Podcast a "not-so-clinical approach to conversations surrounding all things mental health."

Embrace Mental Health episodes are released the first Monday each month.
Kelsey Lehman and Autumn Carson, two of the three Embrace Health podcasters
When family members or friends share that they are experiencing anxiety or depression, many people are unsure of what to say or do. According to Kelsey Lehman, founder of the Embrace Mental Health podcast, having the language, understanding, and insight can be a comforting balm. More than that though, it can actually be a lifeline. 

"I was with a friend when I first said out loud that I had experienced sexual abuse as a child. She had enough awareness of mental health and the understanding to affirm me right away," Lehman says. "I understand now that her knowledge and compassion in that moment could have been a life-saving thing."

Lehman, who has a background in social work and the mental health field, also works as an assistant athletic director at Lansing Christian School

"There were certainly points in my anxiety where I didn't want to live anymore because I was just so miserable,” she says. “At the very least, my journey would have taken longer if she had invalidated me."

The road leading up the podcast's launch in March 2023 was one that Lehman has been long traveling. Anxiety has been a type of insidious, unwanted passenger throughout most of her life. However, when Lehman uncovered the abuse she experienced, it nearly took over the wheel. During a particularly dark point in time, Lehman found herself unable to even function.

"It was a really scary experience. I was looking for just one voice saying that what I was experiencing was even in the realm of possibility of something that I could overcome," Lehman says. "But, I always felt that my struggle had meaning, and that someday I was going to use it to help other people."

Kelsey Lehman believes having the language, understanding, and insight to converse about mental health with friends and family can be a lifeline.
True to her words, every Monday, Lehman invites listeners to tune into Embrace, which has the tagline, "Where we embrace a not-so-clinical approach to conversations surrounding all things mental health." Lehman co-hosts with two of her close friends, Wesley Lawton and Autumn Carson. With intentional trust, respect, and gentle camaraderie, they converse about a range of topics like finding a therapist, tips for loved ones, and misconceptions and stigmas surrounding medications. Guided relaxation sessions and mental health mythbusting round out their episode roster. 

Lawton, a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Mount Clemens, believes that Embrace is important, specifically because mental health is, as he says, "something many people are affected by all the time, but don't often think about directly."

Wesley LawtonIndeed, considering that, in Feb. 2021, 39.9% of adults in Michigan reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, chances are that most people have either experienced a mental health concern themselves or know someone who has. With the impacts of COVID-19 still manifesting, tuning in to a mental health podcast such as Embrace is an easy, reliable way to navigate healing. 

"We hear politicians and people talking about mental health. It's in the media. It's on the news. People are more aware of mental health as a concept," Lawton says. "However, in our day-to-day life, it's hard for folks to have conversations that are efficient and where everyone feels like they're on the same page."

Lawton points to what he's observed happening across the United States. His view is that while mental health is increasingly in the country's cultural conversations, dialogue usually centers around the prevention of violence and damage control around violent situations. Embrace, he explains, has a more positive and invitational energy behind current conversations.

"Mental health is talked about with an energy of fear behind it for a lot of people," Lawton says. "We're trying to help folks reflect on their own lives and understand that it's not just about people out there who are dangerous and scary."
The podcast is already making a powerful impact.
Lawton feels that listeners have resonated with the way that he and his co-hosts are able to communicate heavy and, oftentimes, quite complex topics in ways that everyone can understand.

"We are human beings with our own biases, perspectives and flaws. And, we do have some legitimate experience and education behind us,” he says. "So, we're talking in a way that we hope is educated, but also we're trying to be relatable human beings."

Especially dear to Lawton are the therapy episodes that are released the first Monday of each month. They're perfect for people who've never been to therapy as they share what it is like. People who are already in therapy can tune in for tips to make it a better experience.

Suicide is an upcoming topic that he's preparing to discuss alongside Lehman and Carson. He's sensitive to the heaviness of the topic, but underscores the benefits of addressing it. 

"Talking about suicide and being direct about it, obviously for some people, can be triggering. They may not be ready to have that conversation," Lawton says. "But for folks who already have that on their mind? You can save a life."

Carson shares that the podcast is already making a powerful impact. On New Year's Eve, Embrace earned bragging rights to 1,000 streams. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. One listener, Carson shares, was a mother who reached out to them about her young son's mental health issues. She told Carson that, as a mom, she had the natural urge to just quickly fix her child's problems. The listener later understood that it would take time and multiple resources.

"She'd never struggled with mental health issues herself, so she felt so much more equipped to be a support person and walk alongside her son," Carson says. "We want people to feel empowered and equipped to talk about difficult yet vital things."

Carson wants to share podcasts that address deeply entrenched stigmas about mental health that exist in the Black community. As a Black woman, Carson is excited to explore the intersectionality of race with mental health in future episodes. She doesn't have a professional mental health background, but instead brings her own personal experiences to the table. She explains that some very deeply entrenched stigmas about mental health exist in the Black community.  

"The idea of mental health and the idea of having to take medications for it, it's taboo," she says. "Growing up there was no spectrum. It was either you're completely okay, or you're on the other end of the spectrum where you're completely crazy."

Carson proudly states that her mother has been one of the podcast's best supporters, sharing episodes with friends and other family members.

"My mother has grown so much in her understanding just by listening to the podcast,” Carson says. "Conversations are able to kind of happen a bit more organically as opposed to her broaching conversations randomly or awkwardly."

Seeing her fight with anxiety and the trauma of sexual abuse turn into a source of help for others is significant to Lehman. She and her co-hosts plan to ride their current success and grow the Embrace podcast. 

"It can be scary for people to admit that they need help with something, or that their loved one might be struggling with something," Lehman says. "We're a safe place. We're an easy way to be vulnerable and learn."

Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photos by Doug Coombe.
Photo of Wesley Lawton courtesy subject. 

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationLifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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