If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the fact that we need to have solution-centric mental health conversations. Irrespective of whether you have a mental illness or not, everyone needs and deserves mental health support. An individual who is doing just that is Jordan Brown, a social worker turned mental health advocate from the USA. Over to him.
You are formally trained as a social worker. What inspired you to become a mental health advocate?
I think it was a culmination of factors. It all started when my mom experienced a mental health crisis in 2009, erupting in a psychotic break and my forcing her to go to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. She struggled to recover from this for years, and, in 2012, I decided to take the NAMI Family-to-Family course to learn how I could better support her. I started the course a few months after having open-heart surgery to replace my aortic valve, and little did I know at the time that the invasive surgery had started me along my own downward spiral and eventual mental health crisis.
Going through the NAMI course, and eventually teaching it for multiple years, showed me that I have a knack for helping others through horrendous, emotional experiences. After working in the mental health field from 2013-2016, I decided to go to grad school to further my mental health education. I am a mental health advocate because I don’t want others to feel how I felt when I experienced two mental health crises without the right knowledge or resources.
You wrote In Search of Happiness, a poetry book that captures your mental health journey. Could you tell us more about it?
In Search of Happiness: Healing Through Mental Health Poetry is a collection of poems I wrote over a period of about three years. The more I wrote about my mental health, the better I felt. At one point, I was reviewing all my poetry, and I thought, ” I think there’s something to this! This is actually…not awful.”
It’s funny, poetry is not my most preferred form of writing, but it’s the type of writing that always got the most praise on my blog and when I shared it on social media. The sections in my book follow my own journey from anxiety and shame to healing myself and finding meaning through it all.
There is still a lot of stigma and misinformation when it comes to mental health. Also, conversations around it tend to be performative and shallow. How can we change this?
Performative — great word choice there. Unfortunately, the only way out of stigma is through it. There is no easy, quick-fix answer in my mind. We need to keep sharing our stories every single day. It’s only by sharing honest stories that we can empower others to see themselves in what we say, write, and create. That’s what I try to do with The Mental Health Update, my weekly mental health newsletter.
Everyone deserves mental health support. For years, my personal mission has been to make mental health meaningful and accessible. The only way I know how to do that is by authentically sharing my journey and the stories and experiences I come across.
The pandemic is taking a major toll on our mental health. For example, social distancing has increased loneliness and financial uncertainty has heightened anxiety. Please give some tips on how we can cope.
Something I frequently clarify in my newsletter is that my answers are not always going to be your answers. My answers may shine a light on something you’ve been thinking about. They may inspire you to think about a personal problem in a new way. But they likely won’t be the *exact* steps you follow to improve any given situation.
I have felt some of the emotions you shared in your question, just like everyone else. But I’m not special, lucky, or whatever other labels a person might want to apply to me. I’m human like everyone else. That said, I know I can explain emotions, thoughts, and personal experiences in a way that is relatable to others.
The biggest breakthrough for me was learning to accept the pandemic. I struggled for at least a month hoping and wishing that the pandemic would end soon. I felt that it had to end soon, that normalcy was right around the corner. But I soon realized that thinking this way was futile. Once I could clearly see reality for what it was, I started to feel better again. I don’t even pretend to know when the pandemic will end, and the mental health effects of the pandemic will likely linger far longer after the physical threat of it is over.
I’ve had to create new routines, and I’ve had to find enjoyment in new experiences. For me, it’s the only way — changing my behavior and thinking in new ways in response to a new situation I’ve never encountered before. One of the greatest strengths we all have is our ability to adapt. We can get through this. I know we can.