Crying in the street, missing a tooth: ‘Morning Mika’ hosts recount their mental health tipping points

Mika Brzezinski, co-host of “Morning Joe” and founder of Know Your Value, has dedicated much of her career to teaching women the keys to being confident, realizing their potential, communicating effectively and standing up for what they need, whether it be a higher salary or work flexibility. But even the award-winning journalist initially struggled to defend herself.

“In terms of asking for help or asking for time off, I learned (from almost losing everything) that asking for time off would have been a lot less painful for me and my family,” Brzezinski told her “Morning Mika” co-star. hosts on Friday.

All of the “Morning Mika” co-hosts responded to the recent ComPsych research which revealed that mental health-related leave in the workplace increased by 300 percent between 2017 and 2023, especially among women. The mental health service provider found that these types of absences increased by 33 percent in 2023 alone, with women making up the majority of that number due to factors such as increased anxiety, relationship stress and depression .

“Women tend to worry about our personal problems,” Brzezinski said. “I think we’re worried about being judged, presenting anything less than a perfect 10… and I promise you, men don’t think that way.”

But ComPsych’s research suggested a shift from traditional burnout culture, where more and more women are asking for (and receiving) time away from the workplace to address their mental health needs. “I would say we need mental health leave across the board and also maternity and paternity leave across the board,” Brzezinski added.

He cited gymnast Simone Biles as a prominent figure who took a leave of absence for mental health reasons after stepping away from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Biles has since returned to the top, winning a record ninth complete title at the US Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, this month and securing an automatic berth in the US Olympic Trials before the Paris Games.

“You don’t have to be a star athlete to step off the work-life balance beam,” Brzezinski said. “You can take some time off and then yes, you can come back bigger and better.”

From running, to walking, to crying.

Brzezinski shared his own struggle with requesting mental health leave at a critical time early in his career. “Turn back the clock about 10 years,” Brzezinski recounted. “I’m hosting ‘Morning Joe,’ early and long hours; my parents have many age-related illnesses, two teenagers present their own challenges, and divorce was in my future. And the only thing I did every day to have a sense of normality was run.”

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Over time, Brzezinski realized that her daily routine of running had turned into walking and then crying. “During that time where I was really exhausted, exhausted, having trouble sleeping and dealing with multiple dynamics in my life… I just couldn’t run, my legs couldn’t do it,” he said. “So I walked the streets of Bronxville, New York, crying every day.”

Then, a complete stranger approached him on the street and intervened. “This guy comes up to me, he stops, rolls down the window and says, ‘Hey! My name is Peter and I am a therapist. I have seen you cry every day and you should know that it is not okay to cry so much and not deal with it; you should seek help,” Brzezinski said. “It was one of those moments where you think, ‘Wow, I’m wearing this on the outside.’ He had been an imposter on the show, an imposter in front of my children, an imposter trying to deal with the disappointment he felt he was giving everyone.”

Brzezinski sought mental health support after that encounter, along with sleep medications and mindfulness. “I talked to my boss a little bit at the time about needing a break here and there, and slowly but surely, I got the help I needed to recover and be strong for the challenges ahead,” he added. “But I think I should have taken some time off long before then.”

A tooth and a boot

Former White House press secretary and “Morning Mika” co-host Jen Psaki recounted her own mental health epiphany while serving as a spokesperson for the State Department.

“I was traveling with the Secretary [John] Kerry, when I was secretary of state, where I had run so much… that I broke bones in my foot,” Psaki recalled. “It took a friend of mine saying: you need an x-ray and you also need a boot on your foot. So, I’m on this trip, it’s in war zones… My boot is on my foot and my tooth fell out because I had a temporary crown on my tooth that I hadn’t taken care of.”

Psaki continued: “I was somewhere in a war zone or a conflict zone, and I had a tooth in a bag and my foot in a boot and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”

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He admitted that his fear of missing out prevented him from taking better care of himself mentally and physically. “I didn’t leave the journey, I just kept going and it took me years to look back at that history and recognize that doesn’t help anyone,” Psaki said. “It would have been better for everyone on the trip if there had been someone else on the trip, who could be present.”

“I can’t run this meeting”

For Huma Abedin, a long-time Hillary Clinton aide and MSNBC contributor, she too struggled to overcome every challenge while working in the White House, until one day she needed a break.

“For me the big moment was when I had my son,” says Abedin. “I remember coming back to Washington with my baby because there was a big strategy meeting that I normally would have led.”

Abedin painstakingly expressed her breast milk at her hotel beforehand and showed up at the White House with her baby the next day to introduce her to First Lady Michelle Obama and participate in the State Department meeting. meeting. “I was so excited I was just worried I might throw up.” [the first lady]”Abedin recalled. “In all this, I didn’t realize that I had left my milk at the hotel.”

MSNBC contributor Huma Abedin presents her baby to First Lady Michelle Obama during her time working at the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.Courtesy of Huma Abedin

When she called the hotel, they had thrown away Abedin’s breast milk, which was all her baby was eating at the time.

“I remember entering [Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff] Cheryl Mills and I were shaking and saying, ‘I can’t run this meeting, I don’t even know what to do,'” Abedin said. “The only way to get through this meeting is to feed my son.”

And that’s exactly what she did. “Indeed, here I was with [National security adviser] “Jake Sullivan…and a group of men, Hillary and I breastfed my baby,” she said. “In the end, she was fine.”

“I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle it.”

For Vice President Kamala Harris’ former chief spokesperson Symone Sanders-Townsend, who now hosts MSNBC’s “The Weekend” in addition to co-hosting “Morning Mika,” her mental health breaking point came when her father passed away.

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“My dad died unexpectedly in 2017, he suffered a stroke in the gym and two weeks later he was gone,” he recalled. “I didn’t take time off, I immediately went back to work for all the reasons we all strive for (I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle it, I’m fine) and I pushed myself. very hard for months.”

Sanders-Townsend admitted she didn’t realize it at the time, but she was suffering from depression and didn’t want to be alone or give in to the pain. Then one day, she received a call from a friend while she was at the airport.

“I answer the phone and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ and she said, ‘Girl, I heard your dad died, are you okay?'” Sanders-Townsend recalled. “I just burst into tears at the airport and the lady next to me fell three more seats.”

That friend urged her to see a therapist and seek help, as did a mentor of hers shortly after. Sanders-Townsend finally found a therapist. “That’s when I found out that she was depressed and that she had been depressed for about a year,” she said. “She was struggling, making the decision every day to get out of bed and every day was a struggle.”

He recalled feeling the same way during part of his time at the White House, where he worked during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When I decided to leave the White House, it was one of the hardest decisions I had to make because I loved my job, I loved the people I worked with, I loved the president and the vice president… but I looked up. That summer and I needed to make a decision if I was going to go to my wedding like this or if I needed to take a step back for my mental health.”

When he spoke to Vice President Kamala Harris about his decision to leave office, he received support. “She completely understood what she was saying about my mental health, about being tired, about enjoying planning my wedding, enjoying my marriage,” Sanders-Townsend said. “I just remember getting over my father’s death, my nervous breakdown and my depression, and I never wanted to go back to that place again.”

Through their lived experiences, each of the co-hosts confirmed the fundamental lesson that women must be their own advocates to ensure lasting success: ask for what you need, build relationships, and work for the long term.

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