House of Charity generously supports MinnPost’s Mental Health & Addiction coverage; learn why

Siblings’ podcast ‘deconstructs’ mental illness

Courtesy of Kaz Nelson
Dr. Kaz Nelson and her brother, George Joyer, co-hosts of the Mind Deconstructed podcast.

Not all that long ago, Dr. Kaz Nelson and her brother, George Joyer, were out to dinner with a friend when they got to talking, in their usual brother-sister banter-y way, about mental health.  

It was nothing unusual for the pair: Nelson, an assistant professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has made it her mission of sorts to demystify mental illness, and Joyer, a county attorney who works in child protection and loyal younger brother, gets a kick out of hearing her put current events into perspective.     

What was unusual was their friend’s reaction to their conversation.

“George and I were just talking about a mental health issue, kind of like we always do,” Nelson recalled, “and our friend Brett said, ‘You two should do a podcast. This conversation is just so interesting to listen to.’”

Nelson and Joyer could’ve shrugged off that suggestion, but somehow the idea stuck with them.

An expert source on all things psychiatric, Nelson has known that she wanted to be a psychiatrist ever since she was a teenager. She’s committed herself to breaking down stereotypes around mental illness after witnessing classmates being judged or excluded because of their mental health struggles.

“I had friends with eating disorders, friends with depression and anxiety,” Nelson said. These were young people who seemed from the outside like they had everything going for them: “People would say things like, ‘Why are you doing that to yourself? Get over it.’ But once you understand that those kind of behaviors are related to a brain imbalance or some treatable illness, you realize that it is unfair to stigmatize or judge someone who is struggling.”

Nelson went to college knowing that she wanted to study psychiatry, and she continued all the way until she earned her M.D.

“I’ve always been one who’s out for the underdog,” she said. “There is so much stigma around mental health and mental illness. That misinformation is pervasive and painful. For me it feels like a social-justice issue that I just can’t ignore.”

A podcast is born

Once the podcast idea had been planted in their heads, Nelson and Joyer couldn’t put it down.

Joyer researched how to create a podcast, watching YouTube videos and researching hosting sites. “He was serious about it,” Nelson said. “And before long so was I.”

Nelson admitted that podcasting didn’t seem as though it fit with an academic career, but it was a clear fit with her commitment to mental health education. At the University of Minnesota, she teaches psychiatry students and residents as well as faculty members through continuing education courses, but she knew she wanted to reach a larger audience. And she figured that creating the show could go toward her faculty publication requirements.

“In my career, I have been focusing on education about psychiatry, on deconstructing myths around mental health,” she said. “More and more, it seemed that while I was doing all this teaching of people in the field, while there is clearly work to be done there, in a way I was preaching to the choir. What about the general population, where there are so many misconceptions about mental illness? I wanted to branch out, to reach them, too.”

That sealed the deal, and the siblings set about creating “The Mind Deconstructed,” a bimonthly podcast that focuses on putting mental health issues of the day into context, on explaining topics in understandable language and offering tips and advice for people who encounter those issues in themselves or in others. Nelson and Joyer are the hosts, going by the names Dr. Kaz and George. (“We want to be approachable,” Nelson explained. “We want to keep the tone casual and conversational.”)

Nelson thinks that the podcast, which is still gaining traction, has the potential to attract a diverse audience.

“Many people want to talk about these issues,” she said. “Just last Thanksgiving, for instance, people were asking me questions like, ‘What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?’ They just want someone to explain things to them in a language that they understand.”

Inside ‘The Mind’

On “The Mind Deconstructed,” Joyer plays the everyman role, asking Nelson questions that keep her descriptions down to earth. Nelson said her brother relishes this role, even though he knows more than he might let on.

“George graduated from college,” Nelson said. “Then he joined the Marines and did a couple of overseas tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After that he went to law school and worked in child protection. He’s seen a thing or two and can ask questions in a way that represents what the average person would want to know.”

The podcast’s conversational tone is engaging, and the episode themes, which range from PTSD to borderline personality disorder to intolerable anxiety, are interesting and topical, answering questions that may lingering in the back of listeners’ minds.

“We’re banking on the idea that there are enough people out there who are touched by a mental health issue, who might listen to an episode and say, ‘Huh. I didn’t know what was up with that.’ Or they could possibly be dealing with a mental health issue themselves and listening to our podcast would spur them to get help.”

Drawing connections to current events adds interest. When President Trump passed a cognitive screening test at the beginning of the year, Nelson decided it was a perfect opportunity to talk more about what these tests reveal. Her brother was a willing subject, so she administered the test to him.   

“I wanted to provide the basics about what a cognitive screen is,” she said, “to show what kind of elements are included, so that’s what we did.”

That open approach is just what the doctor ordered.

“I want to help people understand, through clear talk and honest education, that mental illness is not a choice or a character flaw,” she said. “I want to break down barriers, to get people to engage in conversation.”

Homegrown

The siblings’ podcast is not professionally produced, but it is thoughtfully developed. The format is two people talking about a subject, dispelling myths and offering practical advice. On the “Intolerable Anxiety” episode, for instance, Nelson offers tips for reducing anxiety, including paced breathing exercises and a tip about applying ice packs to the face to calm an anxiety attack.  

While her advice and information is backed by years of research and her own experience working with patients and teaching medical students, Nelson said she does not want “The Mind Deconstructed” to feel like an academic lecture. She and Joyer are not promoting specific treatments or pharmaceutical therapies, either. Their only motivator is education.

