Beating the mental health stigma

by | Dec 10, 2019

No one has to fear the repercussions of someone discovering whether she’s just come down with a case of the flu. Yet for far too long, around the world, persecution against those with mental health challenges have caused far too many to deny their need for help and treatment.

With the wellness movement comes a deeper recognition of the damage this stigma has caused, along with the value of neurodiversity. Medicine Box has made mental health a cornerstone of its product line, because like those clamoring for change, we know there’s a better way, too. 

To a certain extent, my support for this movement is somewhat self-serving — like many entrepreneurs, I live with mental health challenges, and would like to see society advance in its regard of its mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who also struggle. With both our products and our business practices, Medicine Box has steeled itself towards furthering these ends.

The mental health stigma

My personal mental health heroes

As many longtime readers of this blog know, I have lived with ADHD for many, many years. That said, I never rode the short bus to school. I never understood why those kids were segregated from the general population of kids, or really understood why they were made fun of. To me, they were just special kids with huge hearts. They, along with two other guys who I used to see riding their bikes around town and hanging out at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, were my first impression of mental illness.

Later on, I’d go to high school with Cory, the son of my dad’s best friend. Cory was born with Down’s Syndrome, and he wrestled in high school. Cory passed away a few years ago, and I’ll always remember him for his sense of humor and huge heart.

Later on, once I started getting into music, I recognized the profound contributions to culture made by artists like Kurt Cobain and Brian Wilson. For my dad’s generation, Brian was its tragic wunderkind, developing schizoaffective disorder and, for a time, a destructive relationship with LSD. Kurt Cobain struggled with bipolar disorder and physical ailments, for which he self-medicated as well. I would also turn to alcohol and drugs to make up for my own neurochemical deficiencies.

Later on in life, I took heart in learning about successful founders of businesses who managed to make their mental illnesses work for them. Steve Jobs exhibited classic traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which alienated members of his workforce but also accounted for the excellence of his products. In addition, Estee Lauder had a famous obsession with touching women’s faces. Their own unusual obsessions, when properly harnessed, could create empires. 

As an adult, I look more towards some of the wellness heroes in my own life. I have recently met the vegan chef and TV host Jason Wrobel, a person who channeled own personal struggle with depression into a uniquely funny online persona and a career in plant-based nutrition. My sister took her own lessons learned from battling an auto-immune disease to create an alternative to prescription meds that embraces diet (developed in part with a functional medicine doctor) and her own training as a nurse practitioner. And while I don’t know her (yet), I am inspired alongside many others by the story of ban.do founder Jen Gotch, she of the famous “trash dances” (videos of her dancing in front of dumpsters — thank you @phishdanceparty for the tip.). Her own IG feed and podcast are filled with frank discussion on mental health issues — particularly on the anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder she’s lived with since she’s been a kid. She speaks for me when she says, “With me it’s hard to tell a business story without a little bit of mental health just because they’re very intermingled.”

If there’s anything the mental health heroes I have in my life right now have in common, it’s a desire to reach out and spread their own gospel of healing. They know that every single person plays a role in helping you heal, and they’ve taught me how to be of better service, both for myself and those I have met in my IGTV shows (which happen every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d love to have you, hint-hint.).

cannabis plant

In praise of neurodiversity

That said, there are still people who ruthlessly exploit the stigma that still exists around mental health. Most recently, former New York Times journalist turned prohibitionist propagandist has used this stigma to rail against the cannabis movement. For me, it’s nothing more than the rehashed Reefer Madness arguments that former Federal Bureau of Narcotics head Harry Anslinger used back in the day. Anslinger in particular was fond of the example of a Victor Lavata who reportedly killed his family with an ax after smoking cannabis. It is particularly troubling to see the collateral damage such an approach can have towards not only short-circuiting the promise of cannabis, but silencing a new generation of young people ready to take a new approach to their mental health.

This moment in particular poses two opportunities WE can embrace, if we can cast aside this fear. One is to embrace a new, holistic embrace of wellness that acknowledges the ties between mental, physical and spiritual health. Developing one’s own routines and rituals surrounding one’s health and letting those decisions be informed by nature is the game-changer that can see us through our own personal darkness. The second is making room in society for all cognitive types. In the world of Medicine Box, there is no short bus — only a whole bunch of us trying to heal each other. And each one of us has something we can contribute to this cause. Schools and businesses can play their part by giving those who are mentally ill the proper runway to succeed. Creating those environments of tolerance and vision can serve as their own healing spaces, and any product or service they create will carry that healing to the world at large. To me, neurodiversity means every person not only looks differently, but thinks differently as well. Steve Jobs always implored his customers to “think different,” because you never know where the next great idea will come from. Once WE fully internalize that in our businesses and institutions, there’s no telling what lies next for us. One thing is for certain, however — we won’t have to worry about a mental health stigma anymore. 🙂

1.) First off, when you were growing up, what was your understanding of mental illness and kids who were segregated into “special ed” classes? Did you ever interact much with them, or know anyone who struggled with mental health issues?

