25 Mental Health Advocates:
Top 3 Focuses For 2021
2020 took a hard toll on everyone’s mental health.
We brought together some of the amazing mental health advocates working hard to better not only their lives but those around them.
Here are their top three focuses for their own personal mental health this year.
Mental health can mean so many things, ranging from feeling sad for a few minutes to a lifelong struggle without feeling “normal” again. We all struggle from these situations. Within the last few years, the ‘mental health advocate’ has stepped more into the spotlight. They are no different from you and I; they hurt just like you… the only difference is that they have chosen to blaze a path that rarely gets walked, and speak up.
These mental health advocates have chosen to step forward and speak up about the emotions swirling inside them, focusing on areas that connect with them and their struggles. Allowing the rest of us to understand we are not alone in this journey and gain knowledge and insight from their actions.
What is a mental health advocate?
Mental health advocates are no different than you are I. They feel anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles just like us. They stand apart because they have decided to be leaders and face the unknown fear of speaking up so others can feel less alone. They are Heroes.
Here are 25 mental health advocates leading the way for a better future.
25 Mental Health Advocates Share Their Top 3 Focuses For 2021
-Mental Health Advocate-
Self-love: More specifically, being kinder to myself. I’ve said it countless times in other spaces but the most important relationship one will have is with oneself. This year I will continue to tell myself how amazing & glorious of a human I am. I will feed myself encouraging nourishment every chance I get.
Improve my relationship with productivity: I know this is a bigger topic especially now that most people are working from home due to the pandemic. As someone who deals with depression, celebrating every win & rejecting the conventional idea of productivity is crucial. I call it ‘meeting myself where I am’. If all I have the energy for is to do one load of laundry and make a meal – then so be it. I will celebrate that this is what I accomplished today. And going back to the first point, offering myself kindness if I start to get down on myself for not checking off everything on my to-do list.
Lastly, I want to feel all the feels!: It’s a difficult thing to do but I want to allow myself to feel as I seldom allowed myself in the past. Especially anger and sadness – two emotions that I especially avoid at all costs because they’re not super productive and they don’t feel good. However, these emotions are part of me – they’re a part of all of us. They are healthy responses to our world. They are part of the human experience.
-Mental Health Advocate-
Self-care: I do many things for myself because if I don’t take care of myself, how can I help others. Especially in work I do around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG2S) and ending violence against women and girls. It can be something super simple such as getting my hair braided or going all out and going to a spa or float house.
Meditation: I can’t express enough how important this is. I meditate a lot. I was doing it as much as I could before COVID happened. Being forced to stay home, I have been able to tap into this on a deeper level. I’m able to meditate every single day now. I try to do it as soon as I get up and before I go to bed. I also try throwing it in whenever I can throughout the day, especially when stressful situations arise. Meditation and mindfulness practices have been an essential part of my sobriety as well.
Community: Whenever I’m overwhelmed with the stress of my work, I know I can turn to my handful of supports. They’re all just a phone call away. I know I can call them whenever I need to, especially in an emergency.
Traditional medicines and our Elders: Dancing is healing. I was once told that cedar is my Indigenous Peoples Ativan. Smudging with my traditional medicines such as cedar, sage, lavender, and tobacco is what I use the most. Cedar brushings are so grounding for me. I love speaking with my Elders.
Indigetarianism and brain foods: “Indigetarian” is just a word my Indigenous vegan friends and I use. This basically means I’m vegan, but I still eat my traditional foods. Food is so vital for our mental health, especially brain foods. We need to take care of our brains as well.
Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Therapy on Complex Trauma: aka IFOT has been my saviour in my mental health. I joined this program when I started working at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre. It was in this program that I felt safe enough to be able to face all the traumas I had endured my whole life up until that point and to this day. It also taught me how to work with my clients who have experienced complex trauma safely and effectively. With this training, I know that I can leave my trauma work at work and not bring it back home to my children.
-Homelessness & Mental Health Advocate-
My most important focus for 2021 is self-care: and by that, I mean general downtime. I struggle to switch off because that means my brain is having time to think and opening myself up to uncomfortable feelings. But 2020 taught me that I could only reach my full potential and excel in my work if I take time off to relax and put a real focus on taking care of myself. Included within this are guided meditation, stretching and eating well because they all play such a big part in my mental wellbeing.
Getting in touch with my feelings: This is something that I’ve always struggled with, and historically, I’ve always blocked them out in any way that I could. 2020 created so many amazing opportunities for me but spending so much time in my own company made me realize that I still have many unresolved issues, which I cannot avoid forever. By slowly allowing myself to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings, I’m hoping that I can start to face my demons.
Exercising: This comes under self-care as well, but for me, I can’t be mentally healthy if I’m not physically healthy. Surfing, in particular, enables me to be completely in the zone for a few hours, without the usual torment of PTSD and everything that goes along with that. Another added bonus is that I’m completely exhausted by the end of the session, which means I sleep slightly better. If there are no waves, skateboarding also brings me a much-needed sense of calm, and daily walks and things like yoga also help me unwind and switch off when I finish work.’
