Founder & CEO of Mental Health Startup, Kevin Dedner, On Product Personalization, Experiencing Mental Exhaustion and Depression, and Sociological Factors Impacting the Wellbeing of the Black Male Community

Kevin Dedner, Founder & CEO of mental health startup Henry Health.
Photo Credit: Paul Newson
Name: Kevin Dedner
Role: Founder and CEO, Henry Health 
Based in:  Washington, DC
Age: 43

1. In your words, tell me who you are.

I am a father, a brother, and a son. For me, these are the most important roles I play in life. Outside of those, I am a founder and a leader working to reinvent what mental healthcare looks like.

2. How is Henry Health innovating the mental health space?

Henry Health is a disruptive digital community created to arrest the toxic stress, depression, and anxiety killing too many black men too soon. We are laser-focused on serving Black men because they have the lowest life expectancy of any population. Research tells us that our low life expectancy is connected to disproportionately high rates of unmanaged stress and untreated mental health issues. We are working to change that.

3. With your mission to increase the life expectancy of black men by 10 more years, what are some goals you and your team are looking forward to for Henry Health as it grows? 

We exist to ensure black men can show up whole, operate with joy and live with power. That’s just not a catchy phrase for us. Henry Health members will have the ability to track their wellbeing over time. We hope to learn from their progress and use that insight to inform the development of new features and services that support their continued healing and self-mastery. 

4. Henry Health recognizes the need for personalization in mental health solutions and products, and your team does so, by having created a pilot app that specifically serves the black, male demographic. You speak to the unique sociological pressures of the black male community that can affect physical, mental, and certainly emotional health. Can you educate us on some of the unique sociological factors or external stressors that impact the wellbeing of black males? 

That’s a really great question; thank you for asking it. Research shows that black individuals report more chronic stress than whites and are two to three times as likely to experience financial strain and housing-related stress. Black children experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at a significantly higher rate than white children, and those experiences have long-term negative effects on health. In 2016, 60 percent of black children reported experiencing at least one ACE compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white children. 

National data also shows that while black men are more likely to be impacted by trauma and stress, they are less likely to receive professional support. Black adults use mental health services at about half the rate of their white counterparts. 

Beyond the factors that commonly trigger mental health issues, Black men must also carry the day to day stress of being a Black man, which often presents itself unconsciously in normal activities. Black men report experiencing racial microaggressions —insults, invalidations, and interpersonal slights (subtle and sometimes unintentional) – which are linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Black men also suffer from impostor syndrome, a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts his accomplishments in professional settings and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.  

5. You refer back often to how interrelated our mental wellbeing is with our physical wellbeing, like how the detriment of one’s mental health can lead to physical illness and substantially impact life expectancy rates. This alludes to the need that communities need to be approaching health, total health through a holistic lens. Do you observe this need being recognized and addressed in our communities today?

My general belief is that human beings have long held the answers to how to live well. Somewhere along the way, we lost our knowledge of the importance of self-care and restorative practices that help us cope with stress.  I think the loss is wrapped up in a myriad of reasons, including western work culture and increased exposure to technology. The bottom line is that we were not designed to be as busy as we are. For example, research tells us that most adults need 8 hours of sleep so that our brains can do the maintenance work required to preserve our memories and ensure peak performance. However, you often hear people brag about only needing a few hours of sleep. This is a cultural failure that we must work to correct. The good news is there is a movement afront that is centered on people making time to reflect, meditate, eat well, exercise, and so forth. These practices  are key to holistic wellbeing, and our communities are increasingly recognizing the link between these practices and overall health. It is important that these practices not be reserved for higher income or higher social status people. We must make sure that we reintroduce these tools to everyone in ways that make them accessible and relatable.

6. What has your personal experience or relationship been with the word, “self-care”?

I suffered from depression that was stimulated by mental exhaustion. As I was recovering from depression, self-care became extremely important to me. I think that we all need a self-care routine. My routine may not work for you. For example, I know folks who play video games to relieve their stress. That’s not my thing, but I am happy that they have found what work. All of us need our own practice.

7. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually?