Mental illness was always something that was a sheer contrast and “other people had” Conditions like Downs Syndrome and other learning disabilities (LD), but there was never much talk about the why and how these kids developed these conditions.  It was just “they were there” and “the normal kids” were here, then we would all intermingle. I remember some of these kids being made fun of, a lot from a place of misunderstanding. My Dad’s best friend growing up had a son, Cory, who was DS and he loved wrestling.  He just passed away a coulee years ago. He was a funny guy with a big heart. David James grew up in my neighborhood and I went to grade school all the way to high school with him. He took on the nickname Buff; it was even on his football jersey. David and I say hello on Facebook once in a while.  What I always remember is the kids in “special ed” had these huge hearts. They were very caring and loving towards their fellow human. There were also two men who were “fixtures” in the community. You’d see them riding their bikes all over town, hanging out at the local Dunkin Donuts. Legend had it, that Joe Hoopa, saved his family from a burning house when he was a kid.  Always kind. Always smiling. Thinking back, I never gave it much thought, they were just who they were, but the term mental illness never crossed my mind. They were just different, and different is cool.   

2.) Now there’s a lot of people who attack cannabis, most recently Alex Berenson, by linking it to mental illness. They’ve been doing it ever since the days of Harry Anslinger and Victor Lavata. Speak to this and cannabis’s use as a medicine to treat mental illness.

Alex’s position on cannabis is quite interesting.  In my opinion its a far reach to get attention as a PR stunt to gain recognition and sell more books.  Just like anyone, he will carve out a small audience, but he also has many critics, me being one of them.  Science and evidence based research has caught up since the days of Reefer Madness and he seems to be stuck somewhere between his fictional thriller novels and a causation without correlation theories; cherry picking data and not looking into the full spectrum of the stories he uses to support his theory, most notably that cannabis causes psychosis, but not mentioning that the people who started with, say schizophrenia likely started medicating with cannabis to assist in relieving their symptoms in the first place.  Not the other way around. It really makes me think about all the school shootings and the correlation to the shooters who were mentally ill, and on some sort of SSRI/Pharma, and the whole story gets pinned on “guns kill people.” No, no, no, mentally ill people who are misdiagnosed on pharmaceuticals without knowing the side effects who get guns kill people. It’s all propaganda, which leads me to the theory that there is much wisdom in cannabis that will bring us to the truth and there are many people working to not have that truth exposed. From a general standpoint, Cannabinoids in cannabis act as neuroprotectants.  Meaning they protect the degradation of neurotransmitters. They also serve to enhance neurotransmitters, weather it is anandamide (THC) boosting serotonin, or increasing levels of dopamine (the more dopamine, the slower the reuptake) (a finite resource) in the brain that is co-localized in the ECS, slowing down the speed of neurotransmission between the pre and post synaptic cleft (retrograde inhibition). This assists with slowing down the way a human being processes sights, sounds, touch, and thoughts that are grouped in external and internal stimuli. It helps the person who has ADHD (minimal brain disorder), be able to focus as well as the person who has epilepsy reduce the frequency of epileptic episodes. It is fascinating what we minimally understand by evidence based research and anecdotal data on a plant that hasn’t been able to be researched yet. Propaganda like Alex Berenson will continue as long as it hasn’t been triple blind studied and I will continue seeking the truth through the wisdom of this plant.   

3. Now obviously, there’s a lot of people in the wellness community who are treating their own mental illnesses. Share some anecdotes about the people you know who have benefited from embracing specific wellness practices in their lives. What does wellness get right about mental health?  

  • My sister has an auto immune condition, she opted out of prescription meds (and she works in Western Medicine as a nurse practitioner, focusing on, guess what? Mental health).  She saw a functional medicine doctor and chose an elimination diet that tailored specific foods to assist in her individualized treatment.
    Love you sis!
  • Of course my buddy Luke Storey of the Life Stylist Podcast has dedicated the last two decades of his life discovering wellness hacks for himself as a human in recovery seeking truth in health and wellness through a myriad of modalities and is sharing it with the world. I believe his best wellness hack is service to others.  Love ya dude!
  • Speaking from my own experience, what I have learned in recovery to apply to my everyday life has been a god damn miracle.  Through that journey, I discovered meditation which has become non-negotiable to me. It has assisted me in being more creative, compassionate and I am able to focus and flow.  Writing a blog like this, or staying on task was always an issue for me, it was dreaded and I’d stress about it because I knew I had to focus but couldn’t. If I miss a day of meditation, I can feel it in all my actions.  It’s like missing a day of taking “your meds”
  • I find the story of Jason Wrobel fascinating as well; the vegan chef that we aspire to collaborate with in 2020.  He found himself at a bottom in his own depression and wanted to take his own life.  I have been there in my dark days of substance abuse. He found a way out, an easier softer path with food and proper diet and is now sharing his strength and hope with others (obviously lets get these facts correct). 
  • I just discovered Jen Gotch on IG via @phishdanceparty featuring one of her well known trash dances.  Jen is the founder of ban.do, an artistic clothing and accessories brand based out of LA that is about “fun and happiness”  She is also a fierce mental health advocate. She has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and bipolar, all at a young age. Something she has said, that I can very much relate with ““With me it’s hard to tell a business story without a little bit of mental health just because they’re very intermingled.”