Read Hannah’s Never Alone Story
-Alcoholic & Mental Health Advocate-
2020 brought a lot of change in my life: I separated from my husband of ten years in June. I publicly spoke about my alcoholism in September and launched a podcast talking about addiction in October. I want to use 2021 to continue growing from these three events.
Sobriety: first and foremost, I want to and need to stay sober. Despite the personal upheaval I went through with a divorce, my sobriety remains the number one priority. I also want to continue talking openly and publicly about alcoholism and addiction- this helps me in my recovery and hopefully helps others who are suffering and ideally shifts some of the misconceptions around sobriety.
Acceptance and self-esteem: going through a divorce is not necessarily where I saw myself at 40, but it will provide me with many amazing opportunities. I get to start fresh and learn about who I am, what I want, and what I like. Learning about my single self is double new with sobriety too! It is a wonderful opportunity to learn to love who I am (who I really am)
Reduce/manage anxiety: of course, it’s no surprise that my anxiety was elevated over the past year- a divorce, a move, the pandemic, single parenting. It’s been a lot, to say the least. I’ve dealt with anxiety and panic attacks since 2017, and now I understand a bit more about what triggers it and how to reduce it. This year I will continue to monitor and be in tune with myself to ensure I manage my anxiety- which is not always easy but makes all the difference in the end.
What’s interesting is how each of these three areas is linked: I’m sober and learning more about who I am, which leads to better self-esteem and taking care of myself, which reduces my anxiety.
I am looking forward to being me in 2021, more than I ever have before.
-Mental Health Advocate-
My top 3 areas of focus for mental health for 2021 include emotional health, relationship health, and Black mental health.
This year, I am working to create mental health safety plans: for myself ahead of time, which also includes pre-planning for my known triggers. I plan to remain in therapy consistently as I work to manage my emotions and expectations.
Regarding relationship health: I have been working on being open about my mental health in friendships and relationships. This helps me learn to trust others and encourages me to be patient with myself during the healing journey.
I created Darkness RISING Project: as a vehicle to help create direct mental health resources for Black community. In 2021, we hope to continue to grow our Black Mental Health Provider Database and our #WellnessWednesday programs, which are free to the community.
-Psychiatrist & Mental Health Advocate-
This year, in the arena of mental health, I would like to continue focusing on three avenues: minority stress and how it affects the minoritized, LGBTQ+ and underrepresented minoritized individuals (URM) mental health specifically, as well as reaching out to medical students and discussing mental health during medical education.
There is still so much that we do not know about minority stress: Although this term has become increasingly on the minds and mentioned in conversations, there are still questions. A few of those questions: “How long does it take a person to recover from minority stress, and do people truly recover?” “How do we add discussions of minority stress into every conversation with minoritized patients in the hospital?” “What can be done to prevent minority stress in minoritized populations?” “How do we continue to gather data about this topic and specifically quantify minority stress and recovery?” amongst many other aspects that need to be explored.
Directly related to the topic of minority stress is focusing on the mental health of LGBTQ+ and URM populations: There is already data about the physical and mental sequala from experiencing discrimination. What also needs to happen is continuing to focus our attention on “How do we protect the mental health populations?” One other aspect of this is figuring out how to bolster people who have experienced discrimination while we work upstream to ensure such things stop occurring in the first place. I want to focus on the healing process for such populations and what healing means for each individual.
In the venue of mental health during medical education, we are still far behind where we should be: Given the rigors of medical school, there should be an opt-out mental health program, where incoming medical students are linked with a therapist or psychiatrist to normalize such things. While this does not resolve the upstream issues – such as bullying, the legacy of abuse, and bigotry that occur during medical education, this is one way to help medical students. I also plan to continue writing op-eds and personal perspectives about mental health during medical school to hopefully help normalize such conversations, and I also hope to continue connecting with people through Twitter, which has been a great avenue for those who have been silenced in medicine to finally have a voice.
Read Chase’s Never Alone Story
-Mental Health Advocate-
Constantly pushing my comfort zone: Until I lost my dad in 2018, I had sought comfort in all areas of my life. From living arrangements (not moving out of a place because I knew the transit routes) to skipping out on dinner date after dinner date because of fear of the unknown. Dad died, I suddenly came to understand that was real discomfort. And all these other areas were just regular life happening, and I should live them. It was a delicate balance to push my comfort at first, but now with 1,000’s of actions taken with this purpose, I am more in control of my life and happiness.
Meditation before bed: This was on my list last year, and it once again makes my top 3. I have made much improvement in this area; sitting for 20 minutes before sleep isn’t hard. What seems to be the issue is convincing myself I need to do it that night. The truth is, I do need it! There are so many big and scary things happening each day, and it will only help me to be able to calm my brain before bed so I can get the most out of my sleep.