You are really digging deep. I wake up naturally every morning at about 515AM. I lay in bed for about ten mins. In this space, I pray and ask God to bless my day. I then go to the kitchen and put on some water for my coffee! During my first cup of coffee, I normally read a devotion of some type, some type of positive message. I then meditate and pray for about another 10 mins. By that time, noise starts to arise in my house so I become more active too. I move on with my day.  I also have rules with my team about how I schedule my time. I require a 30 minutes buffer between every meeting = I need time to process my thoughts and reflect on the meetings. I also make sure that I can pick up my kids at least two days a week from school. I walk to the train every day. I take the stairs and I am aware of where my food came from and what’s in it. These are just a few of my practices.

8. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be? 

For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out. I created so much unneeded anxiety and pressure. Life works out. The Universe is always conspiring for our good. That’s the best advice I have for younger people and even my young self who still resides in me!

9. Would you care to share with us a couple of your favorite wellness or skincare picks? 

I have been using your products and they are delightful. Never thought, I’d be using an anti aging product, but I have gotten so many compliments on my skin, I think I will continue. Thank you for sharing your products with me!

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

If you’re interested in joining Henry Health’s Therapy Pilot, sign up here . For more on Henry Health, follow their Instagram.

Vanessa Smith on Taking Mental Health Conversations out of Traditional Clinical Settings, Using Art and Media to Challenge Mental Health Stereotypes, and Creating a Common Language Around Promoting Global Wellness

Name: Vanessa Monique Smith
Role: Design Strategist and Urban Planner
Based in: New York

Vanessa is a design strategist and urban planner that has directed programs across public and private sectors in New York City and abroad. Her work is driven by the idea that people’s interactions and reactions to places, spaces, and systems make our cities human. Vanessa uses creative methods and communication to engage people around place-based topics, and she has created interdisciplinary projects to improve service delivery, expand community-based assets, and achieve policy initiatives. She is currently an urban planner at Hester Street, a planning, design, and community development non-profit. Before returning to her planning roots, she developed and directed the NYC Mural Arts Project at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). She co-founded and grew the social impact firm, 3×3 Design, where she was Director of Outreach and Research for over 4 years.  She has an MS in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a BA in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

1. In your words, describe who you are 

A work in progress.

2. What made you passionate about mental health awareness? 

Mental health and mental illness are still stigmatized topics that aren’t discussed as much as they should be in constructive settings and alongside community development topics. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shares that 1 in 5 New Yorkers experiences a mental health disorder in a given year. Given that fact and the stigma that pervades society, it’s necessary to start discussing health in relation to the body and mind, and how our health interfaces with other aspects of society in our cities and towns. This affects all of us. 

“I Like You the Way You Are — Mental Health Has Many Faces” 4000 square foot mural in the Bronx developed with muralist Tova Synder

I think of several years back, about the suicide of a friend and 2 attempted suicides by others. It was painful. Sometimes people feel isolated like they can’t talk about what they are experiencing. If we don’t share our feelings it’s harder to work through challenges with a network of support. I feel we are starting to talk more about these issues, but I want there to be spaces for all of us to share our mental health and not fear judgement at the individual level.  And at a societal level, I want to incorporate mental health discussions into our policy and designs of services and spaces. 

3. Could you describe the NYC Mural Arts Project and what your role was? For first time readers, what is the role of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene? 

In October 2016, I launched the NYC Mural Arts Project within the NYC Department of Health and ran the program for three years. NYCMAP uses a collective mural making process to discuss mental health topics and foster relationship building among residents and community based organizations across New York City. I worked with artists, various community groups, people living with a mental health condition and the community at large to design and fabricate large scale, place-based murals. Through our 9 month process, using workshops and public events, we discovered the mural theme, co-designed the mural, and painted and installed the public artwork in highly visible locations across the 5 boroughs. For a given project, hundreds of people gave their support or input to make the mural. The mural fabrication and installation process enable a mural’s longevity for decades, so murals produced (some up to 4,000 square feet and 60 feet up in the air) are a longstanding testament to those conversations and community connections. 

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) supports this program through City and State funding. DOHMH aim to increase access to supports outside of traditional clinical settings, while reducing stigmas and cultural barriers to mental health care. 

