Psychology student Shanna Anssari, M.S. shares how she navigated mental health challenges while pursuing her education.
Shanna Anssari, M.S. received her Bachelors of Science in Psychology at Loyola University Chicago, and her Masters of Science, Medical Clinical Sciences/Graduate Medical Studies at Boston University School of Medicine. She will soon be attending Nova Southeastern University in pursuit of becoming a Psy-D.
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DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. And today we have great luck and having with us Shanna Anssari who’s going to become a psychologist. And we’re going to hear all about it here at Different Brains. Shanna, welcome.
SHANNA ANSSARI (SA): Thank you so much for having me.
HR: Where are you geographically?
SA: I’m in Boston right now.
HR: Tell us how you ended up here.
SA: So I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology at Loyola University Chicago. originally born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. I lived there my whole life, and had plans of going into medical school, but knew that I wanted to do something that would make me stand out. So I applied to the mams program at Boston University Medical Center, and was accepted. And after graduating from Loyola, in August of 2021, I moved to Boston for this program. Very excited, never been to Boston. And I’m graduating actually a week from today from it. So this is my second year of the program, just completed my thesis. And it was in psychiatry. So the I guess, like the research question was investigating the effects of problematic internet usage on depression, anxiety, other mental health issues in children and adolescents. So I just finished that submitted it and yeah, we’ll be graduating next week. And then moving to Fort Lauderdale. Right after.
HR: Oh, boy, welcome to Florida when you come, thank you for leaving the mecca of medicine and education up there to come to forward it down. Cool. What led you down this path.
SA: So initially, like I said, Before, I wanted to go into psychiatry, I’ve always been very passionate about making a difference in mental health, and lowering the stigma. So I knew I wanted to be involved somehow in health care, and specifically in mental health. Then, while I was in this program, ready to go to medical school, a lot of my family members struggled with mental illness. And I noticed more than often that psychiatrists were over prescribing them with medications that actually made their symptoms a lot worse, and did not care enough to investigate other more holistic ways of treating them didn’t even go into therapy I personally have experienced with therapy, and it changed my life. And I kind of got more passionate about trying to figure out how to make mental health care more holistic, which is what led me away from psychiatry, and focused me on clinical psychology. So I will be completing PsyD at Nova for the next five years, in order to be a more clinical psychologist, I mean, holistic clinical psychologist?
HR: Well, that’s great, I think the whole world might be moving more in the holistic direction as we speak. And what I look for is balance. And what I looked for as an MD was, especially in orthopedics was the balance that it was about surgery for everybody or pills for everybody, or conservative care for everybody, or physical therapy for everybody. It was combinations, depending on the individual, because every patient is different. And as you well know. That’s why we call this different brains because every brain is different. And you recognize that very early on. What are some of the challenges that you have faced in school because I want this to inspire those listeners who might be on the fence, what direction they want to go in might be thinking about going into psychology. And nowadays, especially with everything being virtual, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing now, maybe somebody who’s out there who’s a pharmacist now wants to become a psychologist or somebody in college who doesn’t know what they want to be and now they’re they’re listening to Shauna, and how you got where you are. And so tell us about some of the challenges you faced.
SA: So when I started undergrad, I attended the University of Wisconsin Madison, and ended up transferring from there to Loyola because with my own personal mental health struggles, I wasn’t doing well in school. I was far away from home for the first time so I really struggled to excel in academics, while also prioritizing my mental health and coping with being away from my family for the first time. So then I was like, There’s no way I’m getting into any school with the with these grades, there’s no way anybody’s gonna want me. Despite the fact that I really couldn’t do anything about it, I was really struggling mentally, and made the decision my first semester of my sophomore year to transfer to Loyola, which would be only 40 minutes from home, I knew that that box would be checked, I wouldn’t have to worry about coping with being away from home. And I would be able to focus more on my grades knowing that my family was nearby, because I was in a very vulnerable position. So that taught me to, I mean, I feel like there’s a big stigma against transferring schools, especially when you’re first going into college, everyone’s excited to move away from home, everyone’s excited to get independent and do whatever they want away from their parents. But there’s nothing wrong with realizing that you’re not ready for it yet. There’s nothing wrong with figuring out what works best for you. Because what your friends may be doing might not be what is right for you. I mean, I faced a lot of peer pressure, that Wisconsin, all my friends would be doing one thing I knew I had to study.