“The podcast is very homegrown,” Nelson said. “We have no sponsors. We are not funded by a drug company. It is extremely independent.”

While Nelson and Joyer are proud of their show’s independence, they’re also happy to admit that working together on this project has made them a little more dependent on each other.

“George is one of my very best friends,” Nelson said. “While we enjoy each other’s company, we rarely work on things together. We have separate interests, separate lives. So for us to identify a project that we can share has been great. It’s been fun to work with him, and we both feel like this show can really make a difference.”

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 03/05/2018 - 05:13 pm.

    MN Statute 541.15 and Statute of Limitations Mental Illness

    Thank you for this refreshing story. As one who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder in 1980, I have experienced great marginalization, loss of work, and two years of beatings while in college — simply because two male students heard htat I had a “mental illness.”

    For years, I was so uncomfortable with myself and gossip that I said that I had sexual relations with young children, by security escort staff, that I did not go out of my apartment unless to dental, medical and vision exams; to buy groceries, to get haircuts, or to meet my parents and very close friends for an occasional restaurant breakfast. I actually told one security escort that my friend in Sydney, Australia told me, that day, that when she was five-years old, her nanny’s 15-year old son, Tony, raped her. I have been in community service since 1974, and have been taught leadership and other skills by the YMCA system, and in American Red Cross Leadership Training. I have worked as a student secretary at a psychiatry clinic, and wrote a 31-page academic paper on Asperger’s Syndrome (autism), that was so well edited that my Harvard trained MD through her hands in the air and said, “My god!” I was trained at Harvard, and you’re a better writer than me!”

    In 2016, both the Republicans and Democrats, and Governor Mark Dayton came to an agreement on a law that would help those of us with older cases that attorneys do not usually accept, leaving mentally disabled and developmentally disabled people with no statute of limitations until the claimant is no longer disabled.

    Here is the law, found in State of Minnesota’s website:2017 Minnesota Statutes
    Resources

    Statutes of Limitations
    541.15 PERIODS OF DISABILITY NOT COUNTED.
    (a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), any of the following grounds of disability, existing at the time when a cause of action accrued or arising anytime during the period of limitation, shall suspend the running of the period of limitation until the same is removed; provided that such period, except in the case of infancy, shall not be extended for more than five years, nor in any case for more than one year after the disability ceases:

    (1) that the plaintiff is within the age of 18 years;

    (2) the plaintiff’s insanity;

    (3) is an alien and the subject or citizen of a country at war with the United States;

    (4) when the beginning of the action is stayed by injunction or by statutory prohibition.

    If two or more disabilities shall coexist, the suspension shall continue until all are removed.

    (b) In actions alleging malpractice, error, mistake, or failure to cure, whether based on contract or tort, against a health care provider, the ground of disability specified in paragraph (a), clause (1), suspends the period of limitation until the disability is removed. The suspension may not be extended for more than seven years, or for more than one year after the disability ceases.

    For purposes of this paragraph, health care provider means a physician, surgeon, dentist, or other health care professional or hospital, including all persons or entities providing health care as defined in section 145.61, subdivisions 2 and 4, or a certified health care professional employed by or providing services as an independent contractor in a hospital.

    I have been trying to find a lawyer to help me either receive an out of court settlement with the Minnesota academic institution, which is highly endowed. People who consider themselves to be “Super Lawyers” and are either considered as “distinguished” or “preeminent” attorneys by Martindale Hubble, an attorney grading and information publication, yet refuse to take cases that are thirty years old.

    I have all of the officially documented data from 1986-1996, in the original envelop (February 5, 2009), and have not altered or added to the data. Witnesses who may be willing to assist in providing the truth behind my complaints may include retired high and low level local, state, and federal level law enforcement officers, agents and commissioners.

    The battery, assault and other harassment that cost me a job, and cost me focus on my studies, and, hence, access to law school, lasted for two years. A police captain said that because I was “mentally ill, [I] bring on [my] own problems,” and therefore the police agency in question would “neither investigate nor arrest anyone on my behalf.”

    A Hennepin County judge, with the same diagnoses, also a former gifted and honors student at De La Salle High School, said that I didn’t have to explain, as he knew the problem. The harassment, assaults, and batteries ended after his order for restraint, but my grades during two semesters dropped to D’s and F’s.

    If you a a legal professional, including a judge at any level of service to our community, or a medical p[professional, including dental professionals, please know of this statute.

    MN Senator Kari Dziedzic, knowing of my progress, and knowing of my intelligence and logic, encouraged me to to serve as an adviser on the Hennepin County Mental Health Advisory Council, secondarily serving Governor Mark Dayton’s office from 2012-2015. As one involved in politics, I have enjoyed a group breakfast with Governor Dayton and other notable DFL politicians from the Metro Area; and, in my twenty’s, I enjoyed close and frequent contact with U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger (R-MN), and his senior aide in Minneapolis, Mrs. Toobie Schue. While in boarding school in Norway, the Senator wrote six personal notes on executive stationary, knowing of my homesickness and desire to read something in English. His office also sent me an absentee voting ballot.

    If you are an attorney, please consider doing as my dad did as a real estate law, corporate law, and business law attorney for fifty years, and sponsor CLE courses on MN Statute 541.15

Leave a Reply