4. Can you highlight some of the mental health activists or artists you worked with at the NYC Mural Arts Project? 

Sure. First, I think the mental health peers (people with lived experience with a mental health condition) and mental health peer specialists (trained and certified people with a mental health condition who provide support and guidance to peers) I worked with were the backbone of each project.  They guided each project and worked with other residents to explore mental health topics in an informed and impassioned way. Second, there are several artists I worked with- Christopher Cardinale, Jon ‘Phes’ Souza, Aaron Lazansky, Alice Mizrachi, and Julia Cocuzza– come to mind that drove this type of immersive and large scale project. 

To make the scale of these murals and install them across NYC, in physically complex and dense backdrops, it truly ‘takes a village’ to make it all happen.  I am grateful for the range of people, with their skills and their voices, that worked with me to make these murals all over New York from the Bronx down to Staten Island. 

Mental health peers, students, and families explore mural symbols at Brooklyn Public Library event. 
One People- Eradicating labels and nurturing mental health support” (muralist Chirstopher Cardinale) installed in Brooklyn, NY
Mural installation for “Reflections of Ourselves and Each Other” with muralist Aaron Lazansky. 

5. What do you think about the role of art in fighting mental health stigma or bringing communities together?

Art as a ‘civic practice’ allows an artist to focus on building trust among the members of a community and on fostering a sense of belonging with all people involved throughout the creative process. Through this lens, art can promote rich conversations around place-based issues that affect mental health outcomes, while highlighting the humanity and power of the people involved in each community-driven project.  Mental health peers help structure these conversations around the mural theme and design in dialogue with other community members. These conversations aim at challenging stereotypes and creating a common language around mental health and mental illness for everyone involved.  

For example, in one project we reviewed the draft of the mural with mothers from a partnering school. While discussing possible designs to express mental health topics, one mother shared that she lived with being bi-polar and explained how she works through her ups and downs, while staying engaged in the school and with her kids. It was moving because she not only shared something so personal in a public forum, but also created a constructive platform to talk about her honest experience living with a mental illness.  Other people started sharing experiences they face or how they support someone they love that may be dealing with depression, anxiety, etc. It was a watershed moment among friends, colleagues and strangers. 

6. As an urban planner, what are some ideas you have on how to incorporate holistic wellness into broader city policies? 

This is a great question and one I am thinking a lot about recently. One of the biggest challenges I see is how can we promote wellness alongside policies, programs, and design that address climate change? The effects of climate change and disaster response affect people differently, and communities that have been historically marginalized will feel the effects of climate change more dramatically. 

I think about a scene in the movie Parasite during a heavy rain storm. One family’s home is flooded, they lose their possessions and have to spend the night in a gym with hundreds of other people affected by the storm.  Another family is able to enjoy watching the storm in spacious comfort on higher ground. How does the trauma of dealing with the rain, loss of your home, and the uncertainty of tomorrow burden people? How do our urban systems, design and policies affect our wellbeing and support (or hinder) us?  

Thinking about the first family’s experience we could incorporate a lens of mental health into: new policy around rapid response after a disaster, retrofitting public infrastructure and housing, flood mitigation, urban design, and new types of place-based services and programs we can develop in and with our communities. I am half Puerto Rican, and that scene resonated with me as I think about how my family and others have managed the after effects of Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes of the past few months. The anxiety and uncertainty of these situations can have a heavy effect on wellbeing. 

7. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one (i.e., morning routines or evening rituals). What are some actions you take to keep yourself well (mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally)?

Over the years, the one thing I find constant in my routine, wherever I am, is carving out time to walk with no specific destination, but to wander mindfully. It helps me find awareness and explore my thoughts in relation to the people, activities, architecture, and infrastructure around me. I find it a meditative practice that can help me gain balance, clarity, and creativity. 

8. Would you care to share a couple of your favorite wellness and/or skincare picks? 

Cooking is a creative driver for me; by using all the senses it helps me feel grounded in the present, which, at times, can be difficult. Flavors of food pervade everything we eat, they affect our perception and give us an instant feeling in the moment. Combining foods and flavors is an interplay that, at first glance, don’t appear complimentary but can support each other. Thinking about this, it mirrors how I strive for wellness: taking different experiences, beauty and pain in life with different people and experiences, and finding complementary ways to grow from and with those people, places, and experiences that are a part of you. A small dash of sugar can play well with acid or salt. Sharing this with others and seeing how they enjoy the food enlivens the experience. 

