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Hannah Hart: It’s unacceptable that we look at people who are mentally ill and think, ‘They failed’

It’s unacceptable that we look at people who are mentally ill and think, ‘They failed.’ The truth is, our society has failed them. As a society, we’re underserving one of our most vulnerable populations, people living with mental illness, and I don’t want others to experience what my mother had to before she was able […]

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It’s unacceptable that we look at people who are mentally ill and think, ‘They failed.’ The truth is, our society has failed them. As a society, we’re underserving one of our most vulnerable populations, people living with mental illness, and I don’t want others to experience what my mother had to before she was able to get the right help for herself.


As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Hannah Hart.

With over 5 million followers, Hannah Hart is a successful internet personality, food enthusiast, and a two-time New York Times Bestselling author. Since creating a successful YouTube series, Hannah has co-produced and starred in multiple films, as well as hosted her own show on the Food Network, (I Hart Food). In 2018, Hart launched “Hannahlyze This,” the self-help podcast that just can’t help itself. Hart’s consistent authenticity in her content has established her as one of the most influential voices in the LGBTQ community, as well as gained her recognition as one of Hollywood Reporters New Digital Disrupters, and one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30. Amidst it all, Hannah has another, more important role as a caregiver for her mom who is living with schizophrenia. Now, she’s sharing her family’s experience living with mental illness to encourage other individuals living with schizophrenia — and their loved ones — to learn more about their treatment options. Hannah Hart is a paid spokesperson for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.


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?

My mom began showing signs of schizophrenia in her early 20s, which got worse around major life events: marriage, pregnancy, and divorce. Through no fault of her own, this created a childhood full of uncertainty for me. 
 
I remember when my mom was homeless — it was on my mind all day every day. That was really hard to stomach. Here I was entering into my 20s with the knowledge that one of the people that I love the most in the world was suffering in this incredible way, and there was nothing I could do about it because I’d been told that that was her choice.

My mom’s schizophrenia journey is the soil I was grown from — it had and continues to have a direct impact on my life.

You are currently representing an organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you are trying to address?
 
As a child who’s a caregiver to a parent, it can be pretty hard to tell when you need to ask for help or even where to go if you need help or who to ask for help. I spent my whole adult life searching for information and resources to help my mom, asking — “Is this really all I can do? Is this really all we can do?” That’s why I’ve partnered with Janssen — to share my story with others living with or affected by schizophrenia and highlight new resources to help them better understand the treatment options available.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
 
As I became an adult and was able to be more involved in my mom’s care, I found that I ran into a lot of walls, especially as a caregiver wanting to help provide care for a loved one. I feel silly even talking about how hard it is to navigate the mental healthcare system. I’m someone who’s fortunate enough to be educated, to have a successful career, and to have my own support network, yet I still felt there were so many doors closed to us. In my experience, there was no actionable plan — it was only reactive.
 
I remember all through my last years of college receiving just phone call after phone call, nonstop phone calls, back-to-back phone calls. It would fill up my voicemail box, and it would be anything from just hysterical sobbing to rage to hopelessness to “everything’s fine honey!” To see that my mom’s answers were in a different reality from ours was just really devastating. And how do you solve for that? How do you solve a problem that you can’t understand? 
 
By witnessing the years of hardship my mom experienced, I’ve realized that if the answers aren’t working, it’s because we’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

Regarding your mental health advocacy, 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 “a-ha moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
 
Looking back through the years, I have to accept and respect the efforts that I’ve put into this. Moreover, none of this would be possible if my mom hadn’t survived everything she’s been through. I am so grateful to her for her resilience — her staying alive long enough to get us to this point. I feel really lucky for that.
 
As a public figure and as someone who’s fortunate enough to have a platform, I feel like it’s my duty to share our story. If the universe has given us a chance to be a family again, why wouldn’t I want to tell other families how to get there?
 
Today, my mom is on a once-monthly injection — something I wish she had been told about much sooner. Once she was on the right treatment for her, we didn’t have to worry about her getting the medicine she needed every day. With the right treatment plan, my mom’s schizophrenia symptoms are controlled. She’s been more open with me about her life, including the struggles she faced and her fears.

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?
 
It’s not just “you” — it’s an entire system that needs to be reworked.For someone living with schizophrenia, sometimes they can’t always tell what the best decisions are to help maintain and support their mental health, especially with how severely mental illness is stigmatized in our society.

For people living with schizophrenia, they’re oftentimes abandoned by those closest to them, and to live through that takes an incredible strength. I think that a lot of families who struggle have this idea that keeping secrets keeps you safe, and what I’ve learned is the opposite. I’ve always felt that the more I share my story, the more I talk to other people about what I’m going through, the safer I feel, because there are so many people out there who are struggling in a similar way or who have struggled in a similar way.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness? 
 
As a caregiver, I found I would make more progress getting through to my mom when I stopped thinking of it as a “her” problem or like a “you” problem and more of like a “we” — how can we make this better?
 
It’s unacceptable that we look at people who are mentally ill and think, ‘They failed.’ The truth is, our society has failed them. As a society, we’re underserving one of our most vulnerable populations, people living with mental illness, and I don’t want others to experience what my mother had to before she was able to get the right help for herself.

I wish I had known where to start with my mom. I wish I knew what to ask, what resources, treatment options, and types of therapies were available. People living with schizophrenia, like my mom, should not have to wait years and suffer multiple relapses before learning about their treatment options, like once-monthly injections. For caregivers, there has to be a clearer path to access the resources available to help care for our loved ones.

What are your six strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  • Make sure you get enough time for yourself.
  • Make sure you have enough boundaries.
  • Learn what boundaries are and which ones you can uphold.
  • Make sure that you don’t lose yourself in the process of caring for another.
  • Therapy.
  • As a caregiver, it’s hard when you’re feeling frustrated or like your hands are tied to remember to stay compassionate, and above all, not only to stay compassionate with your loved one or for your loved one, but to also stay compassionate for yourself. It’s okay to get exhausted. It’s okay to hit capacity. It’s okay to know when you’re pushing yourself past your threshold, because that’s not going to do anybody any good, no matter how tempting it is.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion? 
 
You can visit oncemonthlydifference.com for more information about finding the right treatment plan for you or a loved one.

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?
 
I’ve done a lot of work from the neck up in terms of my own therapy and my own journey, but the veil being pulled back about so many systems, and the reality of the pandemic and how we have handled it, has really resurfaced the feeling in me of hopelessness. I think we all need to focus on surviving this the best that we can, and doing the most of what we can, and make that a priority.

How can our readers follow you online?
 

 Twitter: @Harto 
 YouTube: @MyHarto

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