Invest more time and money in my body: Being an ex-college athlete and personal trainer, I have seen the correlation that physical health being the cornerstone for healthy mental health. Being 35, I am noticing the effects more, from the bad (a couple of drinks will ruin my sleep) to the good (eating healthy food choices after a hard workout and a good night’s sleep) has me feeling like a million bucks the next day. With this in mind, I will invest in things like a sleep monitoring device, better workout equipment, massage therapy and much more.
Read Paul’s Never Alone Story
-Adult Industry Mental Health Advocate-
Pineapple Support: is a non-profit organization providing free support and therapy services for all persons working in the online adult industry – no matter their gender, ethnic origin, social status, age or sexual orientation. We have an ever-growing team of sex-worker friendly, kink-aware therapists who offer face-to-face and online video therapy sessions.
We operate 24/7, and we raise funds to help with the costs of professional coaching, counselling and therapy for those who need it. Founded by former performer Leya Tanit in 2018 after a string of tragic losses in the adult industry, Pineapple Support now provides mental health care and emotional support across the US, Canada, South America, UK, Europe and Australia.
-Suicide & Mental Health Advocate-
Dr. Ashley Perkins, PharmD
We Matter Too inc
“Not only can I empathize with you, but I sympathize”
Our language matters: I believe if we want to end the stigma surrounding mental health, we need to begin using consistent language when talking about mental health. I’ve spoken and will continue speaking about this topic with pharmacy students because, quite frankly, it’s just not talked about enough. Using proper language is a necessity because what we say matters. If we hope to decrease this stigma, we need to rid our language of words and phrases that continue to perpetuate the stigma.
Our stories matter: Brené Brown has been a cornerstone in my journey, and her books about vulnerability struck a chord. I openly share my mental health journey, including my struggles and downfalls, because it lets people know, ‘me too.’ Not only can I empathize with you, but I sympathize. I am on this journey, trying to figure out what mental health means for me, and I’m learning how to navigate it all. Just because I’m a pharmacist doesn’t mean I should pretend I’m not affected by my mental diseases. I share because I know through my own vulnerability that I can help my patients much more than just giving them their medication or answering their questions. I give them a safe and trusted place to come when they need it most. I’d rather help one person get the help they need over keeping my story a secret.
Our feelings matter: Experiencing this pandemic has been something none of us have ever experienced before, which is causing people to experience mental health issues for the first time. Beginning to normalize the conversation around mental health, openly talking about our feelings and emotions will be especially important. One of the main focuses for starting We Matter Too, Inc. is to give those starting out on a mental health journey a place to seek out answers to questions they might have but are too afraid of the stigma. Through my time advocating and sharing my personal story, I’ve found people are more likely to open up to me because I’m a safe person to talk with; I won’t judge because I’m someone who understands. We want to give people space where they don’t have to fear judgement or shame because we understand and welcome them. We want people to be able to get the information they need, have someone they can trust to talk to and, if they need it, help them find a way to get treatment. When you validate the things people feel and experience, you’re able to help them heal but, more importantly, let them know they’re understood.
Follow Dr. Ashley
-Twitch Mental Health Advocate-
This year I plan to redefine for myself the word “enough”: I use it a lot as a way to bring myself down. I tell myself that I don’t care enough, that I am not doing enough, that I am not trying enough, and that all of my problems stem from not being enough in general. I always start every venture assuming I am not enough and have to work three times as hard to be at a decent level. That changes this year. Through talking with my therapist, I am determined to establish a better threshold and a better way to judge my work.
When I started working on Mxiety, I focused a lot on research: explaining it to others, constantly reading it myself. For this past year, I simply did not have enough spoons to dive into the depths of scientific writing. While research is ALWAYS a huge part of my work, it took a backseat this year, and I want to change that and bring it back into my regular episodes.
I started mental health advocacy because I crashed and burned: in my previous career as a project manager for an ad agency. At that point, I felt like it would always be impossible for me to climb the corporate ladder and that I would never be able to pursue a passion of mine again because depression, anxiety, and ADHD would get in the way if I tried. I got really scared and stopped trying altogether. This year, with three years of advocacy under my belt, a book, and a better understanding of my mental health, I plan on finding out what career path I might pursue next.
-Resident Doctor at Yale & Mental Health Advocate-
2020 provided many challenges for the medical system: and shed light on the worsening mental health crises and the inadequacy of the current healthcare system to address it. This inadequacy was exacerbated in communities of African descent by the disproportionate effect of COVID19, exacerbated racial trauma, and ongoing mental healthcare inequities. It has become clear that the healthcare system needs investment in emerging models of treatment that empower communities to achieve mental wellness within their socio-cultural framework.
In light of this: my focus of 2021 is on evidence-based interventions that focus on the community setting and are inexpensive. Music, mindfulness, and community building have emerged as three areas of focus that I am passionate about and that hold tremendous promise for improving wellness in communities of African descent. Music and mindfulness have already been shown to have positive effects on emotional regulation, stress management, and social behavior in various clinical settings and community building provides the context and infrastructure to enable social connectedness.