Jumping to a different topic- skincare- I definitely like routine here, and mixing high and low price points. Currently, I am using an Avocado Facial Toner, The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum and Caffeine Solution Eye Serum, Sunday Riley’s C.E.O Vitamin C Brightening Serum, face cream, and Nature Republic’s SPF 50 Daily Sun Block. At night, I swap out the vitamin c serum and sunscreen for Ole Henriksen’s Retin-ALT power serum. 

9. Letters to My Younger Self:  If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be? 

Be honest with your needs and share what you’re feeling with others. Since ATEM also has skincare, I would also tell my younger self to use sunscreen to protect the skin and get a serum! But really, communicate those feelings, they’re real and should be shared.

For access to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Mental Health Hotline, please click here.

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

Edited by Susan Im

Follow us here and subscribe here for the latest insights on wellness, mental health, and self-care. Check out our company at ATEM or ATEM skincare.

Ayesha Barenblat On Conscientious Consuming, Inconsistencies in Demographic Representation in the “Sustainable Fashion” Industry, and Remake’s Mission to Improve the Wellbeing of 75+ Million Women

Name: Ayesha Barenblat
Title: Founder & CEO of Remake
Based in: San Francisco, CA
 

Ayesha Barenblat is a social entrepreneur with a passion for building sustainable supply chains that respect people and our planet. With over a decade of leadership to promote social justice and sustainability within the fashion industry, she founded Remake to ignite a conscious consumer movement. Remake’s films, stories and immersive journeys rebuild human connections with the women who make our clothes. Ayesha is passionate about how our fashion is made, who brings our clothes to life and where our discarded fashion ends up. She has worked with brands, governments, and labor advocates to improve the lives of the women who make our clothes. She led brand engagement at Better Work, a World Bank and United Nations partnership to ensure safe and decent working conditions within garment factories around the world. She was head of consumer products at BSR, providing strategic advice to brands including H&M, Levi Strauss and Company, Marks and Spencer, and Nike on the design and integration of sustainability into business. She holds a master’s in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley.

1. In your words, describe who you are.

Global citizen, wife, mother, first time female founder, Pakistani-American, fierce advocate for social justice. 

2. You founded Remake on a mission to improve the well-being of the 75+ million women who make our clothes. What changes have you seen since your inception through your work? 

When we started Remake sustainable fashion was a niche conversation. Today we have fashion magazines bringing on full-time sustainability editors, and from runways to red carpets sustainability is front and center. At Remake we are really proud of the work we do every day to ensure that sustainability continues to move from niche to mainstream. 

Today studies show that more and more people want to shop ethically and are willing to spend more for sustainable fashion. According to a study done by Nielsen, 55 percent of mostly millennial consumers, across 60 countries said they would pay more for products provided by companies that support positive social and environmental impact.  Morgan Stanley’s research concurs with this; 58 percent of 16 to 24 year-olds said ethics are “very or somewhat important” compared to 49 percent of those 55 and up. 

Remake’s own community is 150,000 people strong with over 300 Ambassadors in 32 states who as part of our #wearyourvalues campaign have committed to buy less and better. Building up the next generation of women’s rights and climate justice leaders through the lens of fashion has been the greatest source of inspiration for me. I sincerely believe that the future is bright!

3. You talk a lot about the labor exploits and environmental destruction of the fast fashion industry. Do you think fast fashion is a reflection of a general consumer trend that reflects today’s public’s demand for immediateness and for constant newness? What do you think are the implications of this?