 The beautiful thing about wellness practices that have been adopted by people who have struggled in a past life, have more often than not chosen to carry this message to others who suffer. In order to keep it, one must give it away!

The first thing that wellness gets right about mental health is it gives the human being their own sovereignty to take their health into their own body, mind and soul. It gives us an empowering approach to make our own choices on how we treat our mental health and a belief system that WE are able to manage our mental health through wellness practices as much as we are able to manage our physical health through say, exercise. Mental health requires a holistic approach of the body, mind and soul.  It should encompass a biological approach, a spiritual approach and an emotional approach. It certainly isn’t a one sized fits all approach, but that’s what wellness gets correct. We can choose the right foods, we can choose the right spiritual practice, we can develop routines and rituals around these principles to augment our regimes which in turn creates positive feedback loops, for the individual. I always come back to the “proactive approach verse the reactive approach’ Our culture and society has been told lies for so long, that we have waited until we get sick, or get out of shape, or hit a bottom and we want it to be fixed immediately.  Society engrained in people instant gratification to depend on conventional medicine to “make it go away!’” WE are entering a time now where wellness brings out the best in us by bringing a proactive way of life to our being which enhances our health and happiness by not dulling the human consciousness with lies and propaganda and poor stewardship.  

4.) What does neurodiversity mean to you? Does Medicine Box have a policy towards working with, or even employing, neurodiverse people? What can society gain by embracing a more tolerant approach towards mental health? 

 Neurodiversity means that every human being on this planet not only looks different but also thinks differently. We can see the outside of a persons appearance so that’s easy, but we don’t have the ability to see inside someones brain! It supports the diversity of ways that people think by giving them the opportunities to harness their individualized skill sets or magical power, yes, I say magical powers because thats what they are, but they have been gravely misunderstood and cast aside because of the symptoms that are displayed by these neurodiverese conditions. Someone today on instagram Dmd me a voice memo and asked if i was a coach, a mentor or a knowledge dealer.  I said all of the above. She then asked if I had mentors and I said yes, several of them, one of which is no longer on this physical realm but who I talk to daily. She then asked me “doesn’t listening to multiple people get contradictory and I said NO; listening assists us with learning and in fact I’m a mentor to myself because I listen to my intuition a lot. When we speak, we already know, when we listen we discover new perspectives which in turn has the ability to change belief systems that have the power to innovate. I said we are all the same, but uniquely different and harnessing the power of differences is a powerful tool within organizations and society. Medicine Box supports a diverse way of thinking, in fact Jess has commented a few times on how diverse the people who are working with MB are and how great it is. I love that, because as the leader of this organization, I follow my intuition daily, but learn from the people around me.  I’d say, with the mission that we are following, MB will adopt a neurodiverse culture. A really do hope that time comes. A more tolerable approach towards mental health can be very inclusive, impactful and interconnected. I feel that organizations, work environments, school systems that place self care above all else will be the winners, the change makers. The days of leave your emotions and personal stuff at the door are over. By harnessing each individuals magic and giving them the proper runways to let them shine, a neurodiverse society is possible and we will see the stigmas of mental health slowly dissipate. Call me hopeful, and call me crazy, but I already knew that. 

5.) Is there any music/art/literature/products you like that was created from the mentally ill?

Of course from the alternative/grunge generation of the early 90s, there was Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.  He was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder; two very tricky conditions to pin down and provide proper treatment  Many of his lyrics showcased his battle with these conditions.  

I remember my Dad always telling me about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.  How he had developed Schizophrenia and ended up staying in his bed, isolated in his home taking LSD for long periods of time.  Since, he has found a way to manage these conditions, and make music again. 

Of course the computer I am writing on and the phone that I use to conduct my personal and professional life are sprouted from Apple and Steve Jobs at the helm.  Steve was known to display signs of obsessive personality disorder in his designs.  His over-focused attention to detail showed signs of Obsessive Personality Compulsive Disorder: “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency,” according to Psych Central. 

Estee  Lauder also showed signs of OPCD.  She was obsessed with touching woman faces.  Those with OCPD, as I have discovered time and time again, happen to have remarkable strengths; they possess enormous drive and persistence and are very detail-oriented,” states Kendall in Scientific American.

Charles Bukowski channeled his emotional pain into his writing. He was a poet and a writer who eloquently wrote about the hardships of life and the importance of staying true to yourself.  That sounds very familiar. It’s the acceptance and awareness of one self, but channeling it into something productive. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” –Charles Dickens

   

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