Social connectedness has already been shown to have positive effects on mental wellness: while social isolation or other social stressors are well known to have detrimental effects on mental health. My research effort takes two approaches. One approach is aimed at better understanding the basic neurobiology of pro-social behavior and the mechanisms by which social behavior is biased by various social contexts in order to inform the community building process.
The other approach: aims to better understand how music and mindfulness can be employed in the community setting to drive social connectedness, improve stress management, and enhance community wellness. To directly address these areas in the community, I co-founded Renaissance Entertainment, LLC, a company that operates at the intersection of music, science, and community building to provide community-based tools that can lead to wellness. As a healer, musician, and neuroscientist, these areas of focus are my passion and I hope to be able to continue to explore them for the betterment of the community in 2021 and beyond.
-Mental Health Advocate-
We’ve rolled into another year, bringing many of the same challenges with us – a global pandemic, political unrest in the country next door, growing social and economic disparities emerging across the country. Honestly, it’s hard to embrace the usual “new year, new me!” philosophy that we wear as our armour walking into January each year.
My top three areas of focus for my mental health will be the mental health pillars that kept me moving forward in 2020.
Prioritize my sobriety: I got sober in October 2018 and am so grateful that I found the gift of sobriety before the pandemic. I am able to face each day with clarity and a lot less alcohol-induced anxiety. Being sober has taught me to sit with my feelings instead of escaping them, and to ask for help when I need it instead of self-medicating in isolation.
Keep Running: I took up running two years ago, and I credit it with helping me get through some of my darkest days. I’m running the virtual Hypothermic Half Marathon on Feb 6 and have another half on the books for May.
Read: Last year, I had to shut off the news and social media at night. It was enough to be barraged by it all day. Instead, I made a routine of crawling into bed with a cup of tea and a good book. I read 47 books last year, and this year plan to go for 50!
-Mental Health Advocate-
Being a Better Friend: I’ve been really focused on me for…quite some time. Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, however, centering yourself too much can be well, self-centered. And I fear that’s what I have become over the past several years. The consequence of that self-centeredness has been frayed relationships, hanging on by a string and I hope to spend 2021 sewing things back together again.
How did it get this way? Well, I’ve been plagued with a desperate fear of loss. What kind of loss? The loss of financial privilege and stability. Growing up dreadfully impoverished, living on the unintentional thrill ride of not knowing where my next meal would come from, left me with scars. They’re etched into me. Carved deep. And they never fail to remind me of the powerlessness that comes with not being able to meet basic needs of sustenance. Fast-forward several years and well, poverty is a thing of the past, but its howl still echoes through the chambers of my memories, the reverberations often subtly sneaking into the forefront of my today’s consciousness. And thus, fear.
So I cling to every professional opportunity, big or small, knowing that if I do so I’ll always have a steady source of income. The thing is, I now have so much on my plate that in order to keep up with it all while still spending time with my family I have become a sometimes present person in the lives of those I love the most. And it’s not fair to them. They deserve better. And I know that keeping those connections alive will also help me feel better as I’ll no longer have to wrestle with the python of guilt, but I’ll also be able to eat from the apple of connection, the benefits of which stand opposite to the consequences of Eve’s cravenness in the garden.
Recovering From Burnout: The funny thing about burnout is sometimes you don’t know that you’re in it because you’re so busy trying to keep your head above water that you can’t clearly see what’s right in front of you. For me, burnout has been staring me in the face for several years, but I kept moving, barely keeping up, my motivation not properly syncing up with actual action, leading to a lot of finished jobs with mediocre outcomes. This burnout was a direct result of trying to juggle too many ball at the same time because of the fear of poverty described above.
So, at the behest of my boss, I took three weeks off work around the holiday break and it was absolutely eye opening for me. For years I’d been wondering if I had lost it, my relentless willpower and perseverance which drove me through walls, around obstacles and across every finish line, winning every race. The last three years, however, I’ve been doing a lot of limping through the finish if I ever got there at all. And I’ve felt so much shame because of it. I’ve felt like a failure. And a let down. And maybe I was?
So, I blamed myself. Well, I’ve discovered that the real problem wasn’t me. I didn’t suck. I was just tired. I was burnt out. I had nothing left in the tank. So the three week break I took allowed me to refuel, so much so that it became apparent to me that I must balance health, fun and relationships with work. It meant not saving all of my work until I stumbled into a day of motivation, but instead meant that I must remain disciplined, doing a little bit at a time, in order to remain motivated. And healthy. Which leads me to my last point…
Being On Top of My Game: In 2021, I am dedicated to being on top of my game. Letting people around me down, dropping balls professionally and staggering across the finish line was a direct result of my lack of balance and my lack of discipline in intentionally trying to maintain it. I had put my own health on cruise control, eating junk, making excuses as to why I wasn’t or couldn’t move enough, sleeping way less than I should have been, avoiding loved ones, procrastinating—you name it.