In the last decade, our clothes have been coming to us too fast and too cheap and the human and planetary costs of this hyperconsumption model are hidden from our collective consciousness. I believe both the general consumer wanting new outfits for the next IG selfie plays a part but it is also companies like Amazon that have conditioned us to with one click to get whatever we want, whenever we want. The implications of this includes: 

  • Planetary destruction: The largely unregulated churn and burn of fast fashion is putting too much pressure on our planet. 12.8 million tons of clothing are sent to landfills in the US every year. This is a football field filled 14 ft deep with clothes. An estimated 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the apparel/footwear industry. Main cotton producing countries like China and India are already facing water shortages, and with water consumption projected to go up by 50% by 2030, these cotton-growing nations face the dilemma of choosing between cotton production and securing clean drinking water.
  • Fast fashion disempowers women. With fast fashion you trap a generation of young women into poverty. 75 million people are making our clothes today. 80% is made by women who are only 18 – 24 years old. It takes a garment worker 18 months to earn what a fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break. A majority of them earn less than $3 per day. The biggest corners fast fashion cuts are human.Cheap clothes are made by underage workers entering the industry as young as 14 to work long hard hours (an avg. of 14 hrs per day in sweatshops) for low wages, while dealing with sexual harassment.
  • Fast fashion is expensive for consumers and the planet. Fast fashion is designed to be replaced quickly. Clothing literally falls apart ending up in landfills rather than making it to consignment shops even if you donate. In the U.S. only 10% of donated clothes get resold. The rest flood landfills where they can sit for up to 200 years leaving toxic chemicals and dyes to contaminate local soil and groundwater. Our slow fashion community has found that investing in fewer higher quality clothes actually saves us money because each piece lasts longer. 

The good news is that we as everyday shoppers are powerful. How we buy is how we vote. If a ground swell of shoppers demand sustainable fashion, the market will respond.  Moreover social media has democratized access, where we can directly talk to brands through Twitter or Instagram to ask for more transparency. A strong campaign can make or break brands-sometimes overnight. At Remake our big audacious goal is to remake the closets of 1MM women by 2025. 

4. How do you shop? Do you choose to be intentional about every fashion buying decision you make? What are some tips for readers on how to “wear your values”?

I have had the pleasure in my career to sit down, talk to, break bread with thousands of the women who make our clothes. The resilience and hard work of this forgotten #girlboss at the other end of the supply chain is my biggest inspiration. It’s these interactions that changed my relationship to my closet. So I do think deeply about what I buy knowing how much human effort goes into every piece of clothing.  Before I buy something I usually ask myself do I really need it? Will I wear it multiple times? And what will this piece say about me?

I tend to first and foremost shop in my closet because I do believe that loved clothes last. I love some of my forever owned or vintage treasures. I love Pact and Coyuchi’s natural breathable materials for intimates and pajamas. 

I also rely on rental platforms like Rent The Runway. It’s a way to look fresh without buying more whenever I am giving a talk. 

In terms of tips I’d say first let go of the guilt. There are big and small ways, regardless of your wallet size, to “wear your values.” Some ideas include:

Taking stock of what you own. Are piles of clothes sitting there and making you unhappy? only keep what you think you will wear at least 30 times and host a swap party for the rest. The next time you want to buy something consider this: will you wear it at least 30 times? If not it’s best to walk away. If it costs less than your cup of coffee, know that women were exploited in making the piece and, again, walk away.

Embrace preloved clothes: there are amazing vintage, rental or consignment options. Consider “shopping” in a good friend’s or sibling’s closet (don’t forget to ask first!).

Care for your clothes like the good friends that they are. Wash on cold, line dry, skip the dry cleaner and mend.. Do remember to invest in quality, not quantity.

Follow us on social media @remakeourworld and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the know for sustainable fashion news, tips, tricks, brands, and how-to’s.

5. How do you see the fast fashion landscape evolving in the next 3-5 years? 

I see the demand for fast fashion decreasing as demand shifts, particularly as GenZ comes into their consumer power valuing individuality and customization over trends. I see this firsthand in conversations I have with young change-makers all over the country who worry about climate change and our planet’s future. Moreover studies show that 89% of Gen Z would rather buy from a company supporting social and environmental issues over one that does not

I also see the fashion industry being pushed toward more transparency. Activism is back with women leading the way. From Greta Thunberg to Jane Fonda, there’s been an influx of consciousness that’s here to stay. From Extinction Rebellion to our own community, I see a future where more and more people are taking to the streets to demand a fashion industry that puts people and our planet first. 

Finally circularity is becoming more than just a buzzword, from inroads in sustainable materials to a growing interest in a minimalist lifestyle and capsule wardrobes. I am excited by breakthroughs in technology such as Amber Cycle and innovative approaches to reducing waste such as the Renewal Workshop

6. Where do you still see glaring problems or lack of solutions in the realization of actual “sustainable fashion” in your industry?

