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As the holiday season rolls on, Dr. Roy Asta, a psychiatrist at TriStar Skyline Medical Center, says he sees an increase in patient visits and prescription refill requests. It’s no surprise really. It’s the most wonderfully stressful time of the year. We chatted with our latest FACE of TriStar to get a better understanding of psychiatry, why people struggle more during the holidays, and to get tips for remaining positive and sharp in December and beyond. Meet Dr. Asta!

Dr. Asta helps people handle stress during the holidays.

Dr. Roy Asta of TriStar Skyline Medical Center is our newest FACE of TriStar.

How did you get started in psychiatry?

I went to medical school and did my residency at Meharry Medical College. At first I thought I might be a surgeon, but after I developed a tremor, that was out of the question. I began work at a mental health institute, and as I thought about what specialty would allow me freedom and be rewarding, it occurred to me that I enjoyed the pace and activity where I was — at the mental health institute. The more I thought about it, I realized psychiatry was a good fit. I built my patient base through my private practice before eventually joining TriStar Health.

It seems that the understanding of mental health and behavioral health has really changed. What are some of the main changes that you have seen in the field since you began practicing nearly 20 years ago?

When I first started in the field, we were limited on our medicines. I’d look in magazines and see 20 different ads — one for a diabetic medicine, one for hypertension, and so on. Eventually, I started seeing more and more psychiatric medicines. It’s the same with commercials on TV — there are many more drugs advertised now.

Also, though, there’s been a change in terms of the stigma around psychology. It used to be that if you saw a psychologist, people thought there was something wrong with you. It’s no longer that way. It’s more respected as overall health care. Definitely a lot of changes!

Dr. Asta helps people handle stress during the holidays.

Dr. Asta has been practicing psychiatry for nearly two decades.

What about changes when it comes to approaches or treatment of mental health?

As the types of medicines changed, the approaches to treatment did as well. When I was in school, you’d see professors teaching two different styles: one was the psychoanalytic approach where you don’t say much and just kind of listen to the patient. The other was supportive therapy, where you actually work with the patient by talking to them and giving them advice. The books said that supportive therapy could disturb the essence, but my professor said that it helps the patient understand their situation and treatment. Today you see more of that approach — you build a good relationship with the patient, which helps them improve. I started to see more doctors take this approach, and I think we will continue to see more of this in psychiatry.

What is a common misunderstanding about mental health practitioners?

A lot of people don’t understand what psychiatry is and what psychiatrists do. A perfect example is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. That question gets asked all the time, but they are two totally different entities. As a psychiatrist, I have a more medicine-based background — I deal with chemical imbalances and how medicines work. Psychologists deal more with the psychotherapy — cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety techniques and more of the talk science. I do talk therapy, don’t get me wrong — it is important, but the essence of what I do is the medicine itself.

As the holiday season approaches, what are the ways in which people can take care of their mental health?

Holiday seasons are strange, because the season is portrayed as the season of giving and joy and happiness, but that is a busy time of year in psychiatry. Things start to pick up, and I start getting more prescription refill requests. If you look at the essence of it, it is a very chaotic and difficult time of year. We have unusual behaviors that you see underneath that you don’t see on the top. I will see people come in who have overspent, and they say “I bought this just because the Jones spent this much money, and I had to buy this, this and this.” And, they can’t pay for their house anymore.

You’ll see that, or the in-laws start arriving, and you’ll see clashes in the family and all of this chaos. Sometimes there are deaths, and they’re mourning the loss of family members. For mental health, it’s the same as your physical health — you just want to keep your mind strong. That is the most important thing. Read books, learn new things, and keep your mind as strong as possible.

If someone wants to speak with a psychiatrist, how do you suggest they find someone who is a good fit?

Word of mouth is one of the best ways. If a psychiatrist has a good reputation, it spreads around the community. It’s the same thing as when I recommend patients to my therapists. If I see a young person who has a more millential-type mindset, I will put them with a therapist who thinks in a similar way.

Dr. Asta helps people handle stress during the holidays.

“The medicine does 50% of the work, but you are the other 50%,” Dr. Asta says of how people play a crucial role in protecting their mental health.

What is the most important thing someone who is struggling this holiday season should do or keep in mind?

The most important thing is to remember that you are not alone. The season can make you feel that way. You see on TV where its all joy, but that is not reality. The struggles people have are real, and others are having them, too. This is a difficult time of the year, but it will pass. Knowing that someone else is having the same experience can provide strength to get through it.

And for younger people who think that everyone on social media has it better than them?

Remember that when people post, they are not going to post the hard times or the tragic times — unless that is the original plan. They highlight their lives. It is an illusion, and it makes things very complex.

When you are with loved ones this holiday season — or anytime, really — are there particular warning signs that may indicate someone is struggling with their mental health?

It can look different in everyone. But if you see people’s behavior change — perhaps they’re missing a lot of work, or they are not visiting loved ones as they normally do — take note and say something.

If you or a loved one need the assistance of a medical professional this holiday season or any time of year, visit TriStar Skyline Medical Center to find a physician who can help. 

This article is sponsored by TriStar Health. All photography by Leila Grossman.

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