In short, I was living without any self-discipline and that was because at some point I had straight up stopped caring about myself. And when you stop caring about yourself you stop taking care of yourself. In short, I was not on top of my game and it’s because I wasn’t putting in the work that staying on top of my game required. So I stumbled and faltered right into a pit of self-loathing of my own creation, which I am highly motivated to turn around in 2021. Life circumstances can be hard, but there is a lot under my control, including but not limited to taking care of myself and others.
So in 2021, I will bring more nurturing, generosity, balance and respect to those around me and to myself, hopefully garnering a fortuitous dividend, providing me with improved mental health through 2021 and beyond. In short, I will get back to being on top of my game.
Read Asante’s Never Alone Story
-Mental Health Advocate-
Accountability: We started this year, launching microprograms that allowed men in a group of five to be placed in a pod together on the app and experientially learn about accountability. In designing the program, with a master coach, I learned a lot about the key elements of the science of accountability, and I look forward to applying them to my own life, along with the guys in the tethr app family. I was most intrigued to learn about the absolute importance of celebration when it comes to accountability. Even when you don’t do something. Celebrate the awareness. As men, we forget to celebrate a lot regarding our mental health progress, and I will be focusing more on this aspect of my well-being journey.
Peer Support Community Building: Secondly, I will remain focused on the power of peer support and continuing to build out our community. When I look back on my own life – losing my brother to cancer, finding my father after his suicide, and surviving a fatal crash that killed my dear friend left me re-learning to walk and live again – I realize that I would not be here today without community. In addition to continuing to build the community and culture of tethr, I plan to do so in all the ways I show up in the world. I am proud to have “co” in front of most of my titles, Co-founder, co-producer, co-creator etc. Bringing a sense of community to all aspects of my life allows me to focus less on perfection and more on excellence. I look forward to building more inclusive and diverse communities where I can be a part of conversations that allow growth and empathy to guide me.
Starting Meaningful Conversations: Lastly, I am going to focus on starting more conversations. One of the best things about my job with tethr is getting to look at what barriers exist for men when it comes to sharing their stories and talking about their mental well being. Even if it’s just starting one word at a time, if I can make people more comfortable by being an active and empathetic listener. Again, moving away from the idea of perfection and focusing on progress. How can we create a safe space with multiple entry points for all men? Answering this is something I look forward to focusing on throughout 2021.
-Mental Health Advocate-
“Mental health is just as important as physical health”
Mental health & wellness is a very near and dear topic to my heart – I suffered from depression for 24 years of my life, with 20 of those on medication to help me cope. Although I no longer suffer from depression, I have noticed, especially over 2020, that my anxiety has begun to get the better of me, and so, in 2021, my goal is to get control of my anxiety and live my best life!
Therapy: I’ve been in therapy on and off for the majority of my life. On Thanksgiving weekend, I realized that my anxiety was starting to get the better of me, and I knew that I had to nip that in the bud. So, shortly thereafter, I put myself back in therapy. Over 2021, I am committed to seeing how cognitive behaviour therapy will assist me in finding my authentic self and regaining my peace.
More Exercise: I started working from home on March 12, 2020 (over 300 days now!), and since then, I have noticed that my exercise levels have drastically declined. So, in 2021, I want to change that – even during the winter months! My doctor has recommended 20 minutes of cardio-related exercise at least 3-4 times per week, and I’m going to do my best to meet, if not exceed that target!
Practicing an Attitude of Gratitude: I’m generally a pretty positive person in life – I’m blessed to have inherited much of my father’s eternal optimism and my mother’s positive attitude. But, I must admit that, with everything that happened in 2020, and with some of my own family issues and concerns, my optimism has diminished. There has been a lot of research on the benefits of practicing gratitude, from facilitating contentment, promoting better physical health (including lowered blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and reducing symptoms of illness), enhancing sleep, and more! So, for 2021, I’m determined to regain my optimism by practicing an attitude of gratitude whenever possible.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and I believe that the best thing that you can do for yourself is to take care of your health. I’m excited for what 2021 will bring – especially when it pertains to my mental health and wellness!
-Mental Health Advocate-
At The Hidden Opponent, we are constantly working on effective ways to destigmatize the conversation around student-athlete mental health, as well as provide free and accessible resources to our community. Heading into 2021, we have three main areas of focus that we want to tend to equally.
Advocate: To properly raise awareness and bring light to this conversation around mental health, we must use our voice as an organization and also amplify the voices of student-athletes around the world.
Educate: We will continue to provide insight into the various mental health challenges student-athletes face, highlighting athletes of all races, genders, and sports, while working to provide these players with proper tools and resources that can be put into action.
Support any and all student-athletes who come our way: The Hidden Opponent is a community where all student-athletes can feel safe, heard and supported.
Follow Victoria / The Hidden Opponent
-Twitch Mental Health Advocate-
Continue building a strong and supportive community: via my Twitch channel. Not just because I want to help others to find the kind of community that I was lacking when I had some of my biggest mental health struggles, but because it helps my own mental health as well – my channel has become a great place for me to share my own mental health ups and downs, and it’s been a massive overall benefit to my life ever since I started streaming back in July 2020. I’m very excited to continue growing our community in 2021, and I have no doubt that it will help me continue growing as a person.