At first glance, the term ‘sustainable fashion’ seems fairly straightforward. However, when you dig deeper you realize that there isn’t a globally agreed definition. Many brands have co-opted the rising interest in sustainability to make exaggerated marketing claims, with some brands straight up greenwashing. Without regulation, a company can make claims to be sustainable and confuse end shoppers. 

Fashion, at its core is centered around the constant production and use of new items, which is inherently unsustainable. Textile waste isn’t just a problem at the end of the lifecycle of a piece of clothing. It’s also an issue right at the start. During most manufacturing processes, around 20% of fabric is discarded onto the cutting room floor after garment patterns are cut from fabric. At Remake, our growing conscious community knows that we can not just buy our way out of this mess, but instead we have to buy less and keep clothes in circulation longer.

Finally, sustainable fashion suffers from its fair share of socioeconomic, race, and body image issues. For all of its unethical production, fast fashion brands make fashion accessible and affordable to the masses. In this way, they fuse the division between classes. Sustainable fashion, on the other hand, can be prohibitively expensive due to higher base costs that include sourcing costly eco-friendly natural materials and paying people a fair wage for sewing garments. 

I am also struck by how non diverse sustainable fashion conversations and conferences are. Even though the people and communities most impacted by fashion’s decisions are people of color. While it’s encouraging to see so many of the fashion industry’s who’s who come together to talk about sustainability at these summits, we are all remiss in addressing a core truth: that the fashion industry is built on the oppression of black and brown women, an institutionalized form of racism inherited from a colonial past. 

Equally underrepresented in the sustainable fashion world are plus size women. For many women, the path to adopting the slow fashion movement is blocked as brands fail to offer inclusive sizing. Looking into the issue further, the problem often lies in the fact that so many sustainable brands are sole ventures or small, independent companies which make it difficult to offer broader, more inclusive product ranges.

7. Where do you see connections between your work in sustainable fashion and social justice with mental health? 

Around the globe, women dominate the workforce of the garment factory industry. Unfortunately, the working environment for many of these women includes pervasively low wages, untenable hours, sexual harassment and violence and hazardous health conditions. This takes a significant toll on the physical and mental health of the women who make our clothes.

 Fast fashion is inherently violent given its focus on trends, fast turnaround and cheap prices which results in unpredictable and long hours at rock bottom wages. In essence cheap clothes mentally and physically exploit women and engulf  generations of women into a cycle of poverty. 

On every Remake journey, the women we meet tell us that they are sacrificing their own well-being to keep their children in school and secure a better life for their families. Yet, she is making barely enough to pay rent and put food on the table. I remember a story of one woman that haunts me to this day. Her garment job paid her so little, that when she had a tooth ache, she had to take out a predatory loan and take up sex work on the side to pay the loan back. 

8. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well mentally, physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally? 

Every morning I take a few moments to sit outside with a hot cup of chai, taking in the sounds of birds and feeling the wind on my face before I get dressed for the day or dive into email.. I find this small morning routine helpful in centering me. 

Similarly my evening dinners with my husband and 7 and 9 year old sons is sacred. We are a no device family while we make dinner, sit together to share our day and clean up . Children have a wonderful way of keeping you focused on the present moment rather than running a never ending mental to-do list. 

I keep a “happy folder” in my email in-box. Being a woman of color, and a first time female founder can be hard and it is lonely. Sometimes self doubt creeps in on whether and how much of a difference we are making?  So I save emails from our community, partners and Ambassadors in my happy folder – this includes testimonials of how our films and stories have moved people to join our Movement, notes about how we helped someone remake  her closet, simplify her life or how buying less has made someone happier. Whenever I’ve had a rough day, I visit my happy email folder to remind me why we do this work and why it matters.

9. Would you share with us a couple of your favorite wellness or skincare picks? 

I am a “less is more” type of person. I once horrified a make-up artist at a photo shoot when sharing that all I use on my skin is soap and water! I do my best to eat what’s in season, mostly leafy greens and vegetables and believe being outside and eating well is the best way to make my skin glow and to feel good inside and out.

10.  Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be?

