Community//

Amanda Filippelli: “Consequences of that ignorance”

All of my work is concerned with exploring and discussing trauma, our perceptions, mental illness, what that term really means, and with creating transparency into the truth and realities of these topics. My last book, Blue Rooms, was a thorough excavation of my own history of trauma, both generational and personal, and I needed to […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

All of my work is concerned with exploring and discussing trauma, our perceptions, mental illness, what that term really means, and with creating transparency into the truth and realities of these topics. My last book, Blue Rooms, was a thorough excavation of my own history of trauma, both generational and personal, and I needed to do that work so I could open and hold space for the voices of those who can’t speak for themselves. My current book is a fiction novel that follows the life of a young abuse survivor who ends up living in a residential psychiatric facility, and the goal of this book is to offer the public an honest narrative about the millions of kids and teens who are tied up in the mental healthcare system — to show how the treatment and foster care to prison pipeline works, how underfunded and ill-equipped the system truly is, how creative and talented and remarkable the children hidden away in these facilities are, how the system perpetuates cycles of abuse. I hope people see how very similar they are to the characters in this book, and I hope that it educates the public about the mental healthcare system so that true reform can happen. We often exhibit a willful ignorance around uncomfortable topics like this, but there are millions of kids paying the consequences of that ignorance.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Filippelli, a writer, editor, and book coach, and author of Blue Rooms. An award-winning writer and publishing industry expert, Amanda has done it all from freelance to copy editing to content editing to ghostwriting and book coaching to co-founding One Idea Press. Amanda’s work has also been widely published and featured, including in Barzakh Magazine, TEDxWomenPittsburgh, ACA/PCA, Pittsburgh in the Round, and WHIRL Magazine. She was the recipient of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40Under40 award, and was the co-founder of Pittsburgh’s first premier writers’ conference, Pitch, Publish, Promote. Amanda is also the host of Write to Heal workshops, where she helps people connect and heal through the power of storytelling. Before becoming a professional writer, Amanda worked in the mental healthcare system for ten years, teaching adolescent survivors of trauma how to take control of their narrative. Amanda continues this work through her writing, workshops, and her coaching programs.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thank you for having me! My childhood was relatively nontraditional. I am biologically an only child, but my parents adopted a close friend of mine when I was twelve years old, so we really got a firsthand account of what the foster care system and the larger mental healthcare system is like. I had been in therapy and on medication for depression and OCD most of my life, but our family was really thrust into and affected by the misgivings of the child welfare system when my parents decided to legally adopt another child. It was tough, to say the least, but my childhood gifted me with the knowledge and insight I needed to be able to advocate for, work with, and write about children and teens who are trapped in the system.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Oh, SO many! Books were my refuge growing up (they still are), but there is one book that actually changed the course of my life: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

By the time I turned sixteen, I deeply struggled to cope with my depression. It was an overwhelming feeling, and my family had been through a lot over the years with my adopted sister and the foster care system. I was failing my classes, I was being bullied at school, and I just felt like I didn’t have anywhere left to turn. It was then my therapist prescribed me a short stay in the hospital.

You can imagine how confused and angry and scared that made me feel, and the adjustment was tumultuous. On the second evening of my stay, I couldn’t calm down and I was being very combative with the staff. They all kept screaming at me, ordering me to do things, refusing to give me space — all of them except for one staff member. It got quiet outside my door before a man reached into the room, handed me a book, and softly said, “This really helped me when I was going through a tough time. Maybe you’ll like it.”

That act of empathy, of kindness, immediately calmed me down. The book was worn, like it had been read many times before, the pages yellowing. I read the entire book that night, and I woke up the next day understanding something larger about my situation — that it was okay, that it was temporary, and that it had purpose; that suffering can sometimes yield the most beautiful things. That book changed my life. That staff member changed my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I wish the mistakes I’ve made in my career were funny! But I also don’t think of any of my hurdles as “mistakes” — they’ve all truly been opportunities for growth, and they’ve all been lessons that I needed to be a better writer, a better editor, and a better entrepreneur. All of the challenges I’ve faced over the course of my career have sprouted from a need for personal growth. At one point, I needed to learn how to balance working for myself and being present in my personal life. At another point, I needed to learn how to best invest in myself, in my business, in my relationships. At another point, I needed a hard lesson about boundaries. And at other points, I’ve learned crucial lessons about different tenets of business, about partnerships, about how to value myself. I had to trip somewhere to learn all of these things, but each time contained an important lesson that helped me grow.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