Greater consistency in how I implement some of my mental health management processes: there were times in 2020 where I let things slide a little, and my emotional well-being suffered as a result. I’ve always been big on ideas but short on execution, and to some extent, that filters into how I manage my day-to-day life. This year I intend to stick with processes that work for me, instead of jumping around from one thing to another – meditation, exercise and getting enough outdoor activity. For the most part, I’m pretty good at following through with these things, but I can always get better.
Build deeper connections with friends and family: I’ve been guilty of not reaching out to friends often enough in the past, and over the past few years, I’ve been disconnected from several close family members to whom I have recently reached out. I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings for these relationships, as I have to come to recognize the massive importance of strong relationships for my own wellbeing and fulfillment.
In addition to this, I’m looking to reduce the sense of ‘artificial connection’ that I get from social media interactions. In some ways, I use social media as a surrogate for more meaningful connections with others, so spending a bit less time ‘doomscrolling’ is no doubt going to help me in this regard.
I wish everyone else a successful 2021, in mental health and otherwise!
-MD & Mental Health Advocate-
“We must adopt culturally affirming practices by engaging with and valuing the perspectives of cultural leaders and individuals”
Addressing systemic barriers that exacerbate mental health burden: One’s ability to cope with adversity is challenged by compounding social factors that make it difficult for folks with mental health challenges to seek and practice care. Conversely, individuals with mental illnesses may face greater difficulty securing social safety nets. For example, poverty, precarious work and homelessness can all precipitate greater mental health burden, and conversely, mental illness can complicate one’s ability to secure employment and housing. As such, mental health advocacy must aim to alleviate these systemic burdens and ensure all individuals have access to basic needs, such as secure and affordable housing, fair wages, paid sick days and more. Additionally, mental health services must expand beyond medication and therapy to include increased concurrent social assistance and supports.
De-institutionalization of mental health care and promoting greater access: Although hospital and clinic based mental health care can be beneficial for many individuals, not everyone may thrive in institutionalized settings; in some cases, being certified and mandated to remain in hospital can be a traumatizing and oppressing experience. As such, it is important for our mental health system to rethink effective ways to deliver care. For example, outreach mental health teams are increasingly prevalent, where teams travel to meet service users in their own communities. Additionally, in instances of mental health crises, police are often first responders, which can lead to undue violence and trauma. As such, we must explore novel ideas, such as mobile crisis units staffed by mental health professionals trained in anti-oppression and deescalation. These reconsiderations aim to make mental health care more accessible, especially for individuals from marginalized backgrounds.
Decolonizing mental health care practice and provision: Much of mental health care centres around challenges with emotions, thoughts and behaviours. However, each of these aspects are uniquely informed by factors such as cultural upbringing, ethnicity, and race. Unfortunately, our formal mental healthcare systems are largely framed and built with a Eurocentric lens that cannot adequately capture the unique ways other cultures express and respond to mental health challenges. This also runs the risk of pathologizing presentations that Western practitioners are not familiar with but may be otherwise culturally acceptable. We must adopt culturally affirming practices by engaging with and valuing the perspectives of cultural leaders and individuals identifying as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour to collectively open our minds to working with and servicing people from non-Western cultures.
-Mental Health Advocate & Service Co-Founder-
Looking back, If you would have asked me, “what would shift public perception of mental health?” Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it would take a pandemic. Yet here we are. With no shortage of opportunities, both individually and collectively, in the area of mental health. For us to harness this new public openness to mental health, we need to focus. Moving forward in 2021, here are two ways our team at Speakbox are focused on mental health and one thing I’m exploring personally.
Focus on the connection between people, peers, and practitioners: You and I are at different points within a lifelong mental health journey. Aiding us are friends, family, and at times, professionals such as a counsellor, psychiatrist, or coach. From the start, Speakbox has focused on helping people gather awareness in their health while enabling them to share this data with professionals when extra support is needed. By better incorporating your experiences and self-expertise into your care, we find this facilitates a more overall inclusive care experience. In 2021 we’ll continue to innovate in this area, starting by enhancing self-discovery through our mobile app and later exploring group experiences during care.
Focus on advocating for better access: It’s hard to be well when you can’t access the care you need. For far too many Canadians, the prevalence of financial barriers in mental health continues to impede their ability to live a happier, healthier life. This year we’ll be extending our social mission by reaching out to professional associations, government, and the broader public to advocate for adopting internationally proven models such as Australia who through doctor referral, cover up to ten sessions with a mental health professional annually.
Focus on staying present and celebrating the small wins: Taking a concept from idea to reality is a long and rarely straightforward journey. Over time, always looking forward left me feeling unaccomplished in the present. For this reason, I want to be more intentional about celebrating the small wins along the way. Similarly impacting me in 2020 was the constant bombardment of pandemic updates. These updates led to me reflecting far too much on what I was missing out on; things like birthdays or just being able to hug folks in my extended family. Along this theme of staying present, I’m also creating space for gratitude, small acknowledgements to what I have at the moment.
