Celebrating World Mental Health Day: How these nonprofits are destigmatizing mental health
The inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals was attestation by the UN of the important role that it plays in achieving global development goals. Although many countries have come a long way in being vocal about mental health awareness and education, the gap between those who are struggling with these issues and require attention and the ones who have access to it is large. This leads to them facing stigma, isolation and human rights violations.
In our recent interview to celebrate World Mental Health Day, we spoke to Stephanie Johnson, Executive Director, LTY Foundation , and Dan Kanceljak, Chief Outreach Officer, Letters to Strangers to learn how they are impacting lives, one day at a time.
First, let us try to understand what mental health is and how to define the different aspects that are included when we talk about this issue?
A: Stephanie: When I think about what mental health is, it’s when we are talking about the things that can be related to what we progress into. What is not mental illness but also can be non-diagnosable, so I want to distinguish because oftentimes we hear words like mental health mental illness, sometimes it gets anonymously talked about in conversations or they’re not defined well enough to know the difference between what psychological well-being means. So mental health is, what are we doing in our day to day lives in our environments, how we’re being raised, how we’re being socialized. It is what is personally happening to us continuously, over time, that impacts how our brain is trained, how our mind then conceives and perceives information that then relates to how we think about ourselves, how we feel over time and then is demonstrated in our behaviour.
And being a mental health professional gets so generalized sometimes into anxiety depression or suicide that people miss everything else in between right so mental health is our personality disorder after personalities it’s our behaviour day to day.
What motivated you and your non-profit to work for so many programs?
A: Dan: Specifically, in regard to Letters to Strangers, the initiation of the whole organization and everything that it has become today goes to our Executive Director. She struggled with bipolar disorder when she was younger, which led her to find healing and help in the act of letter writing. In particular, writing to someone “out there”, a stranger.
Year by year, we grew as an organization and spread into other areas, such as you mentioned, advocacy, education, interventions, and many other programs. And ultimately, we realised that a holistic approach was necessary, that is why, today we are focusing on educational, as much as, more “directly” therapeutic approaches.
Stephanie: We have done very well at recognizing physically what happens to people to keep people looking younger to keep people looking healthier or being healthier physically, we’ve done a lot to repair, you know the physical body when the physical body is damaged, but when it comes to what the brain is doing and how brain health impacts our everyday life.
So what we’re doing now is non-profits are pulling a lot of weight for our societies and trying to do a lot with very little to try to help a lot of people who when we start talking about these things and they resonate with people.
I would like for you to use this platform right now to disseminate some authentic information to bust certain myths.
A: Dan: A lot of attitudes towards mental health are rooted in the fear of vulnerability. Perhaps, because there lays a subconscious belief that once you were to face your “shadow”, oftentimes the source of one’s stress and anxiety, you would, inevitably, lose your agency and start to feel overcome by this side of you, However, it is only by facing our struggles, with an open heart, that we can unleash the potential for growth hidden within mental health struggles. In fact, this phenomenon has been dubbed, within one context, as “Post-Traumatic Growth”, whereby, after a traumatic event, an individual succeeds at, not only matching their previous levels of wellbeing, but also exceeding them.
Stephanie: We usually start to see the formation of maladaptive behaviour or psychological distress or the development of disorders, and the severe side of mental illness. A lot of it is formed when there is a lack of wellbeing early on in life. We can see science has been able to track the development of a psychiatric disorder, over time, from how much wellbeing has been lacking in some from birth. It’s so important for us to get the environment, whether it be the physical environment, or social environment because that is constantly a part of this route being human. It’s about how we start to interact and be interwoven.
What are the different ways that they can associate and become a volunteer for your non-profit?
A: Dan: There are many ways. On one hand, they can become part of our “Chapter Network.” For instance, in India now we have 12 chapters. They could initiate the 13th or become part of one of the existing ones. That said, they could also take part in our letter-writing communities, where people come together, exchange letters and, discuss them in a safe and comfortable setting. Today, they may even do so online, as we have built a letter-exchange platform. That’s one way they could contribute to the healing of their community. Apart from this, they may also write for our blog, where we publish articles that touch upon many different dimensions and components of mental health.
Stephanie: I’m looking for people who are interested in helping us build a program and bring more attention to the needs of those individuals who are twice exceptional, someone who may be of high cognition, but also may have a psychiatric disorder or developmental disorder or learning disability. So we’re interested in people who might have been those kids when they were growing up and telling their stories and bringing awareness to the need for mental health, education and awareness around building programs and developing resources specifically for people who grow up with those types of needs.
What is a message that you would want to share with all the potential volunteers?
A: Dan: I hope that whoever will be watching or reading this conversation can take some wisdom from it. And if they end up feeling incentivized, I would urge them to contact either Letter to Strangers or Lee Thompson Young Foundation and put their heart out. For it is true that mental health work, both personal and interpersonal, involves a lot of vulnerability but it is only when we approach our vulnerability, that we can truly capture our strength. Therefore, even though it might seem futile for someone to act, as they are but a single voice. In the end, it only takes a single human being to start things going and commence a domino effect – wherever you might be. And so, if you decide to join us, we are here to help and support you.
Stephanie: Think about the part of you that may have gone unnoticed, that may have been shut down. And figure out whether or not that has been attended to because reality is each one of us has an individual responsibility to our mental health, and if we can do our work, then we will connect naturally intrinsically intuitively to things and people who connect with what we need. Therefore, we will be able to help ourselves and then we can find ways that are very authentic and organic to help others.
Learn how you can raise your voice and make an effect with Goodera
We have numerous volunteer activities planned at the Goodera to engage volunteers around the subject of World Mental Health Day. This topic asks us to destigmatize mental health issues and make the voices of those people heard who feel isolated from society. You can help Letters to Strangers and LTY Foundation by participating via Goodera’s virtual volunteering experience. The experience is powerful and engaging, making it an excellent choice for getting you started on your virtual volunteering adventure.
Interested? Reach out to us here.
Are you a nonprofit looking for volunteers? We can help! Talk to us.