We cannot change actions until we change perspectives. Our organization promotes mental health to be viewed and treated the same way our society views physical health. In the same way one proactively takes care of their physical health by eating well and exercising, we promote proactive steps to maintaining mental health as well. In the same way, people with the physical illness are not judged or discriminated against, we normalize people with mental illness to they are not judged or discriminated against. And in the same way, physical health can be spoken about openly, allowing for ease of information and treatment, we strive to open dialogs about mental health and improve treatment options for people worldwide.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Foster, co-founder and President of the nonprofit organization, Rethink Mental Health Incorporated. Rethink Mental Health Incorporated was founded to improve the way our society treats and views people suffering from mental health issues, especially children and young adults. As a result of its initiatives, more people can speak openly about what they are experiencing and seek professional help without fear of stigmatization, discrimination or harassment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
All my life I have dealt with mental illness and mental health issues, both personally and among my friends and family members. I’ve seen countless people suffer in silence due to fear of judgment and stigmatization if they were to open up as being “no ok.” The injustice and marginalization caused by the mental health stigma in our society have been a point of pain and suffering for many, including myself, and I’ve always wanted to find a way to improve it. Finally, I was able to form a nonprofit organization with just that mission and it has been amazing to watch how much of an impact we have made in just a short period of time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
The most interesting event that has happened since the foundation of the nonprofit was the recognition by the world-famous model and actress, Cara Delevingne. On World Mental Health Day 2019, we posted about our Pledge to Rethink the Stigma on Mental Health on our social media platforms. This pledge is one of our main initiatives and promotes active steps towards combatting the stigma, not just virtue signaling or empty platitudes. Cara Delevingne saw our post and shared it in her Instagram story to her 44 million followers. This acknowledgment and boost of our initiative gave us a significant boost in pledgers, helping us carry our mission to more people and spread the message that it is ok to not be ok. The main takeaway from this event was that there are plenty of people who share our vision and mission so with the right exposure we are destined to make a positive impact on the world!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Our biggest mistake when we were first starting the organization was not giving ourselves enough funding to get off the ground quickly enough. As a nonprofit, we are funded by donations and grants, but in the beginning, we could only use our own capital to get things going. We had limited capital to work with personally so the organization took longer than we hoped to grow and gain traction. In an ideal situation, we would’ve had more funding, to begin with, but nevertheless, we have overcome that initial hurdle and are making great progress and growth moving forward.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for so many people who helped get this organization to where it is today, but one individual, in particular, has been our lifeblood, and that is Michael J Fit, our Rethink Motivational Speaker. Michael J Fit and I met while I was in the very early stages of forming the organization. His passion, charisma, and relatability as a motivational speaker inspired me to design an initiative in the organization specifically for him. Despite the fact that he received no pay, he moved out to Las Vegas, where we are based, to be able to be more hands-on in our organization and his input, collaboration, and services as a mental health speaker has proven to be invaluable to our success and impact.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
We have many initiatives that promote health and wellness, but our flagship initiative is the H.E.A.R.T. Program, mental health and social-emotional learning curriculum program designed to improve the way students between ages 10 and 15 treat themselves and others. This program teaching students how to be more empathetic, have self-compassion, be responsible, form a support network, build self-esteem, have healthy relationships and ultimately become more emotionally resilient in the face of life’s inevitable hardships. These lessons and coping skills can be carried with them for years to come and will serve as invaluable assets to their health, happiness, and success. This multi-media program is being taught in schools nationwide and is also being introduced in the country of Nepal through a partnership with a local foundation. By supporting the mental wellbeing of our youth, we can foster a healthier future generation that embraces mental health and is more accepting of others, therefore eliminating the stigma.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
I believe the top five “lifestyle tweaks” can directly align with the five chapters of the H.E.A.R.T. Program.
First is humanity or common humanity. This chapter is about acknowledging that we all share commonalities under the human condition. We all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. We all suffer, we all face hardships, and we are all emotional beings. And while those specific experiences may not be the same, we can unite in the emotions and impact they universally have on us as human beings. When we acknowledge our common humanity we are able to stop unhealthily comparing ourselves to others.