I would tell my younger self – you are enough. That being an immigrant, with a different sounding name, making it in a new country may be really scary at 19, but this will one day be your superpower. That being from two different worlds will allow you to have so much empathy, an ability to move fluidly between cultures, truly see the humanity in people and be a global citizen. 

Follow Ayesha here

Learn more about Remake here and support and follow its Instagram here.

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

Follow us here and subscribe here for the latest insight on wellness, mental health, and self-care. Check out our company at ATEM or ATEM skincare.

Heidi Luerra on Having Mental Illness in Family, Modern Day Wellness Stigma, and Incorporating Mental Health Education in the Workplace

Name: Heidi Luerra
Title/Role: Founder & CEO, RAW Artists Inc. 
Author, The Work of Art 
Based in: Los Angeles, CA 
Age: 35

On this week’s chapter of exploring holistic wellness at ATEM, we interviewed Heidi. Heidi Luerra is the Founder & CEO of the world’s largest independent arts organization, RAW Artists Inc. She’s also authored the book, The Work of Art, A No-Nonsense Field Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs, which speaks to tips to fellow or aspiring entrepreneurs and her personal journey as an entrepreneur.

1. In your words, describe who you are.

I’m half creative and half business with a knack for bridging the gap between both worlds. I am determined to spend my short and unknown amount of time on this planet on worthwhile projects that make a difference, and I’ve applied the quote “be the change you want to see in the world,” to my life quite literally. When it comes to my entrepreneurial endeavours I’ve grown projects from nothing and no funding into thriving organizations. 

2. Give us a day in your life.

The day starts with coffee. I have meetings with our technology and marketing departments, as well as an employee performance and management meeting. I spend some time getting tax prepared. I coordinate some industry invites to a few people to attend our RAW Hollywood showcase. I get on a call with our agency contractor in regards to some murals we’re contracting artists to paint. I then jump on another conference call with my board members to discuss projections and ship a few of my books (This all happens before lunchtime). 

3.   How did you discover an interest in mental health? 

I’ve come to realize the importance of sharing our personal stories and the ways in which we’re all affected by mental health. While writing The Work of Art, I wrestled with whether or not I should write about it. Not just because of the sensitive nature of the topic of mental health, but also because I was guilty of contributing to the stigma surrounding mental illness. My mother was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder (“Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression” – NAMI.org) when I was seven years old. Very few people in my life knew this (up until the book was published), and this was intentional. Seeing my share of the battles this affliction has brought in, in every aspect of her life, was and has been difficult. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her or me, and I didn’t want anyone presuming I might be at risk of having the disorder too as her daughter. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I was largely mum about my close relationship with mental illness for a long time. In general, I have been on the supporting end of my mother’s illness in many ways, which has its own set of challenges. As the conversation has started to bubble up, it’s encouraged me to be more vocal about my own experience with having a mentally ill mother.  What I do know and believe is that more people need to discuss mental illness. It’s so much more prevalent than we as a society currently dares to admit. Which simply means, it’s up to this same society to speak up and to be advocates for awareness and initiatives that offer mental health support.

4. Do you think popular culture romanticizes, caricaturizes or accurately portrays mental health illness (ie. Amazon Prime’s Modern Love Series’ episode E03: Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am ). Any signs of progress you find encouraging?

I think Hollywood has romanticized just about everything, and mental illness is no exception. I do appreciate the growing interest surrounding it. Regardless of how well the subject is packaged, the more we talk about it or “watch it,” the more we’ll ultimately be able to better understand it, and the better we’ll be able to begin our work in actively breaking down barriers we’ve built to exacerbate the stigma and misunderstandings against a very serious health concern, with very real and often debilitating symptoms. At the very least though, I will give it to popular culture for adapting art, memes, etc about mental health and raising its awareness.

5. What is a common misconception about mood disorders, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia that you believe should be corrected? 

That these illnesses are in some way within the individual’s control. That they could do something about them if they just “ate this diet” or “tried this natural organic drug” or “snapped out of it”. This kind of misconception and stigma that’s encouraged by people in our communities actively prohibits people affected by mental illness from seeking out treatment that can help like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or medication.

