Mental Health Awareness: Dr. Nevine Sultan
By Brittani Wright
In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, Dr. Nevine Sultan, mental health expert and assistant professor at University of St. Thomas, gave insight on mental health trends, beliefs and best practices.
Sultan advocates to bring awareness of oppression, marginalization and discrimination as a focus to mental health issues.
Repetition of Trauma
Dr. Sultan has a private practice and specializes in complex trauma, dissociative and somatic symptom disorders, and grief, working from a relational body-centered gestalt approach.
“The focus of my clinical work is on trauma,” Sultan said. “Especially developmental and complex trauma. It’s usually interpersonal trauma that is repeated throughout the life span, usually stemming from family members. The trauma might not be repeated with the same perpetrator, but the pattern of the trauma is repeated. Let’s say the primary care giver is the perpetrator. As the victim grows up, relationships that are built are very similar to the relationship with the perpetrator, and so the pattern of abuse continues. With that come a number of different mental health concerns especially dissociative disorders and somatic symptom disorders. Clients are not able to confront the emotion so it comes out somewhere in their body.”
Identifying with Trauma
Working with the body and using a non-verbal narrative is a huge sentiment of Sultan’s work with clients suffering from trauma. She brings the client’s attention to eye contact, body temperature, expansion, outer body experiences and other physical reactions to trauma.
“I don’t think that talking about it is enough to heal trauma,” Sultan said. “Talking is helpful but also sometimes harmful because it can be traumatizing to revisit. A lot of times people don’t want to talk about it because shame is a prominent emotion that is experienced in connection with trauma.”
Working with the non-verbal narrative is equally important as verbal to Sultan’s work. It opens up the verbal narrative because it opens up clients to what’s happening to them.
Building Internal Resources
“It’s very easy for a person to go from I’m not feeling ok to I want to take my life,” Sultan said. “That’s what happens when someone feels disconnected, it starts to feel like life doesn’t matter anymore. It’s important to talk to someone.”
Building internal resources is the second need for someone who is suffering.
“Someone might ask how can they protect themselves,” Sultan said. “I say take deep breaths. That’s a way for us to tap into our biological and nervous system, understand how our flight or fight response is working and just calm ourselves in order to get into that self-regulated state where we are able to think clearly. It’s important not to act when you feel activated because that is a reaction and there may be some regret.”
Media Affecting Mental Health
A Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why, is a show running its third season about a high school suicide. Season three recently aired and has made viewers so upset that a petition is going around to end the series. A three-minute scene of the actual suicide has been taken down. Extensive research has concluded an increase of suicide incidents in teenagers since the show aired in 2017.
“In a lot of ways, the media has really messed up mental health,” Sultan said. “I think anytime a mental health concern is sensationalized or romanticized, when you think of the audience of that show you are talking about an audience whose frontal lobes have not fully developed yet.
“When you are going to do a show about mental health,” Sultan said. “It’s important to consult with mental health experts. It can be a slippery slope and very dangerous when we don’t keep in mind the potential impact this can have on the viewers. A lot of the content can also be triggering if the viewer knows someone or has attempted something like this.”
Getting to the Window of Tolerance
“I believe that all of your resources are internally housed within you.” Sultan said when asked her thoughts on medication to cure mental health disorders. Sultan has facilitated hundreds of clients’ transition from medication by helping them connect with their own internal resources. Breath work, guided imagery, usage and understanding their nervous system, and how to self-regulate when they feel activated are examples of this work, helping clients reconnect with their “window of tolerance”, a concept developed by Dr. Daniel Siegel.
“There’s one critical thing to understand about medication,” Sultan said. “It doesn’t heal or cure anything, it just makes the symptoms go away. In many ways it’s important to understand that if you start taking medication, you may be using it for the rest of your life unless you do something different.
“I help clients go back to the origin of where the addiction or anxiety started,” Sultan said. “If we can understand the origin, we can identify the patterns and ways by which it has manifested throughout the life span, and we can know how to target our therapeutic work.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.