Dr. Sanam Hafeez: Mental Health Disinformation

Dr. Hafeez has been a trusted and recurring expert across media channels for top outlets such as The Wallstreet Journal, The Washington Post, HuffPost, MarketWatch The New York Times, Bustle, Elite Daily, Refinery29, Prevention, Health, Healthline, and on TV for such shows and news as Dr. Oz, The Doctors, CNN, CBS NY Weekend News, and FOX.

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Bert Martinez:  We’re gonna be fact checking some of these remedies and recommendations. All of this is we’re gonna unpack it today with my guest, Dr. Sanam Hafeez. Welcome.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  Hi Thank you for having me on.


Bert Martinez: So let’s talk about this because there is a lot of Information, TikTok, Instagram, social media in general, you have everybody giving their recommendations, about first of all, let’s talk about some of the recommendations that they give. And some of these recommendations aren’t coming from doctors. Right? They’re coming from just average people, And they’re putting it out there like authority. So give me your thoughts on this.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  You know, it depends on which day you catch me, because some days, I feel like, you know, Instagram, TikTok, I think a lot of social media has put a lot of awareness out there, which I am grateful for I see a lot of patients who come to me because they saw something on TikTok. They saw something on, you know, Instagram. It resonated with them. They listen to someone. They follow someone. But the percentage of people who’ll seek out someone like me, an actual expert in the field of mental health with a doctor, with a license, that number is very small. So what worries me is that people will take something that is not expertise as gospel because it’s prevalent.

You listen to someone enough times and they talk with enough authority and and know how, they start to seem like they are, you know, professionals, and they’re not. And a lot of times, that’s okay. If you follow sportscasters or sports people, you follow wellness gurus or people who do fashion or even digest the news. 

Well, the news, I actually do think can be quite dangerous if you get it from the wrong place. But, you know, It’s okay. There isn’t that much harm done. But when it comes to health, both your physical and your mental health, it can be dangerous in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

And so I worry about that. I worry about trends. I worry about these gurus who are these wellness people who every day have a new, you know, remedy for depression or anxiety and they make it sound like they’re practicing all of that. There isn’t enough time in the day to practice all those things and you have to be practicing them long enough for them to be consistent enough to become a habit or make an actual change. 

So my problem is that there are just so many, but they start with, how are you doing all these things? When do you find the time to do all of them? How long did you even practice to sit for before you pawned it on to someone else. You know, it’s one thing to say, well, this has worked for some people. This works for some people. I’ve tried this, but I didn’t try it long enough, but they make it seem like that’s all they’re journaling.

They’re going on these long walks. They are practicing cognitive behavioral therapy, but they’re also filming nonstop. So when are you doing all these things? Are you eating? Are you taking a bath? Are you grocery shopping? So, I worry about that because some of the People who are listening to you are believing this stuff, and they’re thinking, I can’t believe I’m dropping the ball on this. This other person can do it. No. They can’t. It’s not possible. 

Bert Martinez:  Right. Well and and and I think to your point too, one of my concerns is you have such a young audience that is listening, especially on TikTok. It’s a younger audience than Instagram. And so you have these individuals who have no life experience or very little life experience. 

I’m talking about the young teenagers, the young 20 year olds who are listening to some of the stuff and thinking that’s what I need to be doing. I need to be juggling 10 different balls. And And and just, like, to your point, you listen to some of these people and and you listen to all the stuff they’re doing. It’s like, well, that’s overwhelming. 

That gives me more anxiety than not doing anything. It is crazy over the top. And I just see a point in our future where either people will start taking actions against these social media companies. Because they’re just allowing all sorts of misinformation on there or, people are gonna get, they’re already getting hurt because of this misinformation or, ultimately, the government is gonna have to step in and say, hey. We’re gonna have to regulate social media. You Can’t be on social media until you’re 21 or something because let me tell you, as you probably know this better than anybody else. When you expose somebody to social media at an early age, doesn’t that affect their health, their mental health, their they’re the way they think?


