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Deana Mitchell: “Humans need to be more kind”

Humans need to be more kind. Imagine a world where everyone says hello to each other. Opens the door, goes out of their way to help someone for no reason. I grew up in the South and worked in hospitality for 30 years. So, I pick up trash on the sidewalk and say hello to […]

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Humans need to be more kind. Imagine a world where everyone says hello to each other. Opens the door, goes out of their way to help someone for no reason. I grew up in the South and worked in hospitality for 30 years. So, I pick up trash on the sidewalk and say hello to strangers everywhere I go. Some think I am nuts, but it is who I am. When we help others, our own mental health improves. It makes you feel good and in turn the world becomes a kinder place. But, when we are all staring at our phones, putting up fake happy facades and ignoring each other, loneliness takes over. Humans need connection with others to feel loved, appreciated and valued.


As a part of our series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Deana Mitchell.

Deana Mitchell is an entrepreneur, mental health advocate and co-author.

She started her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 14.

Deana holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Louisiana State University and has enjoyed a three-decade career in the hospitality industry.

As the President of the newly formed company, Genius & Sanity, her mission is to help entrepreneurs and business owners to reach their potential and thrive. The focus is to find the balance in career success and whole self-health.

In March of 2020, Deana founded the Realize Foundation which is dedicated to creating awareness around mental health. Specifically, depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

In 1971, I was a year old. That year, my dad decided to go back to school. My mother started a nursery school so she would not have to leave me with someone else. I grew up in a loving supportive family.

In 1984 my dad and I built a snow cone stand (in Louisiana we call them snowballs!) which was my first business. During the summers in high school, it was my job and I learned entrepreneurship at a young age. I was active in dance, sports, and cheerleading but I never felt like I fit in.

During those years, my mom took me to speak with a counselor three different times, but I refused to talk to him.

I attended 3 colleges and got my degree in Architecture from LSU in 1995. It was these years that sleep became non-existent. I was working full time in restaurants while attending school full time.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

Genius & Sanity, my new venture, is addressing the fact that entrepreneurs are most likely to struggle with mental health. (58% diagnosed according to https://www.psyarticles.com/health/entrepreneurs.htm)

At the Realize Foundation, we are addressing the global issue of suicide. Awareness, education, conversation, and connection are the best tools we have in doing away with the stigma that keeps people silent and at risk.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

After my attempt, I was silent for 23 years. I worked my way up in the hospitality industry and never spoke of what I went through. I had grown accustomed to working 60–80 hours a week, traveling all the time and being away from my family. This had become the norm… always catering to everyone around me and never willing to take time for myself. Years of not knowing how to say no or having any boundaries in place to protect my own health.

For years I felt exhausted and never slept through the night. Successful events were more important than eating right. Making sure my team had time off and got paid were the highest priorities.

I had a successful career in the hospitality industry and climbed the ladder to the top of my field. I built a successful company and won many awards for our creativity and service to clients.

All came to a screeching halt in March of 2020 due to COVID. I found myself with no work to keep my mind occupied and no travel to keep me moving. I had to focus on something, or I was not OK.

Back in 2018 while working on a book project, I wrote out a timeline of my life. I skipped over 1997, but it made me start thinking about it. In August of 2019 I lost a friend to suicide, someone I had known for 20 years. I started asking myself if I could have made a difference in his life with my story. It was a possibility, and I could not go on without speaking up. I could not take the chance of that happening again.

Enter January 2020. It was my fiftieth birthday. I got a tattoo on my forearm that made clear my purpose in life and my commitment to save others from a similar path. God saved me that night in Arizona, there is no other explanation of why I am still here. These lyrics made me realize that…

“My brokenness brought me to you, and these wounds are a story you’ll use.

So I’m thankful for the scars, cause without them I wouldn’t know your heart.”

The words on my arm “Thankful for the Scars” remind me of this commitment every time I look down.

When the world came to a halt in March, I learned that work had been my coping mechanism since I was a teen. The fact that I always kept too busy to be alone with myself was not a mistake, it kept me sane. I thought the work was madness, but my mind was the problem.

Depression is a silent killer and masks itself in the form of exhaustion. It makes you think you are crazy; it makes you feel like you are not enough.

