Mental Health Champions: Why & How Melissa Dowd Of PlushCare Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

An Interview With Michelle Tennant Nicholson

Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

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Meditation and Mindfulness — I always set aside time to meditate and focus on mindfulness. Staying grounded and present is essential to my mental health.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Melissa Dowd MS.

Melissa Dowd MS is a licensed marriage and family therapist, as well as the therapy lead at PlushCare with nearly a decade of experience. Melissa received her master’s in counseling psychology from Dominican University of California. She has extensive experience working with clients of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, including LGBTQ clients, and she uses that knowledge to inform her work. Melissa’s insight has been featured in USA Today, Bustle, Shape and more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the Bay Area with a single mom and my sister. I was fortunate to have my extended family close by, so I was surrounded by lots of loved ones such as my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I played sports like basketball and soccer, and I even had the opportunity to sponsor horses when I was in the fourth and fifth grades with my dad and sister.

You are currently leading an initiative that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit more specifically about what you are trying to address?

Currently, I am the therapy lead and an active therapist at PlushCare. While we might be turning a corner on COVID-19, the mental health challenges caused by this pandemic will be here for a while and accessibility to mental health resources will be crucial. At PlushCare, we have expanded our virtual behavioral health program to all 50 U.S. states so patients meeting with their go-to primary care doctor can be seamlessly transferred to our dedicated therapist team, as needed. Online therapy through telehealth is playing a vital role in getting patients care remotely while being convenient and affordable.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I had always been the mediator in my family and found psychology fascinating in high school and college. However, in my late 20s, I finally went to therapy. After seeing what my therapist could do for me, I thought, “I want to do for others what she has done for me.”

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

It wasn’t until my mom encouraged me to go back to school to become a therapist that I made the leap. When the pandemic started I realized online therapy could be such an effective way to treat mental health. Initially, I was nervous about creating a relationship with a new client virtually, but once I tried online therapy for the first time, I was thrilled to see what a great solution it could be beyond just the pandemic.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Online therapy has given me the opportunity to provide mental health access to more people. Through PlushCare, I have been able to get licensed in multiple states, allowing me to reach and help more clients in rural parts of the country who might have had limited options for therapy previously. This has also been helpful for those who are unable to book an appointment with a local doctor due to current staffing shortages or those who don’t have the time or means to travel to an in-person appointment. One interesting aspect of this has been leveraging online therapy to reach those who are coping with social isolation and reintegrating into social settings after being alone for so long during the pandemic.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My family has been my greatest support system. My mom let me live with her when I was in graduate school to save money and my grandfather gave me access to an office space when I first became a licensed therapist. I wouldn’t be where I am now without their continued love and support. I was also blessed to work for an amazing clinical director while fulfilling my practicum hours for licensure. She continues to be one of my closest friends and mentors.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

A big part of the stigma surrounding mental health comes from older generations that often view mental illness as a weakness or an imperfection. Decades ago, people were taught from a young age to put on a good face and buck up. Mental health struggles were not discussed, and as a result, not addressed. While a physical illness can be easier to spot because the signs and symptoms tend to be more visible, it’s crucial to understand that mental health challenges, despite having less physical symptoms, can be just as difficult to cope with as a physical illness and should be treated with the same care.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

As an individual, it’s important to understand your capacity to support someone else’s mental health needs. Sometimes that can be as simple as offering a listening ear, validating someone’s feelings, or pointing a loved one toward resources that may help them cope. I think society as a whole is moving toward a greater level of understanding mental health and destigmatizing the issue, especially as stress in the U.S. continues to rise. The more we discuss this topic and share our experiences, the more society can move forward and work together to find solutions that support this issue.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Finding Community — By intentionally choosing which friendships and loved ones I invite into my life, I can ensure every person is a helpful part of my support system.
  2. Practicing Gratitude — As best I can, I choose to focus on what I am grateful for during stressful times. This can help retrain our brains to focus on positives when we encounter stress.
  3. Meditation and Mindfulness — I always set aside time to meditate and focus on mindfulness. Staying grounded and present is essential to my mental health.
  4. Spending Time Outside — I love to take my dog on a walk with no music, just enjoying the quiet time to clear my thoughts and just “be.”
  5. Setting Boundaries — I give myself permission to say no to things or people that don’t positively contribute to my mental health.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

One of my favorite authors is David Richo who writes about psychology from a Buddhist perspective. Some of my favorite books of his are When the Past is Present and Daring to Trust.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I believe helping others is one of the greatest ways to support our emotional health. We feel good knowing we are making a positive impact in someone else’s life. It provides perspective on our own life and fosters a sense of community, purpose and belonging.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow PlushCare on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and plushcare.com, and you can follow me on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

About the Interviewer: Inspired by the father of PR, Edward Bernays (who was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew), Michelle Tennant Nicholson researches marketing, mental injury, and what it takes for optimal human development. An award-winning writer and publicist, she’s seen PR transition from typewriters to Twitter. Michelle co-founded WasabiPublicity.com.

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Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

A “Givefluencer,” Chief Creative Officer of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., Creator of WriteTheTrauma.org