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  I mean, There is a surgeon general who put a warning out about social media consumption in young teens. We have seen and unusual, abnormal, alarming rate, of young teenage girls in particular, with clinical depression, clinical anxiety, clinical body dysmorphia, suicidal ideation than we’ve ever seen before. 

Now it’s not news to any of us that teenagers, especially young females, struggle with self esteem, they struggle with body image, they struggle with fitting in, but the sheer prevalence of that, I think, scares every parent. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the surgeon general has a couple of young girls or or teens. I think it’s Scary stuff. And I think parents, especially because of the pandemic, felt that they lost control of that. They let their kids go on there and now there’s no wheeling them back.

And, you know, TikTok is designed to keep you engaged. There’s I mean, it’s a steady stream of content. And before you know it, you’ve spent God knows how many hours. And, yes, the people on TikTok, I feel, are generally more impressionable. And so yes, you’re risking their mental health to people who a lot of the time are talking about their own experiences, you know, and people that listen they’re allowed to. They can talk about their own experiences. I worry about the people who are consuming those experiences.

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Bert Martinez: I and I do too. Look. There is, I think it’s a Netflix documentary where this gentleman who used to work I can’t remember if he worked for Google or he worked for somebody. Then he later on, I think he worked for a social media company, and he talked about all of the different little psychological tricks that they use to keep us on those apps, right, they are they have research the way the brain works, and they are configuring social media apps to trigger our dopamine, to trigger, some of the, what do you call it, the good feel hormone, oxytocin, all of those things so we stay on there longer. 

And what is scary to me is I’m aware of it. I’ve done some research. I have, well, I guess they’re 22 now, but I had some young kids at home that I used to monitor how much social media they could have.

And even with all of that, I have found myself On my phone,

You know, I start, like, at 8 o’clock at night. I’m just gonna do this for 30 minutes. I wanna check my own social media. 2 hours later, I am still scrolling.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  Yes. How scary is that? We’re grown ups. We know better. How do you expect a 10 or 12 or 15 or even a 20 year old to be able to do this? 

Studies have shown that things that people like you and I grew up with as standard, 1st date, 1st kiss, 1st time you have sex, 1st time you get your driver’s license or you take your test, just going out with friends, watching movies, all those things are down because these kids never feel the need to get up out of bed, Put on clean clothes, take a shower, get out the door, and actually go see someone.

And they think that these people on social media or text messages or messaging are their friends and they’re not. 

And so they’re not developing. 

They’re not practicing social skills. They’re not developing. 

We come this far by practicing relationships. We come this far by practicing friendships. We remember what it was like when we had our 1st romantic relationship. 

We remember the mistakes we made, how we corrected those mistakes the 2nd time around, and so on and so forth. 

So eventually, by the time we settle down with the spouse, we learn some ins and outs or partnerships. We learn the ins and outs of that give and take and what’s acceptable, what’s not, would work for someone. 

We learn about ourselves. If you’re not having those relationships, how are you learning? How are you practicing? So it worries me the distant view of what this is gonna look like, it truly genuinely worries me. 

And I think that the girls are definitely at a disadvantage compared to the boys in some regard. The boys, you know, I mean, I worry. I I see a bunch of boys who think they have friends because they game with someone.

But the girls, they internalize a lot of this. I should say they don’t like the unfiltered version of what we’re looking at right now. This is what we look like. It’s okay. They don’t like this anymore. They get up and look in the mirror and don’t like what looks back at them. 

You know, and it’s okay to not always like how you look, but we had a chance to digest that. We had a chance to absorb that and say, this is it for better or worse. This is the face I got. You know? I’ll Do my eyeliner differently. I’ll do my I’ll use bronzer here or there, but they don’t like what looks back at them, and that makes me very sad for these girls. 

And They’re worried about what it’s gonna look like in 20 years when they’re genuinely not going to look as good because we don’t. I was joking with someone. I wake up every morning, I feel like my face is falling. 

But you know what? But that’s life. We learn to accept it. And if you don’t find that sense of comfort, happiness, contentment inside you, the outside world is never going to keep up. It’s never going to please you. 

