Mike Veny: The Importance of Self-Care for Mental Health Advocates [Podcast]
The following podcast interview features Mike Veny– founder of TransformingStigma.Com. Mike is a sought after mental health stigma expert, keynote speaker, and professional drummer. He delivers entertaining, engaging, and educational experiences to conferences and events throughout the world. The following post has been submitted to the 100 Voices for Suicide prevention with permission from all participants.
For our 100 Voices for Suicide Prevention campaign, we spoke with Mike Veny, founder of TransformingStigma. He’s a sought after mental health stigma expert, keynote speaker and professional drummer. He delivers entertaining, engaging and educational experiences to conferences and events throughout the world. Mike is fiercely committed to the idea that transforming stigma into strength, starts with people talking in an honest way and taking an honest look at themselves. Mike’s core message is stigma starts with shame, shame leads to silence, and silence leads to self-destructive behavior and suicide. We discussed the importance of including mental health in everyday conversations, showing personal vulnerability when it comes to mental health, and how we can build self-care.
Mental health can truly impact anyone. Not just those who are diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. Mental health is about wellness and life balance. For this post, I actually had to interview Mike twice. Our first conversation was amazing, but my personal lack of self-care was showing. I had forgotten to press the record button on our entire conversation. Thankfully, I think it helped build a really strong relationship between the two of us. We had an amazing first conversation and hopefully it leads to an even better one.
After this interview, I understand you’re going to a sleep-away camp, where you’ll teach drumming. Will you incorporate an element of mental health into the drumming at the camp?
Absolutely. I talk about mental health with everyone. A lot of times people hesitate to talk about mental health challenges — I never call them mental illnesses — but I’m a fan of telling people who I am right up front.
It started with an experiment where, for a year, I introduced myself to everyone I met as mentally ill, “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m mentally ill.” The responses were so interesting. I thought people were going to run away, but mostly I got a lot of hugs, a lot of thank-you’s, and people inviting me to parties.
As a child, my parents had always told me that if people found out about my mental health issues as an adult, it would be a liability for me. The reality though is that stigma is not something that’s out there in the world. It’s something that starts within yourself, which we project on the world. When you can get over your own fears around your challenges, it makes it a lot easier.
I understand that talking about being vulnerable launched your career in public speaking. Can you talk a little more about that?
I struggled with behavioral and emotional challenges as a child, I was hospitalized multiple times, kicked out of school multiple times, suicidal, and a cutter. In high school, I found drumming to be the thing to make me feel good about myself. Drumming was my medication that transformed my stigma into strength and I became a professional drummer so that I could take my medication with me and get paid for it.
Then, in my 30s, I developed anxiety and depression and became suicidal and started cutting myself again. I reached out to a friend to get help and she surprised me by offering to have me come speak at a conference.
After I started doing keynote speeches and going to therapy again, I decided that for the rest of my life I’m going to continue to go to therapy, continue to talk about this stuff publicly. It might be the one thing that saves my life and saves someone else’s life.
Do you ever have anybody reach out after these speeches to tell you how you affected them?
Definitely, and I’m diligent about responding to emails like these. I’m not a mental health professional, so I don’t offer advice, but I listen and emphasize the three things that I talk about during my presentation: take care of yourself, keep it in the conversation, and constantly look for teachable moments.
You say take care of yourself. What does self-care really mean? What are some examples of ways you take care of yourself?
Self-care is different for every person, but I’ve learned that self-care is about doing something intentional to make yourself feel better. For me, I signed up at a gym thinking about getting a buff body, but ended up realizing that good fitness and nutrition help my mental state, which is more important than looking like a body builder. I also meditate. I’m currently writing an article called “How meditation is my medication”. That’s how I take care of myself, but for someone else it could mean finding a therapist, or going through a 12-step program. It varies for each person, but its important to think about one small step you can take to take care of yourself.
Public events like Robin William’s suicide or school shootings put mental health in the news and our conversations for a couple of weeks, but how can the average person encourage conversation around the subject?
It is good that there is some kind of response to these events, but it’s important to talk about mental health challenges when nothing is happening. When life is good, in everyday conversation. If we’re out for coffee, catching up, why not talk about mental health? If we have a cold, we talk about the cold, but you’re typically not going to talk about, for example, your schizophrenia.
I’m a big believer in bringing mental health challenges up in regular conversation because I know when my family and friends discuss them with each other, and not directly with me, it makes me feel very isolated.
What do we do when people manage to have the conversation with us directly?
If someone is reaching out and trying to talk to someone about their mental health challenges and they’re in crisis, they should seek a professional. But if someone is just talking to you about their challenges, simply listen. For people that don’t struggle with mental health challenges, they’re probably going to think the issues are kind of weird, and they’re going to want to try and “find the right answer.” Just listen. Saying something like, “I don’t really know what you’re going through in this moment, but I’m sorry you’re going through it and I’m here to listen” goes a long way.
As someone that advocates for mental health, how do you also incorporate drumming into your work?
I do it in two settings: workshops in mental health conferences and corporate America. The thing is, honestly, the workshops at those conferences tend to be very dry. I try to get people to do something that they actually enjoy and get them comfortable with being there, which leads to discussing real issues that matter.
What’s your final message?
I encourage everyone to really, really, really have the courage to have the uncomfortable conversation.
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