Be in community and not on social media. It is essential that we be with one another. There is a loneliness epidemic. I am constantly with friends and clients. If I stay in my house too long I get depressed. Just going to get a coffee and interacting with the staff makes me feel better
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to normalize the focus on mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Courtney Blanton the Co-Founder of the Hi How Are You Project.
Before the creation of the Hi, How Are You Project, Courtney founded CBi Studio (cbistudio.com) a successful interior design business with clients throughout the US. Ms. Blanton is a Certified Interior Designer with a degree from the prestigious Parsons School of Design. She has been featured on HGTV for her creative home design. Prior to starting her own business, Courtney worked with Peter Dunham in Los Angeles and Victoria Hagan in New York. Ms. Blanton is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. Her passions include enjoying live music in her hometown of Austin, TX and being with her family which includes her poodle puppy Luna and bulldog Rooney as well as her partner, Tom Gimbel — GM of the Austin City Limits television show and CEO of the ACL brand.
Courtney’s personal struggles with mental health issues and the subsequent freedom and healing she experienced when she opened up to others inspired her to form the Hi How Are You Project in 2017.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
My name is Courtney Blanton. I run my own interior design business. I am the co-founder of the Hi How Are You Project. Our mission is to stop people from struggling in silence with mental health issues and obliterate the unforgiving social stigma. Mental illness affects the lives of more than a billion people around the globe. This is my personal story and journey as well. The impact of my mental health issues nearly killed me. Since college, my depression and anxiety has progressed and contributed to a thyroid condition, IBS, suicidal thoughts and more. Like most of us, I have had the pressure of having to always be ‘on’. Often, what I and others aspire to present to everyone else is nowhere near the reality of what is actually going on internally.
In college, I experienced my first bout with severe depression. My parents saw me as the golden child. I desperately wanted my friends to think I was “normal.” NO ONE could know that I received help from a counselor had prescribed me an antidepressant. It was then that I began my journey of shame and hiding which started in the form of an Advil bottle filled with Prozac hidden in my lower dresser drawer. I hid from the world and continued on a path of trying to control the uncontrollable. I found myself yo-yoing on and off anti-depressants. I threw bulimia into the mix, sprinkled with drugs and alcohol to stop the incessant negative thinking, which would springboard into suicidal thoughts and more self-loathing.
I was an imposter. I could barely look myself in the mirror. Everyone else was “normal” and my experience was — was not. Something was wrong with me.
In my desperation I tried exercise, sobriety, eating healthy, meditation, supplements, anti-depressants, no anti-depressants and on and on. Nothing truly worked, but I silently managed.
After many crash landings, I tried a self-expression class. To get breakthrough results you had to purge your deepest secrets that held you back from being fully self-expressed. With my heart in my throat, I waited for the class to end.
I approached the teacher, hesitated, and then blurted out, “I take anti-depressants and no one knows.”
“Well that sounded stupid,” I thought “and, no need to mention the really dark, ugly parts.” In a calming voice he asked, “Would you wear a cast if your leg was broken?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
“What if you had a heart condition and your doctor informed you that you needed to take medication — would you take it AND would you tell others?” he asked.
“Well, yes. I suppose I would,” I said.
Then, he said something that was so simple, yet so powerful. “Isn’t your body just doing something chemically and you take medication?”
“Yes,” I said dumbfounded. It seemed so simple.
He left me with a mission. “Now, share your story with anyone who will listen.”
The gift of that conversation freed me from my self-imposed prison. I shared my story with my parents and friends who were shocked to learn that I had struggled all that time. I continued to share with others. Every time I told my story, my freedom and power grew. More importantly, I liberated others to open up and tell their own story and find their own freedom.
This is the mission of the “Hi, How Are You Project.”
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
Mental health stigma starts from within. A person who is suffering feels an intense amount of shame as to why they can’t act or feel “normal.” A sense of “something is wrong with me” sets in due to a lack of motivation and emotional instability. We feel social isolation and a lack of self-esteem.
Historically, mentally ill people were stereotyped and people were afraid of them. Those who are inexperienced, or not suffering themselves, are apprehensive to approach or don’t want to be responsible for a friend, family member or colleague struggling with mental health issues.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
The Hi, How Are You Project’s mission is to make mental health “cool” by working with the entertainment industry to increase awareness and normalize the conversation. We do this through music and art events, PSAs, documentaries, and other media tools. Check us out on our YouTube channel, website and social medias.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
The story of Hi, How Are You is two-fold. It began with my own mental health issues which I have struggled with since childhood. I am all too familiar with the associated shame and stigma. After a life-changing conversation at age 30 I have been open to sharing my story which has caused so many others to share theirs.
When I met my partner in all things, Tom (CEO of Austin City Limits and manager of Daniel Johnston) he was inspired by my willingness to talk openly and confidently about my mental health struggles. We decided to use his credentials to advocate for normalizing the conversation around mental health issues. On January 22, 2018, Austin, TX united in the first Hi, How Are You Day. Austinites were encouraged to check in on a neighbor, friend, co-worker, family member or loved one and ask, “Hi, How Are You?” — and to really mean it! We were inspired by Austin’s love for the iconic friendly frog mural painted by Daniel Johnston — himself a world-renowned musician and visual artist despite his own struggles with mental health issues. The success of the day — and the outpouring of support from around the world — inspired the formation of the Hi, How Are You Project. On January 22, 2019 Hi, How Are You Day became state-proclaimed. We celebrated with a sold out 2200 seat music concert that was live streamed around the world. We reached over 100,000 people worldwide! We also inspired 1500 schools nationwide to wear green and have open conversations about mental health.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
On an individual level if you are suffering with your mental health, then it is imperative to get educated about what is going on in your body. For those who are not, it is important to check in on loved ones, colleagues and neighbors and be open to listen, validate what that person is going through and get them to the right help if they need it.
On a societal level we can start talking about and investigating what is truly going on and less about mental health as a stereotype.
Government should start looking at mental health issues as a public health issue, an epidemic and start taking steps towards solving the problem.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- #1 MOST IMPORTANT — educate, educate, educate! I was never able to find a doctor who could help me better understand what was truly going on inside my body. I had to do the research and peel back the layers year after year on my own.
- Find a good homeopathic doctor or nutritionist who will help you deal with everything not just one thing. Everything in your body is connected. It is a chain reaction. My homeopathic doctor has helped me heal my body through diet and supplements.
- Exercise. Even when I don’t feel like getting out of the house my boyfriend makes me take a walk with him even if it’s just down the street. Exercise kicks in endorphins no matter how little or how much.
- Be in community and not on social media. It is essential that we be with one another. There is a loneliness epidemic. I am constantly with friends and clients. If I stay in my house too long I get depressed. Just going to get a coffee and interacting with the staff makes me feel better.
- Gluten and dairy don’t work well with my auto immune issues. I have severe inflammation if I decide to eat either one.
- You are what you eat!!! My gut was always my biggest problem since I was a kid. No one ever told me about the gut brain relationship. I found the information on my own. Serotonin is produced in your stomach not in your brain. So, guess what?…if you have stomach issues and eat a lot of sugar or other terrible things, then it will probably lead to depression. I eat a very clean diet, so I can stay ahead of my symptoms.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
The Body Keeps the Score, Medical Medium, Brain on Fire, Anatomy of an Epidemic, How To
Change Your Mind
Anything by Tim Ferris typically as it pertains to the self-improvement and plant medicine movement
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!