Bert Martinez:  I think on average, and you correct me if you have an updated answer, but I think on average, They say that it takes people of  your generation, my generation, until either our mid thirties or our mid forties no. I’m sorry. Our mid thirties to our early forties to finally accept ourselves for who we are and start not, no longer caring about what other people think about us. Right? 

Because for years, you go through middle school, high school, college worrying about what other people think about you, and then you start your career in your early twenties and you’re worried about, again, what your boss thinks about you, what your, supervisors think about you, and and then, it takes a while to deprogram or remove that program from our minds. And then so the article, I think, said between 35 and 40 is when most of us do that.

But my concern, to your point, is it seems like this generation who are fixated on TikTok and Instagram, all and all these other apps may never reach the point where they don’t care what other people think. I mean, if you’re in your twenties And you don’t like the way you look? This is very scary because let me tell you, Most of us never look better than we do when we’re in our young teens and twenties.

Life is great. Your body’s functioning. For most of us, you know, our body’s functioning at optimal levels. You can eat whatever you want and your body just uses that. Now at our age, I can’t even look at ice cream without feeling bloated or something. 

But, you know, when you say that you’re concerned about what’s gonna happen in 20 years, you know, walk me through it. 

Are you thinking what? Just, depression going completely I mean, because depression now is at an all time high. 

Is it gonna double? Is it gonna triple? What do you see in 20 years?


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  I think that the much bigger pandemic that came out of the pandemic was a mental health one. 1 in 4 Americans are depressed according to the CDC. I think that number is actually a conservative one. 

I think depression takes on a lot of faces that people don’t quite see. 

Eating too much, eating too little, sleeping too much, sleeping too little, not liking what looks back at you, busying yourself in non meaningful tasks or in non meaningful relationships to avoid the reality of your life. That is all depression. It’s just bearing degrees. 

And I think what I see in 20 years is that if we don’t kind of bring back actual meaningful exchanges, real life social interactions, I think we’re gonna have a lot of unpartnered people.

We’re gonna have people who don’t have kids, and let’s face it. There’s a window for that. You do miss it, especially if you’re a woman. I feel like people are not gonna buy homes. People are not gonna settle down, put down roots. That’s how the majority of us have functioned. That’s how we came as far as we did. And if you ask them, I mean, we see a lot of them.

I mean, the 26, 30, 35 year olds of today are not the ones from even a decade ago. Things have shifted already, and I think social media has played a big role. Now again to social media’s defense, I think it’s also brought out a lot of things, but It’s also kind of giving people the space to excuse their problems, right? 

And like you talked about the algorithm, I found myself on vacation just coming up against some of these, like, relationship advice and like some of them. Guess what I get now on my social media and Instagram? Dating websites. I’m married. I’m not looking to date, but Instagram thinks I am. But it also reinforces what I already think, by giving me more of the same. So now my mind’s going, See, I knew I was right.

So it kind of takes away your ability to think for yourself because social media is telling you how you should be thinking and giving you answers. Hey. This is a great dating website. This is for someone smart and self evolved like you, you know, and it’s a dangerous place to be.

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Bert Martinez: Absolutely. It is, to your point, we have become a much softer nation, I think. Again, I remember when I was going to my first interview, my parents, they might have helped me fill out the application, but that was it. I just showed up, did my job interview the best I could. You have articles now of parents who call their children at college to wake them up. You have parents who are involved in the interview process,  And so what is your take on that? Or is all this what they call helicopter parenting or whatever. Is that destroying their self esteem? I mean, because it seems to me that they’re trying to prevent it.

There’s a certain level of self esteem and a certain level of reality when we do things on our own. Whether we win or fail, whatever you wanna call it, is all this helicopter parenting, is that destroying these children’s self esteem? 

What’s your take on this?


Dr. Sanam Hafeez: I think it’s making children and young adults very dependent on outside help. I’ve said this for a long time. When I need the recipe for something, if I wanna fix something. We all Have used this, so we’re all guilty of this. And if in a pinch, I’m so grateful for the Internet. If something is broken, I’ll look for a hack.If something needs fixing, I’ll look for a hack. If I need to cook something in a pinch, if these are the ingredients I have, I can quickly figure out something. 