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-Mental Health Advocate-
Tackling toxic masculinity: So many issues in our society are a result of the behaviour surrounding this issue. I’m focusing on teaching teens and young men that it’s okay to speak about their mental health, changing their perspective on what it means to be a man. Also, respecting women, respecting marginalized folks and respecting themselves to ideally lead to an attitude and behavioural change, resulting in a more healthy lifestyle. How I’ll do this is an area I’m still figuring out.
Doubling down on my efforts to live my own healthy life: Learning about nutrition and how it affects my mental health continues to be a priority. I’m also focusing on challenging myself physically to push my body and mind to healthier and stronger limits. Even with gyms being closed throughout this pandemic, I’ve had a tremendous benefit from being active and getting outside every day. Once I made a mindset shift from chasing physical goals to chasing the emotional and mental impact of movement, it’s been much easier to challenge myself physically, which has resulted in huge improvements in my body. Now, I look forward to the burpees, pull-ups, etc., because I can’t wait to feel how good the challenge makes me feel.
Focusing on listening, learning and having difficult and impactful conversations surrounding important issues of our time: I’m a big believer in talking about things rather than digesting them from social media, and my mental health has benefited from this mindset change big time! 2020 was an important year in conversations, and I want to face these conversations head-on, both personally and through my podcast. One of the most gratifying feelings is hearing someone else’s story and feel empathy towards them and what they went through. Then, taking that feeling and turning it into meaningful action. I relish the opportunity to expand my views and grow as a human, and I look forward to that growth this year!
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-Mental Health Advocate-
Relieving pressure on myself: giving myself more patience and permission to take things as I can rather than meet unrealistic expectations. We live in a world where we are inundated with “more” and “better” and often don’t focus on appreciating and loving who we are and where we are at the moment. I know for myself that I get caught in the feeling that my worth is tied to my productivity, so this year I’m working on knowing that it’s ok to do nothing some days. It’s ok to do one thing or a lot of things, but not to force me to do them if I don’t feel up to it.
Practice daily self-care (journaling, exercise, reading): I’ve noticed a huge shift in the past year, likely due to the pandemic, that I’ve put aside time to engage with my mind outside of technology. Whether it’s running, walking or cycling, I try to get some form of exercise that helps me break away from screens and something tangible like journaling or reading or drawing that I can do that doesn’t depend on me looking at a screen. I’ve found this has had a great impact on my attention and focusing skills, and I want to keep that going in the new year.
Continue to use my platforms to advocate for more conversations and access to mental health services and support: As someone with a fairly large online reach, I’ve always dedicated myself to being someone that shares and promotes good mental health and kind interactions with others. As my own focus on mental health has increased in the last year, so has my desire to use my platforms to support this message of inclusion, action, and support. I want to continue to use my voice and the opportunities I’m given to amplify the need for strong mental health supports, funding and resources for all, but especially for men and those in the LGBTQ+ community.
-Mental Health Advocate-
“I’ll ask for help from people who don’t expect it and from professionals. Show others that I am vulnerable”
Social connectedness: Forming healthy and positive relationships and leaving behind those who are toxic in my life. I’ll be making sure that I am surrounding myself with people who support me and allow me to feel like I am at my best. More importantly, they feel safe enough to call me out when I am not and support my recovery while I bounce back. I will play this role for them as well.
Resiliency: One important area that I forgot about resiliency during 2020 was that being resilient isn’t how much stress/anxiety/depression I can pack on and keep going. Resiliency is actually how you DEAL with those hard times and how you BOUNCE BACK after you’ve dealt with them accordingly. We’ve been led to believe, especially as men, that powering through adversity is what we’re supposed to do. But the reality is that you’re not dealing with your emotions and hardships for every moment; they’re in the background doing push-ups and getting ready to smash you later. What’s worse? If you don’t deal with those emotions yourself, they’ll come and find you later. Either in the form of relationship issues, money issues, drugs or other addictions, workplace problems etc. So, in 2021, I am sitting down with my emotions, feeling them, and releasing them when I am done with them. Then and ONLY THEN, we’ll I bounce back and keep moving forward.
Reducing stigma, but for myself: I talk the talk a lot. I reach out, and I help people all the time. It’s in my blood, and it’s a part of who I am. But while I am out helping all those other people, I often forget to reach out and ask for my own help. This is going to be a key area of focus for me in 2021. You can’t run yourself like a race car and not tune-up like one every once in a while. In 2021, I will ask for help more often. I’ll ask for help from people who don’t expect it and from professionals. Show others that I am vulnerable and show others that even your “strong friend” needs a check-in every once in a while.