And, you know, I had to make the decision to really buckle down and do what was right for me. So and it was the best decision I ever made. For myself, I met the most incredible faculty at Loyola, Loyola made me really passionate about about psychology, because I applied as a psychology major there. All the classes I took were super interesting, abnormal psych was my favorite class, still to this day. And I’ve taken so many classes since then. And really got me passionate about mental health. And just like, it was a big barrier that I had to get through, but it taught me a lot of resilience and kind of to put myself first which I think a lot of people are scared to do. So that was the first big challenge that I face for sure.
HR: Well, we’re all burdened with that guilt, if we want to take care of ourselves, but you have to take care of yourself. What’s the biggest piece of advice you might give somebody who’s watching this and saying, You know what, maybe I’m gonna go change gears and go into psychology. What advice might you give them?
SA: I would say passion is the most important thing, doing it for the right reasons, not doing it for money, or status or anything like that. I think, in order to help somebody else you have to be you have to really love what you do. Otherwise, it’ll come off as disingenuous or fake. And I know like, with my experience, watching my family members struggle with mental illness not getting the care that they deserved. Now I kind of see how somebody should be treated. So it’s not an easy field to get into any type of health care, you’re going to see people struggling in so many different ways. You got to put your best foot forward and really love it, or else, it’s not the field for you. Like, don’t go do something that doesn’t require patient contact, because that’s gonna be hard to fake. Yeah.
HR: What do you anticipate going forward as being most challenging to you as somebody
SA: that’s empathetic in the way that makes it almost a double edged sword, or I care so much about some people that it consumes me sometimes, I think this field, the one struggle that I’ve my face in this field is separating work from home, and not bringing the problems that I hear about at work and the struggles that people share with me back home when I’m done working for the day, which I think any healthcare professional or anybody that deals with people will inevitably, you know, struggle balancing work life and home life, but I guess Yeah, I don’t know.
HR: Do you feel that you’re able to be balanced, like regarding partitioning out time for working out and exercising, socializing, family time and so on?
SA: Definitely. I mean, working out is what saved my life personally, I struggled very much with depression and anxiety when I was starting undergrad. And I would always escape to the gym and the endorphin release is like nothing else. And I recommended to everybody that struggling with any, you know, psychological deficiency to go to the gym, go for a walk, get outside. The two. The one thing that I make sure to do every single day that’s non negotiable is to get some movement in because I could be waking up with a bad mood, I go for a walk for 30 minutes. I’m not cured. But I definitely feel a lot better to make decisions. And one of the biggest reasons why I am moving down to Florida to finish off my education is to be closer to my family. My parents live in Naples, my grandparents just moved to Gainesville. So all my people are down there. And I haven’t lived with everybody in one place since I lived in Chicago, like three years ago. So one thing I have learned very well in my education has been how to balance things because I would not be where I am without balance, for sure.
HR: What about culturally tell us about the ethnicity of your family.
SA: So my mother is from Soviet Russia, she escaped the Soviet Union when she was 11. My dad escaped the Iranian revolution when he was 19. So I’m Half Persian, half Russian. Both parents are immigrants that came to the United States looking for opportunities, with not barely a penny to their name. My mother is a dentist, one of the best in Naples, she just moved to practice down to Naples. And she’s definitely one of my role models, if not my one role model, because she literally went from zero to creating such an amazing life for my family, my sister, my dad, my dad works also and is very successful in what he does, and also came from nothing. So my parents have been a motivation for me. And a reminder that nothing good ever came easy. So that’s the good part about their background. The bad part about coming from two parents that are immigrants is the differences in how their cultures view mental health, and how it should be viewed in current times, because back in those countries, it is not viewed as being important whatsoever. I’ve had family members die because they were not receiving the treatment that they deserved. Because their doctors in Iran, for example, did not see their schizophrenia or their depression or something serious enough because it wasn’t manifesting physically. So they just overlooked it, send them home, and they died. So that’s one thing I’ve definitely had to learn.
HR: Wow, that’s — I’m glad I asked that. And when you talk about movement and walking, there’s so much in the literature. Now. If you do walk a half hour a day, you live 20 years longer. I mean, there’s something magical about the movement, and all the physical exercises good. Now they have studies show how it rewires our brains and everything. Do you do any writing,
SA: I journal if I need to, to just put my thoughts down, and I actually tutor writing, in my free time. So ever since COVID, when everything moved online, I started tutoring pretty much every subject you can think of from Spanish to math, psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, and President primarily right now, I’ve been tutoring a lot of writing specifically in psychological research. And that’s been really fun. I like writing.
HR: Tell us about some of your research.