Once all business was wiped out for 2020, I had to focus on something. I could not sit around the house with my own thoughts all day. Once again, I threw myself into creating work. Starting a new business and a non-profit to help others with the same struggles.

So, COVID gave me the time to process my own journey. I learned how I can contribute to the new purpose in my life, suicide prevention.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

It was a combination of losing my friend in 2019 and COVID wiping out my event business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I was also named a Changemaker 2020 by MeetingsNet. Every year in June, this meetings industry publication names around 15 people that are making a difference.

(reference: https://www.meetingsnet.com/corporate-meetings-events/changemaker-shines-light-our-industry-s-mental-health-issues)

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

The two that nominated me for Changemaker 2020… Janie McCullough & Stay Daeffler. Janie is the founder of Destination Colorado and Stacy is the manager. Their support was immediate and unfailing. I served on the board for almost three years. It was an amazing experience with incredible people in the Colorado Hospitality industry. They were like family. Others in the hospitality industry reached out with support. It is a brutal industry when things are good, but COVID has not been kind to us. I plan to support my former colleagues more in the future. In addition, I would never be here without my husband and my family.

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?

People who have not experienced mental health struggles do not understand. Because of that, they do not want to say the wrong thing. I further believe that people who do struggle, are afraid of how they will appear. That they will be treated unfairly. Some even fear that they would lose their job.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

It comes down to awareness and education, we must make this a priority. The Realize Foundation has launched a campaign, the #SaveALifeChallenge. It is all about getting people around the globe to #HaveTheConversation. If every human could hear a personal story of suicide, and be aware of the statistics, we could change the world. Society must be open to understanding the details and the scope of what is happening in the world. Even more so since COVID. About the government, advocating for insurance companies to cover treatment and medications. Our brains are in our body, right? So why don’t we treat a broken mind like a broken bone? There are people who want help and cannot get it right now. We do not have the capacity and people cannot afford it.

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. Diet

I lost 45 pounds in 2019, I credit that to Optavia. I was working more, sleeping less and gaining weight. I was miserable and finally decided to do something about it. I started sleeping better and felt better in general.

2. Exercise

There was an Orange Theory Fitness that opened by my office and one of my employees encouraged me to join with her. I finally took her up on that and then I did two separate 8-week challenges and won 2nd place in one of them. It kept me accountable and in turn I got in better shape for the first time in years and was feeling great! Also, I live in Colorado and love the outdoors, it always makes my day when I can get outside in the mountains.

3. Journaling, Faith & Gratitude

Quiet time each day, prayer, understanding that Jesus died for my sins and that He saved me for a purpose. (more details in back story above). I write thoughts in my journal each day and that helps me process emotions better

4. Music

Music gives me hope, lets me be sad, or cheers me up. The story above about my tattoo “Thankful for the Scars” is about the Christian song “SCARS” by I Am They. It saved my live during a hard time with anxiety.

5. BrainTap

This is an app you can download on your phone and listen to at any time. There are meditations for sleep, waking up, motivation, stress, worry, focus and more.

6. Therapy/Hypnotherapy

After being silent for 23 years, talk therapy helped me start processing my past. Hypnotherapy has helped me remember details and make connections from my past.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

One of the first books I read when I started researching was Liv To Tell by Olivia Sain. I had so many parallels to her story and we had a couple of long heartfelt conversations that meant so much to me. Self Help Bookshelf Podcast interviewed me about the book. Another great podcast is The Hilarious World of Depression. An exceptional tool is a texting app called Cope Notes. They send you a text each day with a message that changes your mindset.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Humans need to be more kind. Imagine a world where everyone says hello to each other. Opens the door, goes out of their way to help someone for no reason. I grew up in the South and worked in hospitality for 30 years. So, I pick up trash on the sidewalk and say hello to strangers everywhere I go. Some think I am nuts, but it is who I am. When we help others, our own mental health improves. It makes you feel good and in turn the world becomes a kinder place. But, when we are all staring at our phones, putting up fake happy facades and ignoring each other, loneliness takes over. Humans need connection with others to feel loved, appreciated and valued.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/deanamitchell/

www.deanabrownmitchell.com (Genius & Sanity website)

www.realizefoundation.org (Realize Foundation website)

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

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