-Mental Health Advocate-
“Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness and there should be no distinction.” – Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama’s quote sums up my personal philosophy of mental health perfectly: As the daughter of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, I was raised from early childhood with the core belief that “mental health is health.” We talked about it at the breakfast table, and conversations on a wide range of mental health issues were an everyday occurrence. I didn’t think much about it at the time, and it wasn’t until I lost a loved one to suicide that I felt the full force of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
As a young person: I had a unique window into observing both the clinical, professional side of mental health as well as the more personal: my grandfather suffered severely with bipolar disorder, and I had an older half-sibling who, due to a brain injury at birth, experienced a range of serious behavioural problems.
My early, lived experiences have profoundly influenced my adult life: and they continue to inform and guide my advocacy today. Fast forward to 2021, as the Editor in Chief of Inspire Magazine, my role as a mental health advocate is to lift up young voices that might otherwise not be heard, to open doors when I can, and to shine a light on issues and perspectives we might otherwise not see. I believe in the power of stories to positively change and impact lives; publishing an online magazine for young people provides a dynamic vehicle to deliver those stories.
In 2021, via the Inspire platform: my primary objective is to continue supporting and helping youth navigate life during a global pandemic. Continuing to search out and publish credible and evidence-based stories and articles supporting youth mental health is paramount.
Secondly: suicide prevention is a fundamental focus for me. There is growing concern worldwide, as we face new stay-at-home restrictions, that suicide rates have sharply increased and will continue to rise. A range of studies modelling the effects of COVID-19 confirm this and indicate that children and young people are being disproportionately affected, BIPOC youth more so.
Lastly: an essential area of focus for me this year is working to increase mental health literacy. I want every Canadian family to be able to talk about mental health at the breakfast table, to normalize it as a conversation. Knowledge is power, and creating a road map for families to increase their mental health literacy ultimately eliminates stigma and saves lives.
-Mental Health Advocate-
“I want to be kinder to myself and praise myself more for the things I have achieved”
OCD: I’d like to try to educate more people on what OCD ( Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is. I have done a short film and a few interviews talking about my living experience with this mental disorder. Still, I’d like to talk about things i never have before and try to reach out to people who don’t know what it is or have a misconception of it. I keep thinking about my childhood and everything I went through alone, and I don’t want anyone else to go through what I did.
Self-image is something I battle with every day: I know there are some things I can’t control, like my height and build, but I try my best to make myself feel better by training very hard, eating healthy and living a very clean lifestyle. Boxing helped me feel strong and confident when I used to compete in the amateurs, but I have always wished I was taller and bigger. This year I want to be kinder to myself and praise myself more for the things I have achieved, especially physically with my running and boxing. I practise yoga every morning and try to keep a mindful life, and this does help me, but there is more work to be done.
Growing TALKHUB Men’s Mental Health group: this year and reach out to more guys. I set it up last February, and it’s been an incredible journey so far, seeing how much it has grown. I’ve now set it up as a community interest company, and the aim is to reach out to our community and help as many guys as possible through our walk & talks and Zoom check-ins. Recently my Football team Everton reached out and did an article on the group, and it gave me massive encouragement to keep on working hard and pushing forward.
-Mental Health Advocate-
I have many areas to focus on for 2021: when it comes to my mental health; however, picking my top three was surprisingly quite easy. I have been a vocal advocate for many years and do a lot of public speaking about mental illness and mental health, but last year I began channelling my energies into writing, which has proven to be unbelievably healing in these difficult times. Sharing my blog with the world has opened doors and built a bridge with many who reach out to me to talk and share their experiences. I have so many plans for my writing this year and cannot wait to keep unleashing that creative part of my brain!
My physical health is an important area of focus: particularly after suffering a potentially deadly illness late in 2020. I’ve always known the value of exercise, movement, and mindfulness in the mind/body healing process; however, that experience shook me to my core.
The last and perhaps most challenging focus: to lose the relationships that don’t matter and nurture the ones that do. Living with Complex PTSD is one of the reasons I enter in to or cling to relationships that are not good for me. Letting go has never been easy for me, even when the true nature of a person who is not for the better is staring me in the face. One of the first things I did in the new year was tell an old friend that I could no longer be there for her. She had begun to pull away several years ago for no reason we were aware of. She would pop back in now and then, create an emotional firestorm for me, then leave again. As hard as it was, I finally found the courage to say ‘no more.’ My focus now is on nurturing those relationships that are the most important; to pour my heart into the friendships that lift me up. I’m lucky to have a large group of friends who have never wavered in their love and support, no matter what my mental illness put them through over the years. I am grateful for the life I have, even with all the ups and downs that mental illness throws my way. For the first time in my life, I am facing a new year with hope and optimism.
What are you focusing on?
Thank you for taking the time to read all of our “25 Mental Health Advocates Share Their Top 3 Focuses For 2021.”
Hearing from all of these mental health advocates is helpful. Seeing what those people who are just like you, are focusing on this year to come out happier.
They and I would love to hear what you have planned ton better your mental health.
Leave your 1-3 goals in the comments and help us inspire others to take actions to better themselves.