All of my work is concerned with exploring and discussing trauma, our perceptions, mental illness, what that term really means, and with creating transparency into the truth and realities of these topics. My last book, Blue Rooms, was a thorough excavation of my own history of trauma, both generational and personal, and I needed to do that work so I could open and hold space for the voices of those who can’t speak for themselves. My current book is a fiction novel that follows the life of a young abuse survivor who ends up living in a residential psychiatric facility, and the goal of this book is to offer the public an honest narrative about the millions of kids and teens who are tied up in the mental healthcare system — to show how the treatment and foster care to prison pipeline works, how underfunded and ill-equipped the system truly is, how creative and talented and remarkable the children hidden away in these facilities are, how the system perpetuates cycles of abuse. I hope people see how very similar they are to the characters in this book, and I hope that it educates the public about the mental healthcare system so that true reform can happen. We often exhibit a willful ignorance around uncomfortable topics like this, but there are millions of kids paying the consequences of that ignorance.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

In Blue Rooms, I’m very honest about my experiences with mental illness, but since it’s a book of poetry some people can find it a bit cryptic, so I’ll share the story that inspired the poem When My Throat Eroded. For me, it’s one of the more difficult pieces to read, but I think it’s an important one. When I was about eleven, I started mysteriously choking all of the time. It began one evening at dinner and we all just assumed something had gotten caught in my throat, but then it kept happening, even when I wasn’t eating, even when I was sleeping. It was strange and scary, and my poor parents had no idea what to think or do about it. It went on for months on end, until it just stopped. It stopped just as quickly as it had started.

Looking back now, and having found other people this has happened to, this was an uncommon symptom of my childhood depression — a stifling of my emotions that caused a psychosomatic response in my body. But we couldn’t figure that out back then because people didn’t want to talk about mental illness. If you had a mental illness that could cause such a scary and strange symptom then they assumed it was something (arguably) more unbelievable, like possession or demons or affliction. I think it’s important to share this story because mental illness has often been ignored throughout history and instead labeled as some sort of spiritual affliction, when the reality is that our mental health affects our entire bodies and wellbeing, because mental health is physical health and mental illness is physical illness.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I’m not sure I had an “aha moment” that made me decide to write my current book, but there have been a number of moments over the years that reassured me. I spent ten years working in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities, so I often think back to a million different moments when I was deeply impacted by the kids I’ve worked with, and I’ve always known that I wanted to share their stories, to give them a voice. The characters in my book are amalgamations of all of those voices, and I share in that, too. Because I’ve been so fortunate to still thrive as an adult after having been in the system, I feel a certain responsibility to reach back and lift up others any way that I can, and that is what has driven my entire career as a writer, as a professional editor, and as a counselor.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

When I first decided to quit my job and become an entrepreneur, it was because I had come up against so much bureaucracy and red tape in my job. I felt like I’d done all I could from the inside to try and better the system these kids live in, so my first business was an in-home family counseling service and mentorship program. I tried to create a business model that fully serviced at-risk youth and families in need, and that meant providing preventative treatment, aftercare services for kids transitioning out of the system, wrap-around services for overwhelmed families, home-based counseling, and community excursions, all at an affordable rate that didn’t require clients to use their insurance. The need is so great that the business scaled quickly, to the point that I became too quickly overwhelmed, and it ultimately collapsed when bigger organizations and legislators were unwilling to collaborate with me because of my nontraditional business model — the thing that served the people most was the same thing that big insurance-based companies wanted to suppress.

I know my business helped a lot of people. Not enough people, but a lot of people. And I know that the work I’m doing now has the potential to spread this message in a more global way so as to incite real change and reform within mental healthcare.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Of course.

  1. Talk about it. When I was hospitalized (and even before and after then), my parents didn’t tell anyone. We didn’t talk about “that stuff” very much, and if I was in a deep depressive cycle, although well-intentioned, people often told me things like, “It’s fine, just don’t think about it,” or, “It could be worse,” or, “You don’t have any reason to be so nervous.” We have such a kneejerk reaction to mental illness as if distancing ourselves from talking about it, considering it, admitting we feel it will somehow make it go away, but the reality is that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 6 kids have a diagnosable mental illness. So at what point do we change the way we measure mental health? But none of this can be addressed if we can’t talk about. We ALL have family members or friends who struggle with something we don’t understand, so start talking about it. Part of loving someone means embracing everything about them, even the parts we don’t understand, so we have to start inside our families. It’s those intimate and honest conversations that will help people feel comfortable acknowledging and talking about mental illness publicly.
  2. Second guess yourself. Every time you hear someone talk about mental illness or when you feel like you’re silently struggling with something inside, you make an immediate judgement about it. But those judgements and thoughts are often based in biases that have been culturally ingrained in all of us. If we’re going to dismantle stigma and make room for productive conversations, we have to start inside of ourselves. So, every time one of those judgements pops up — even if it feels inclusive and accepting and empathetic — get into the practice of second guessing yourself. Ask yourself why you feel the way you feel and ask yourself if the way you feel is helping or hurting yourself or another person. This type of social responsibility is what can create true and sweeping change.
  3. Politicians, take a stand. We need more than campaigns to end stigma and one month out of the year to raise awareness. In fact, we collectively talk about “mental health awareness” to avoid saying “mental illness” because we’re still culturally averse to acknowledging mental illness as something as commonplace as a disorder anywhere else in the body below the neck.We need politicians to take the time to truly evaluate the system and invest solutions, legislation, and money into every treatment facility that exists. We need professional clinical oversight that has access to growing and evolving science and data, and we need the funding and public desire for the research that can facilitate those things. I’ve called on the U.S. Surgeon General many times to declare mental health a public health issue — to simply acknowledge that mental health is something that’s vitally important to all of us — but elected officials seem afraid to tread in these waters. We need good politicians who are honest and who have a passion for the topic to start leading the charge and who will actually listen to affected people and communities (i.e. the mental health community is tired of being embarrassed by the fraudulent “efforts” of people like Tim Murphy). We need politicians to take a stand.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is about courage. There are so many things we’re told we shouldn’t do, shouldn’t talk about, or we’re told that we need to mold our ideas into something that’s palatable, something that’s more like this or like that, but true leadership pioneers new paths, and that always takes courage.