Food for thought. Consider these words by world renowned neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, on the interesting idiosyncrasy existing and dominating our cultural understanding, that the brain and mind is separate, when in fact, the faculties of the mind (and one’s emotions thereof) cannot act independently from the influences of the brain on the basis of science; Let us move one step further then, and think about the way we perceive health: how body (and skin: hello ATEM!), mind, and emotional health is for some reason, discussed, approached, and valued differently, as if they move independently from each other. What does this mean about the way we currently stigmatize mental health? :

The distinction between diseases of “brain” and “mind,” between “neurological” problems and “psychological” or “psychiatric” ones, is an unfortunate cultural inheritance that permeates society and medicine. It reflects a basic ignorance of the relation between brain and mind. Diseases of the brain are seen as tragedies visited on people who cannot be blamed for their condition, while diseases of the mind, especially those that affect conduct and emotion, are seen as social inconveniences for which sufferers have much to answer. Individuals are to be blamed for their character flaws, defective emotional modulation, and so on; lack of willpower is supposed to be the primary problem.”

Antonio Damasio, neurologist and author of Looking for Spinoza (translated in over 30 languages) and Descarte’s Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain

6. Was there ever a time you felt like you had to bear the burden of your mother’s mental health illness alone? What factors limited your or your family’s ability to receive support (mental, emotional, or financial)?

Absolutely. I’m the eldest of four children. My parents are divorced and my mom is not married. In addition to running a company, being a wife and just a regular adult, I had to be her emotional support structure and that was a lot to balance. It was lonely. My mom’s well-being and health was constantly on my mind. Most people don’t experience having a family member that is mentally ill to the point where he/she is unable to work and make an independent living– having a family member needing government assistance, and essentially being forced to live off an impossibly low monthly income… and that this results in having financial + care responsibilities fall on the affected family member’s family. 

Living in a place like downtown Los Angeles which is rampant with homelessness, you can see the severe impact that mental illness without a support structure or financial stability creates. It’s evident just walking down the street. If my mother didn’t have me or my siblings, she could very well have been one of those people. That is a heavy load to carry at times. 

This paints a more dramatic picture of the effects of mental health, but the following is a record detailing an encounter with a patient named Elliot who struggled with a neurological condition too– the casualties resulting from a lack of support for a very real health problem are similar to that from the experiences of Heidi’s and her family’s struggle in caring for their mother and the failure of current health policies to make treatment and support of mental health and mental health illness accessible: “His wife, children, and friends could not understand why a knowledgeable person who was properly forewarned could act so foolishly, and some among them could not cope with this state of affairs. There was a first divorce. Then a brief marriage to a woman of whom neither family nor friends approved. Then another divorce. Then more drifting, without a source of income, and as a final blow to those who still cared and were watching in the sidelines, the denial of social security disability benefits.” 

7. What can others do to support? 

I think people can be of support by simply and actively offering an ear or shoulder for friends and family affected. People can vocally support the issue amongst their communities, or help find aid or resources for those they know that are affected by it. On a more macro level, there needs to be legislation changes: more funding, and more treatment and rehabilitation programs– more resources put towards mental health and wellness.

8. As the CEO of RAWartists.com, a large events and discovery platform that showcases and highlights independent talents of all creative disciplines, you are exposed to creatives touching all points of work. What does the wellness/health landscape look like from your end?

The statistics in the creative and entertainment industries in regards to mental health are quite staggering. It’s a big part of the culture we work with, and my team and I are sensitive to these aspects of the artistic mind. Last year we brought in cognitive behavior therapist Dr. Rosy Benedicto (who also contributed to The Work of Art) to speak to our team about  how to handle and approach situations with someone that might have a mood disorder, be suffering from depression and/or suicidal. Educating ourselves on mental health is fundamental for best communicating and supporting our fellow creatives.

9. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well (mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically)?

My best self works out 4-5 times per week, drinks plenty of water (mainly La Croix) and meditates daily. However, just like most everyone else, I have office “weeks” (months). I walk to work, love spin class and am most recently experimenting with kickboxing. I think physical activity really does balance out the rest. When all that fails, a nice glass of wine with a close friend is the ticket!

10. Letters to my Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be? 

You’ve got this more than you believe you do. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

Learn more about RAW Artists here and follow its Instagram here.

Interviewed and edited by Susan Yoomin Im

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