we did have was also abusive. And so we were alienated from them. And I didn't have good modeling for older relationships and my opportunity to work with older adults or in my experience over the years working with older adults and families, I think was has been mutually beneficial that I got the opportunity to learn and grow and have some modeling of what aging and family older family life looks like, cuz I never got to see that. And I think I'm a pretty good therapist, so they got the benefit of therapy with me. Somebody who cares deeply for them and understands geropsychology.

Dr. Regina Koepp 12:40

So now back to Care & Share. So in my training, and in my career for more than 15-20 years of working with older adults, I have come to see how alienated older adults are from mental health care. I would experience a lot of every time I say I'm a geropsychologist, people will say, oh, it takes a special person to work with older adults, and I think it does, doesn't really you don't have to be a special person. Or, or all you have to be you know, that's a tough, a tough profession. And I think it is, it actually is so meaningful and rich. And there are all these misconceptions about older adults and working with older adults, that that alienate them from care actually. And, and then I started looking further into the research like 20 to 22% of older adults have a mental health condition like dementia, depression, anxiety, a substance use disorder, but the vast majority and I'm talking like 67 to 90% of older adults who need mental health care, do not get it. Let me say that again, like the vast majority of older adults who need mental health care, do not get it. And one of the reasons... One of the primary reasons is stigma and shame. Just like the stigma and shame that I lived with when I was young and still I'm still trying to root it out of myself around mental health issues or mental health concerns mental illness. And so I thought as a geropsychologist people are I realized that people you know, general population people professionals are so misinformed and under informed around Mental Health and Aging that I wanted to change that I wanted to reduce stigma because when I reduce stigma in myself, I feel liberated and free and I have more access to self compassion and more access to compassion for others and I'm more grounded, I'm more whole. And so I aim to reduce stigma. I continue to for myself and for older adults by providing with this www.mentalhealthandaging.com website, education and with this podcast, education around mental health and aging, dispelling myths around Mental Health and Aging. And then, and then what's very exciting about Mental Health and Aging calm is that I'm also building a provider directory of mental health providers who have the unique specialty of working with older adults and their families. So therapists, psychiatrists, neuro psychologists, mental health providers who have the skills that it takes to work with older adults and their families. Because we have so many misconceptions about what's typical and aging and not typical and aging, you really need an expert to help you figure that out. And so what we know, we know that access is another barrier to older adults getting care. So I thought, okay, if stigma is a barrier, and access is a barrier, I want to help to change that. And so by changing it, I created mentalhealthandaging.com. So currently, on the website, there are lots of guides around Mental Health and Aging, like depression and aging, anxiety and aging, suicide, sleep, substance use, dementia disorders, and so on. There are 100 blog posts, there are more than 60 episodes podcast episodes, this one makes 61. And we're adding to this provider directory of licensed mental health providers who specialize with older adults and families, it's going to take a little bit of time to build the provider directory, you know I have to reach a lot of people to make this a National Provider Directory, it's actually the ONLY licensed mental health provider directory focused solely on older adults. And our sole purpose is to elevate mental health care for older adults. So bear with us or be patient while we fill it up with providers. And so this leads me to you, if you're a licensed mental health providers specializing with older adults, you have a unique skill set that older adults need if they're living with mental health concerns or dementia disorders or chronic medical illness and would need care for mental health concerns related to that. You are unique, you are distinct from general mental health providers. And we know you know how hard it is for people to find you. And you know how hard it is for you to find a mental health provider who specializes with older adults.

Dr. Regina Koepp 17:54

And I am hoping to change that with this website. And I need your help. I would love it if you would join this movement to make mental health for older adults easier to find and use. So you can claim your profile today. There is a vetting process you have to demonstrate specialty in working with older adults. This is not for general health providers or general mental health providers who have an interest. This is for licensed mental health providers who have a specialty, who really have the unique skills that it takes. You can claim your profile and build your profile today and get listed in the directory. If you join today, put in the code JOIN 3 at checkout. And you will receive three months off your subscription. So at www.mentalhealthandaging.com you complete your provider profile, and then plug in JOIN 3 at checkout and you get three months free. I mean, that's something to celebrate. It's like a win win for older adults get access to you, providers can more easily find you. They'll know where to go to look for a licensed mental health provider. And older adults will get the mental health care that they need. Sooner faster, better. So www.mentalhealthandaging.com. And then at checkout select JOIN 3. The current monthly rate is $9 a month, which is like a cup and a half of a Starbucks coffee. So I think you can afford it. And I hope that you do because older adults need your services and we really do have to distinguish ourselves from the general mental health provider without any training and working with older adults. So the steps are really as simple as 123. If you're a licensed mental health provider, you claim your profile. You get found more easily from older adults. And professionals, they'll know where to go to find you. And three, you will be serving more older adults in their families. And that is something to celebrate.

Dr. Regina Koepp 20:11

Thank you for being part of this community and elevating mental health care for older adults. Just by listening to the podcast, you're increasing your level of education. You're increasing your knowledge of resources about where to find certain things for your loved one or your clients. And you're reducing suffering in the world.

Dr. Regina Koepp 20:30

If you like this episode, and this podcast, please please please subscribe and leave a review. And this is important because it helps this podcast get found. And the reason that I want this podcast to get found is that it helps to improve mental health care for older adults in their families. And it's dispelling myths around Mental Health and Aging. It's promoting access to mental health providers. So please help this podcast get found by simply subscribing and leaving a review. That's all for today. I'll see you next week, same time, same place