SA: So in undergrad, I was part of the impact lab. And our goal was to make mental health resources more accessible to specifically college students. And I found this lab when I first transferred from Wisconsin, and it resonated with me so much, because when I was a student at Wisconsin, they did not have adequate mental health services whatsoever, and I could not be helped for what I was struggling with. So when I found this lab, I was like, Oh, my God, I gotta jump on this because there needs to be more of this and on every college campus. So I did that for three and a half years. And then came to Boston and just this past year have been working on my thesis, which I briefly touched on in the beginning, about basically, how an addiction to the internet affects adolescent mental health and susceptibility to engaging in risky behaviors such as substance abuse, bullying, sexting, etc.
HR: If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who’s doesn’t know what they want to do, they don’t know what they want to do. They’re in college or they’re working or wherever they’re doing. What advice might you give them?
SA: I would say try something new. Um, when I was an undergrad, I, my freshman year, I tried taking an economics class to see if I wanted to go into business. And I definitely didn’t want to go into business. I hated it. But I didn’t, I wouldn’t have known that had I not tried. Because there’s so right, especially right now, there are so many different majors you can have in college, I mean, literally anything. And it doesn’t hurt to take a class. And if you take it for two weeks and don’t like it, I’m sure you can drop it, there’s always that little window of time that schools give students for that reason to see if they like it, if they fit well with it. I mean, talk to people, try connecting with professionals in your area. I did a lot of shadowing when I was in college, because I wanted to go into medicine, but I wasn’t exactly sure. But even when I was in high school, what kind of medicine I wanted to go into back then. So I shadowed a pediatrician did not resonate with that whatsoever. Too many crying kids all the time. Shadow people, people would love to have you follow them around and show you what they do. As much as you know, people hate to say it, they love talking about themselves. They love bragging about themselves. And anybody would love to show you, you know, like a day in the life of what they do. So just cold call people, email people.
HR: Where do you see yourself in… let’s pick a number 10 years, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
SA: I’m glad you asked. I’m actually very passionate about my future. But so I will be graduating from Nova in five years, which is 2028. And I hope to after at least a year of working in a therapists office under a therapist, I would like to open my own practice with a holistic image. So there would be a few therapists including myself, a psychiatrist, a nurse practitioner, a nutritionist, like pretty much like the big specialties under one roof. So that when somebody comes in, there’s not a one size fits all way to treat them, maybe they’re deficient in a vitamin is that that’s what’s causing their symptoms, maybe they don’t know need, maybe they need medication, medication is good. Sometimes. Maybe they just need some cognitive behavioral therapy, where is where I come in. So that is the goal is to have a practice that can help somebody in different ways and not just say, Okay, we’re gonna give you therapy. And that’s it.
HR: Well, don’t let anyone discourage you. It’s beautiful. You have a beautiful vision. And you’re going to make it a reality through hard work. And doing what you have to do. And even people who love you many times will try to discourage you from going after it. You know, I don’t know how many times I’ve been told you can’t do that. Yeah, you can’t do two things at once. You can’t do this can’t do that. Not because they were making fun of me or wanted to belittle me. That’s how society is. And you sound like you have this big holistic vision. And you’re gonna willing to work hard to make it a reality. So you have a twin sister, Hannah. Yes. How has having a twin sister affected you if at all? Your own mental health?
SA: Wow, that’s a good question. Honestly, she’s my better half as I like to say she’ll be graduating from UPenn law school next week. So I’ll be flying down to Philly on Monday. She and I are like two peas in a pod. I mean, we grew up doing everything together. We were each other’s best friends never had to have a sleepover with anybody else was we had each other. And then we did go off to separate universities. So we’ve been in different states for the last six years. So it’s been a long time. But she’s always been a phone call away. And there’s nobody in the world that I trust more and can lean on more than my sister. Although we have our differences sometimes for the most part, where each other’s you know, ride or dies.
HR: Two siblings having differences I can’t imagine. Especially twins. From your unique perspective. What’s one thing you would like our audience to know about mental health?
SA: I think mental health treatment is not a one size fits all. And that’s why I believe in a holistic way of treatment because what may work for one person may not work for the next person and I’ve seen that firsthand. And my grandmother struggled with depression her whole life and tried every sort of medication you can think of. And the only thing that ever helped her was TMS. And I’m so lucky to have her with me still today because of her doctors willingness to try something new. So that’s what I would say.
HR: Shanna Anssari, It has been a pleasure to have you here. We look forward to you’re moving down from Boston down to South Florida to attend Nova Southeastern University in your five year program. And I’m sure you’re gonna love it and do great, and help lots and lots of people who need your psychological expertise along the way. Thank you very much. We hope you’ll be back with us soon.
SA: Thank you for having me.