Second is empathy or the act of putting yourself in someone else shoes. Empathy is about understanding other people’s perspectives and seeing things through their point of view. Being empathetic means you have to think beyond just yourself, your life and your own concerns. When you empathize with others, you actually understand, relate and care about what they are going through. By empathizing with others we become less judgmental and more open-minded about other perspectives. This humbles us and influences our actions to be kinder towards others. For example, if someone in your life appears to always act rudely or even bully you, try empathizing with them. Understanding why they might be lashing out in this manner will not only help reduce or eliminate the impact and hurtfulness of their behaviors towards you but potentially help create peace between you. We only see a small fraction of what goes on in people’s lives so it is easy to judge based on the surface appearance. If we look below, we will begin to understand their behaviors and actions and therefore be able to respond with more understanding and compassion.
The third is advocacy, or creating a support group of healthy influences in your life. Advocates are great at being cheerleaders of your successes and empathic with your failures. Advocates are also positives influences who can give you advice and guide you towards making good, responsible decisions in life. Advocates support you through good times and bad without ulterior motives that benefit themselves. For example, if you are struggling with a mental health issue, whether that be depression, anxiety or just a general sense of uneasiness, it is important that you have someone you trust to reach out to and express yourself to. This person should receive this information without judging you or criticizing you and offer comfort and guidance. That being said, it is also important to not rely too heavily on outside support and remember to be self-compassionate as well.
Fourth is the responsibility, or making choices that have a positive impact on your life and the lives of others. When we act responsibly paving the way for healthy opportunities in life. When we act irresponsibly, we are entering a slippery slope of damaging consequences to ourselves and others. One of the most important factors of responsibility is taking responsibility for your actions. This means when you do something, good or bad, admit your role and responsibility in it. It is extremely common in our society for people to make excuses and blame others for their own actions. When they do this, they are not giving themselves the chance to learn from mistakes or right the wrongs they may have done to others.
The fifth is toughness or emotional resilience. Emotional resilience is our ability to bounce back from difficult situations, avoid emotional vulnerability and roll with the punches. There is no one way to have resilience, but the other 4 HEART values all play a role. Through Humanity you understand that we are all flawed and we all go through struggles. This helps you keep things in perspective and not overreact. Through Empathy, you have compassion for yourself as you go through difficult times. This keeps you away from self-criticism and self-doubt. Through Advocacy, you reach out to people who support you no matter what. This gives you a positive outlook on even the most challenging situations. And through Responsibility, you choose to make decisions that keep you safe, healthy and happy and avoid making a bad situation worse.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Fortunately, I have already started that movement of rethinking mental health. We cannot change actions until we change perspectives. Our organization promotes mental health to be viewed and treated the same way our society views physical health. In the same way one proactively takes care of their physical health by eating well and exercising, we promote proactive steps to maintaining mental health as well. In the same way, people with the physical illness are not judged or discriminated against, we normalize people with mental illness to they are not judged or discriminated against. And in the same way, physical health can be spoken about openly, allowing for ease of information and treatment, we strive to open dialogs about mental health and improve treatment options for people worldwide.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I really only have 3 things I wish someone told me before I started. I wish someone told me that the misconceptions about mental health and mental illnesses are much worse than I’d imagined. I’ve encountered extremely bigoted people who are fueled with complete misinformation. These kinds of people are very challenging to reach and are the very source of the stigma on mental health.
I wish someone told me about the best fundraising techniques. Fundraising has been successful only after a lot of trial and error. Despite our best efforts, donations are saturated among thousands of well-deserving nonprofits and “competing” for these donations can be challenging and costly in itself.
And lastly, I wish someone told me key partnerships that would’ve expedited our success and impact. Networking and gaining traction through partnerships is key to growing most operations, including nonprofits. I did not find the organization with contacts and connections already in place, so discovering key partnerships took time, therefore delaying our ability to spread our mission and impact.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is the dearest cause to me not only because of my personal background with mental health, but because it is undoubtedly a health epidemic in our society. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — experiences mental illness in a given year, and yet nearly 40% of them don’t seek treatment or help from others. This shocking imbalance is what Rethink Mental Health Incorporated is trying to combat. The negative stigmas of mental health issues can lead people suffering from mental health issues to fear to get the help they need or even telling their loved ones about their struggles. Despite 43.8 million Americans experiencing mental illness every year, these individuals are left feeling alone. We need to change the dialog so people know it is ok to not be ok. Mental health is not the rarity and oddity that society treats it as. And furthermore, it is not shameful or embarrassing to get professional mental health help when needed.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Readers can follow us on Twitter and Instagram @rethinkstigma. We also invite readers to take the pledge to Rethink Mental Health at https://www.rethinkstigma.org/pledge.html
Thank you for these fantastic insights!