But I’m grown up. My brain has developed, and I can use my brain for a lot of other things than doing those things, so I’m grateful for it. But if now I’m a teenager or even someone in their twenties and the Internet is giving me every answer there is. That ‘s what ‘s keeping me from developing reasoning, problem solving skills. When you’re a parent, you absolutely should be giving.

I have a twin. They’re 8 years old. I try very hard to make them as independent as possible because I tell them the world isn’t gonna treat them the way their mother treats them. And  I tell them all the pros and cons of my life, of running a business, of being a mom so they know what the world is gonna look like, but I also have the advantage of being a neuropsychologist, of having done this my entire adult life, and I know what lays in front of them. I also know the shifts that we’re going through in our culture and development. Right? But even then I have to pull back and say, no, no, they don’t need my help. They can figure this out for themselves. But they’re 8. I can justify that help.

When you’re doing this for a 16, 17, 18 year old, that’s a problem because your kid not only just has you, because we’re now older, more affluent having children as opposed to our parents who didn’t have time. They weren’t trying to throw us to the wolves. They were busy making a living so, you know, being they didn’t have text messages and emails, they physically had to show up to take care of things. Right? 

But apart from us, our kids also have the Internet. You know? My son wrote a paper, like, I think he was trying to be funny. I hope to God he was trying to be funny. It was a composition, a book report. And it was his review of a book that he read.

And at the end, he wrote, if you like this, please Please subscribe. I was like, no one’s subscribing. Subscribe to what? You know? Nope.

So, you know, I mean, I think it was just people just being cheeky. But the reality is this is their reality. And to keep them from it is futile, but reminding them how to put their phone away, how to be present at a dinner without your phone in your hand, how to, you know, set reminders instead of just being tethered to this device, how to put it away and just be present with people you love, how to actually engage in conversation, how to ask how are you and wait for an answer back. Like, these are skills that I think are just lost. And the funny thing is I always think this to myself and kinda chuckle because it’s sad. I think everyone just wants to be loved and no one knows how to give that love or receive that love.

Bert Martinez:  And to your point, so interestingly that you brought this up. Years ago, when I say years ago, 30 years ago, I did a survey because, My background is marketing, and so, I wanted to find out why people started smoking. Because 30 years ago, it might have been 25 years ago. It might have been 35 years ago when I did this. But either way, I wanted to see if smoking ads had any effect on smokers. And we did a survey with 1000 people, and I remember this so clearly. Everybody in the survey, except for 2, and both of these are 2 military people.And so these 2 military people, both of them said the reason they started smoking was that was the only way they get a break from doing their work on the base. So if you were a smoker, you were given 2 15 or 20 minute breaks, but if you were a nonsmoker, you weren’t given those breaks, which I thought was a bad decision to start smoking because you wanna have a 40 minute break.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  But also so wrong for the people who are giving those breaks. Like, give other people mental health breaks. Give them breathing breaks.


Bert Martinez: Yeah. Exactly. It is but it goes to show you the way a lot of people think. Oh, well, you’re addicted, so I’m gonna give you a break. You’re not addicted. I’m just gonna keep the standard. And to your point, they should have been given a break. But, anyway so do the other people, the other 998, servants, whatever. People, their remarks were like, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to feel more mature. I wanted to be part of the cool kids. Let’s see. What else? I wanted to be more like my dad or my mom.

Bottom line is, to your point, they all wanted to be loved. They want you know, when you’re trying to fit in, when you’re trying to, be like somebody else whether you’re joining a gang or joining,  I don’t know, A social club or whatever. You’re looking for that connection. You’re looking, Bottom line, you’re looking for love. That’s it.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  Everyone starts out looking for love, looking to belong, looking to fit in. And then when they have the opportunity, they mess it up because they never developed the strategies, the coping skills, the communication to keep it going. You know? And the other thing that I often see other people who have those skills draw people who don’t have those scandalous is just the way the universe is made, and then things fall apart.