As a professional editor and book coach, I spend a lot of time convincing people that they are leaders — that they have an important story that will help others feel seen and heal — because it takes A LOT of courage to authentically tell your story, hard parts and all. Being a leader doesn’t have to mean you’re some Type A, high-profile executive with no time in their schedule (no shade to those boss babes — I salute you!). You can lead others just by having the courage to show them what’s possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Surround yourself with “why not” people. Full disclosure: this is advice stolen from Kevin Smith, but it is advice that has saved me over and over and over again. The world is full of doubt; full of people who will gawk at your big ideas and ask, “Why?” Sometimes it feels like there’s no purpose in trying so hard to execute a big dream because so much will be lost if it doesn’t work out. Spoiler alert: if you surround yourself with fully supportive people who listen to your ideas and say, “Sure, why not?” then you’ll never fail. After my first book, I didn’t feel finished with it. I couldn’t let it go and felt like it had more life to live. And then it dawned on me, suddenly: I would adapt the book into a stage production — a spoken word play, the first of its kind. Many people had trouble even wrapping their minds around the idea or they just said things like, “Wow, okay, good luck,” but three of my closest friends — my why not people — showed up, truly believed in me, and helped me execute that vision in six months. Opening our production at the Carnegie will always be my most treasured achievement, because so few people thought it was possible.
  2. You have everything you need inside of you to execute every vision you have. A lot of times we tell ourselves that we can’t do something because we don’t have all the knowledge we need or because we’re not good at a certain aspect of something. I did that with PR and marketing for many years in my own business, to my own detriment. But we have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips. The truth was I was scared, and I needed to excavate and examine those feelings so I could continue to grow in my business. And I did. Because we all already have everything we need inside of us. It just takes hard work and courage to let ourselves flourish and thrive.
  3. Career success is an inside job. It doesn’t matter how “hard” you work if you don’t know yourself (especially if you’re a writer). You can work around the clock seven days a week at anything, but if you aren’t in touch with yourself then how do you know which paths to pursue? Being honest with ourselves about our feelings, our thoughts, our behaviors, and how those things affect our lives is crucial to our success in all ways. But leveling up in a career or becoming a professional author/writer requires a confidence that can only come from knowing yourself because career success is littered with rejection. Success requires perseverance, and perseverance is a test in and of itself. Start the race right and make sure you’re having honest and therapeutic dialogues with yourself on a regular basis.
  4. Remember that no one thinks like you. Calculate that into your value. Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. It’s also bullshit. No one on the planet thinks exactly like you do, and your unique perspective is what makes you so valuable. Remind yourself that only you can see a situation in just the way that you do, and because of that, your conclusions/advice/perspective/ideas are important and worthy. Then validate yourself by letting other people value your perspective. You’re worth it.
  5. Charge more. You know that number in your head you think is the ceiling price for your services (for a million different excuses)? Tack on 25%. Right now.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“For the creator, there is no poverty.” This is an excerpt from a longer poem by Rainier Rilke, but it has carried me through for many years. It reminds me that no matter my circumstances, I have everything I need right inside of me to create anything I want. Sometimes, I think creatives take their imagination for granted — forgetting that not everyone has an artistic perspective (we tend to be a self-deprecating lot) — but as writers, as artists, as creative people, we have so much power because we are never without, and this quote always reminds me to keep creating, to keep sharing my vision, and of the responsibility I have to uplift others in that process, too.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I think she’s a model for the future and has everything it takes to create big and meaningful changes in the world for the betterment of everyone (ahem: AOC 2024). It would be a dream come true to get to spend a power breakfast brainstorming with her!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me everywhere, usually with the handle editor_amanda, but the best way to connect with me and follow my work is through my website (amandafilippelli.com) and by joining my newsletter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    L Julia/ Shutterstock
    Thriving in the New Normal//

    Overcoming a Pandemic of Complex Trauma

    by Marcia Meier
    Community//

    Mental Health Champions: “Stop the negative self talk” With Laura Rhodes-Levin

    by Alexandra Spirer

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.