Who is Ifeanyi Olele?
I’m a Nigerian American. I was raised in southern California; I attended UCLA as a psychobiology major. I’m also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. And after my time at UCLA I attended Hampton University where I got my Masters in Medical Science. And then I went to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine where I earned my Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree and at the same time, I also earned an MBA from Saint Joseph’s University. I did my psychiatry residency at Larkin Community Hospital in South Miami, FL where I was also the Chief Resident. My love for mental health has always been growing through all of my different stops. And finally I’m now up in the DMV area where I serve many patients in the DC, MD and VA area with my practice Genesis Psychiatric Solutions based on McLean VA and Washington D.C.
What got you interested in the mental health field?
I got interested in mental health when I was in college because I was a psychobiology major. I started off in biology but I wanted something more with psychology in it so I found a major that was blended in psychobiology. So that helped steer my path going into the mental health track. I was also an RA, a resident assistant in the dorms, that also helped fast track things for me, a student health advocate, so I was always interacting with people at UCLA working with different students. I enjoyed hearing people’s problems, helping them solve their problems: being homesick, having struggles with relationships or friends, or their classes – I was there as a counselor or an advisor. As a student health advocate we would dispense medication like Tylenol or Bandaids, something they need, I was that guy. So I took pride in that, and that helped solidify my interest in medicine.
What were your experiences like in residency?
When I was in residency the camaraderie helped me out a lot because I was married but we were in a long distance relationship, my wife was living in the MD area due to work and I was doing my residency in FL. That was one of big things was being away from my wife and children. I enjoyed learning from my colleagues, our teachers, our attendings. You’re going to different patient rooms, and you’re observing the different styles of the different attending physicians. And they’re challenging you about drugs or disorders, so it’s on the spot job training – I loved it. You’re busy, you’re working all the time, tired at times. I was getting different people and learning from different cases, because every case is unique.
Was there a moment where you felt particularly called to the work you’re doing now?
I don’t remember a particular case or whatnot, but I think it was just the emotion of things and where things were trending for me, a collection of experiences. It was really seeing how I felt when I went to rotations because during medical school you get a chance to go to different, you could do surgery rotation for a month, or you could do internal medicine, family medicine, pediatric, so you get to see all the specialties. So I had an opportunity to do psych, I knew that I wanted to go into mental health, but I was still flirting with different specialities. When I got on to psych rotations something just clicked, it was just natural for me – the psychiatrist saw that in myself, it was just natural the way I talk to people, my curiosity. The reason why I love behavioral health is because there’s an art form, a mixture of art, the science part of it, the humanities; You get to study the brain and I felt that the brain is the most powerful organ in the body. And what piqued my curiosity was like, “How are people different? How are people’s personalities, how can they be depressed, anxious, happy?” What may make one person depressed many not make another person depressed. That’s what I like about it, it’s like a big puzzle. It’s exciting and challenging, I’m not bored.
What do you do to decompress?
Most of the time, I decompressed by talking to my wife when I was in residency. I would watch an occasional movie or a sports game. Occasionally I would go to the gym. These days I decompress by traveling, I just got back from Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
How much do you prescribe lifestyle changes?
Sleep is big. That’s one of the things that people battle with is their sleep. If somebody’s depressed, anxious, or have bi-polar disorder or PTSD for example, sleep can be affected. Once your sleep is affected that can start your day off in the wrong way because you’re showing up to work fatigued; You may be irritable or moody – people don’t want to be around moody people. That’s one of the things try to educate my patients about. If there’s stuff we can help with sleep hygiene on the surface level without medications, I’m all for that. Yes, I’m a prescriber, but also I want to make sure there are ways that we don’t need to bring in pharmacological interventions into treating the patients. Appetite is a big thing too. I always ask my patients, “How is your appetite?” I’m learning if they’re eating too much. The questions we need to ask are: “What’s causing you to eat? Are you bulking up because you’re weight lifting? Are you stressed?” Because a lot of people are stress eaters, so they’re eating more because they are stressed or they are depressed. Or they might be eating less. “Are you eating less because you’re sick, you’re anxious, maybe you’re on an ADHD medication that is lowering your appetite.” That’s the thing I like about it is we’re like detectives.
Energy is something I’m always looking out for. They may say, “Dr. O., my energy is so low.” So I say, “Okay, are you sleeping well?” “Yea.” “Are you eating well?” “Nope, I’m not eating.” “Okay so maybe it’s your appetite. Are you going to the gym? Are you exercising?” “No, not as often.” “Okay, let’s probably start there. Let’s see what’s going on.” And there might be some medical reasons. And so that’s why I would order labs, or ask them to get labs from their primary care physician, because they could have issues with their hemoglobin, issues with their blood sugar, issues with blood pressure, or heart disease, or even thyroid, something that’s slowing them down. So we’re digging and trying to be a good detective to find our what’s causing the root cause of problems. The big three that I focus on is medications, therapy, and lifestyle modifications. I don’t pressure medications on patients, I make recommendations. Sometimes patients will want to try therapy and lifestyle changes first. On the other hand, when there are patients that are severely depressed, or they may need hospitalization, I’m going to talk to them and also speak with a family member or friend to make a suggestion; That helps as well.
What meds can you get behind and what meds concern you?
One of the big things when I get patients I look to see if there is a benzodiazepines history like Xanax, Ativan, Clonazepam, because there are a lot patients that have been on it chronically and you’re like, “How can I get them off of this, or, let me see what’s going on.” I take respect to the patients and I also educate them, I want to talk to them about the medication, why they’re taking it. And then talk to them to see if there may be something that we could gradually get them off of it if they’ve been taking it for years. With any medication, psychoeducation is big. I also need to know if there is a patient that might be doctor shopping for stimulants or benzodiazepines. We have to be sharp about that. I use the prescription drug monitoring program to assist me. So we’re able to see if the patients are taking the meds as prescribed.
For meds that I get behind, for folks who are dealing with depression or anxiety, I can always go with the ones that are standard, the FDA approved medications, SSRIs like Lexipro, Prozac, Zoloft, Cymbalta. These are medications that help with maintenance. And, I’m not saying that benzodiazepines are bad, they’re good, they serve a purpose with relief when you’re trying to get the patient to a good therapeutic dose and stabilizing them with a medication, then you can bring them off of it. I try to treat them with what’s indicated, so either it’s a mood stabilizer if it’s appropriate I’ll give it to them.
Or in some cases antipsychotics, I would have to be careful with antipsychotics because a lot of times it could cause increased blood sugar, increased cholesterol. But I have to prescribe it when it’s necessary; Like if somebody is dealing with hallucinations or increased paranoia, then antipsychotics are the best choice. But if someone is dealing with depression, they’ve tried all types of depression medications, sometimes you may need to incorporate an antipsychotic for depression augmentation – it’s all about getting a good history and finding out what’s a good match for patients.
Where can folks learn more about you?
Go to our website Genesis Psychiatric Solutions. You can also follow me on social media @GPSmindset on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. And then my personal social media is @DoctorOlele which is the same handle on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and I have a lot of videos out where I’m trying to normalize mental health. If you’re on those handles, I would love for you to follow us and subscribe because I love educating on mental health and if you have any questions you can DM me. I’ve had people who are not patients DM me and just asking questions like how to find a provider, or what to look for in a provider. I always say, “I’m not your doctor, but here’s what you can ask your doctor.”
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD. As an MFT, he specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His areas of expertise include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, fellow psychotherapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.