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Bert Martinez:  You know? something, Again, so we have a total of 5 kids and, 2 of our babies are also twin girls, so yay for twins. And so when you and I were going up, if somebody knocked on our door, We would all run to the front door to see who it was. But when my daughters Would hear somebody knock at the front door, they would scurry to their rooms. They would mean and I’m not talking like a 5 or 6 or 8 year old. I’m talking full blown teenage girls who are, at this point, You know, 15, 16, 17, even when there were 18 and and and stuff like that, somebody knocking at the door, they’re like You know? They would take off. They would just get up and leave, and it’s like, where are you guys going? Somebody’s knocking at the door, dad. We gotta go. And it’s Yeah. Talk about weird, just totally weird, social skills or lack thereof. And so that’s, to me, a bad, very, real situation of what you’re talking about. And our kids, again, especially our twins, we monitored how much facetime or phone time they had, And and we really tried to incorporate leadership type of training for them, meaning that we would let them, Kinda like what you talked about earlier. Let them make their own decisions, make their own mistakes. We would help them without doing anything for them. Just, Hey. This is what you gotta do, and something as simple as making a phone call is, For a lot of these young people, anxiety, overwhelm 


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  Because they don’t know what’s on the other end. They don’t know how to start. They don’t know how to finish. I will say something about teenage girls or teenagers in general. I think that even in our time, teenagers were wrought with anxiety over how they look and then getting roped into a conversation with an adult that they weren’t either looking forward to or ready for. And so and because we’re, you know, living in our own angst when we’re teenagers. It’s, you know, replaying what happened at school, getting on the phone. I remember we had this 1 little closet in my hallway in Queens. 

We lived in an apartment when I was in high school, and it was just unofficially my office. It was the minute I’d get home, they weren’t I think we did have a cordless phone that died very quickly, battery. We’d dragged this wire into the closet, and I’ve been there for hours. I’d come out to do my homework, Eat something or take some snacks like a mouse and scurry back into this hallway closet. Because I have 2 younger sisters, and I didn’t want them knowing This is and I didn’t want mom and dad hearing about all the boys I was talking about. So even that, being on the phone, the relationships It’s for real. They were, you know? And I’m actually still best friends with my best friends from high school to this day, you know, because it was so real. They were so genuine, and we grew up to have people who have each other’s backs to this day, I just don’t see that happening for kids now, and I feel terrible for them.


Bert Martinez: So what is the remedy? How do we fix this? Because it’s only gonna get worse If something doesn’t happen now so you know, if you could wave a magic wand, how do we go about fixing this?


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  My God. I would say everyone and their mother literally needs to be in therapy. I feel like people need to figure out their stuff. They need to figure out their own Natural predispositions toward anxiety, depression, trauma, resolve that stuff, and give their children The tools to be like, hey. Listen. This isn’t all you. I had some of this stuff. I just came up at a different time. 

So I fought through it. You’re coming up against this, but you have more attentive parents and sort of this unspoken permission to what they call bedrodding, you know, on TikTok or to stay in your room or just be on Instagram instead of going out, like this message that we give people these days, It’s okay to feel this way.It is. But it’s also your responsibility to fix it. 

And so I think that the message needs to be twofold. 

Own what’s going on with you. Own it because that’s part of your genetic wiring or makeup. And then take the responsibility to fix it, which means hard work, communication, therapy, and admitting this is what’s wrong with me. This is not healthy. This is not functional, and I am damaging not only my life but people around me by behaving and engaging like this.

Bert Martinez:  And if you could have some parting words for parents out there who have young kids, a 13 year old, a 14 year old, what do you suggest for them as far as being on these social media apps?


Dr. Sanam Hafeez: I honestly think that the best thing parents can do all around and you’ve got 5 kids, I don’t need you to need to tell you this is spend actual time with your children. Go for a walk with them. Make it a custom, a ritual, a tradition to do walks in the park, everyone’s got a park nearby. Everyone’s got a nice street they could walk down. two to three times a week, Pick a show that you can watch together as a family. Sit, make them sit at the dinner table. Ask them how their day was at school. Make a rule about no phones, but I think parents struggle with that as much as kids do.

No phones at the table, you know. So these simple things that we grew up with are to this day the staple of stable healthy dynamics within a family and your kids need that. 

Your kids need your attention more than anything else. And even if you lose them for a couple of years, They’ll come right back because they know you’re there for them because your time, apart from money, is the greatest resource you can give your children or anyone you love. 


Bert Martinez: Absolutely true. Funny you should mention that because, again, this is going back Many, many years, I wanna say 25 or 30 years ago, I listened to a talk where this gentleman, he would he had he also had 5 kids, and he would get all his kids up at 5:30 in the morning and they would play together. They would do some reading together. They would have breakfast together. And that struck me like a, you know, a thunderbolt. It just made so much sense to me, And so we started doing the same thing. 

We would get all our kids up at 5:30 in the morning. And we would have playtime with them. And when you’re getting kids up early in the morning, you might only have 15 or 20 minutes of playtime, but you’re doing it every day. And then we’re eating breakfast together And and we’re reading together as a family, and we did this. And to this day, my kids still talk about that. And to your point, it was time. Sometimes maybe the time wasn’t, whatever, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes here. But by the time they got to school, We had hung out together for an hour, hour and a half together as a family uninterrupted, no phone time, nothing, And it had an impact.

And the other side of that, by the way, is because you got them up at 5:30 in the morning, They were all in bed by 7:30 at night. And so now as mom and dad, we have some quality time of our own together, So it’s a win win, and a lot of people can’t do that. They work different schedules, but maybe you could. 


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  But you can always carve out that time somewhere, 100%.

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Bert Martinez: To your point, carving out that time, actually having face to face time, and also to your point is as the parent, You have to have the discipline to put the phone down because your kids are watching you 24/7. And if you’re just as addicted to the phone as they are, then how are you gonna teach them? 


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  You know, even in normal relationships and friendships and romantic relationships, the way we know where we belong or sit with someone is how much they prioritize us. 

Our kids need to see that as well. If you are prioritizing your partner or your child by putting away that phone, by spending time with them over other people. I will never go out to dinner or do any engagements with anyone when my kids are home from school. I pick them up at 3. I am done. I will unless it’s absolutely necessary, I will pass up on anything because my kids, I share weekends with their dad, so I have my downtime with my husband.

My kids get to go to their dad, but when they’re home, they know Their mother values no one else over them. And I think that does an amazing amount of good for their self esteem, for their sense of belonging, Their sense of like, no, we come first for her, you know, and everyone else. So I feel like it’s where it needs to be. I think it needs to just be that simple. 

Let people you love know that you prioritize them, that no one else is more important, that there isn’t any sense of if this is my life too. Yes. It is. No one’s taking away your life, but you have a finite amount of time with your children.

Let them know where they belong and that Younger year, what you did with your kids, I’m sure is paying dividends now because they will call you. I’m sure they would rather spend holidays with you than go away on spring break, and that’s okay. They do go all the way with their friends. I mean, friends are important. Don’t get me wrong. But you reminded them that you were worth waking up earlier for every day.


Bert Martinez:  And I just think, for everybody watching and everybody listening, you know, it is such a simple thing to just spend time with them, and it doesn’t have to be an hour long. You know, one of the side benefits of spending 15, 20 minutes with my kids’ playtime every day was I didn’t have to play with them on the weekends. They could go hang out with their friends, and they were okay with that. So that’s but to your point, time is all we have, and that’s, what a great way to show somebody that you love them. 

Time is what’s going to make a relationship work. It’s such an easy thing to do. It’s such a valuable tool because time is the one thing that we cannot create more.


Dr. Sanam Hafeez:  Honestly, is there any more important relationship than the one you have with your children or with your parents vice versa? I mean, most of our trauma comes from those relationships. So imagine doing it right and not creating that trauma for them. 







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