Words are important. If you walk around saying you’re broke or that everything bad happens to you, then your brain will say okay, you are broke, okay, bad things happen to you. The brain translates in black and white and does not know if something is negative or positive. So on the flip side if you say, like I do, I have abundance, I am healthy, I am energetic, I am unstoppable, then my brain says okay you have abundance, you are healthy, you are energetic, you are unstoppable.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Kelli Hansen.
Kelli is a warrior for mental health and the Founder of BCC Evolution, a mental health and suicide awareness nonprofit. She has a bachelor’s in Communication, minor in Psychology, is an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Life Coach, Professional Speaker and Mental Health Educator. She is the mom to 3 amazing kids, a tattoo connoisseur and thrill seeing adventurer. She is on a mission to empower people to break their silence about their mental health challenge so that it does not rule their life. Doing this through education, awareness and connecting people to resources.
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?
I was born in Utah, the youngest of 5 girls, 2 from my mom’s side and 2 from my dad’s side. I was the only between my mom and my dad. My parents divorced when I was 4, we moved to Colorado with my mom and 2 sisters when I was 7 years old and I have been in CO ever since. My dad and my sisters on that side have lived in Utah their whole life. I was born and raised Mormon, but only practiced till I was about 12 years old due to moving to CO. But the main reason I made the choice to not be involved with the church was due to my mom being a lesbian and the church frowned upon that, so I didn’t want to be a part of something that didn’t accept my family fully. I am grateful for the lessons I learned like respect for your elders and a family foundation, however it just was not the religion for me, and I don’t know if I have really found the right one for me. I believe in a higher power, but I choose to practice spirituality as a whole being vs. institutionally. We were middle class, never rich by any means, however, never went without. I had a interesting childhood going back and forth from CO to Utah, but what I remember it was good for most all the parts and I know my parents did the best they could with the resources that they had. I got pregnant when I was 15 years old and had my daughter when I was 16 years old. Too bad the show 16 and pregnant was not a thing when I was growing up, I have a great story to share with the world. I placed my daughter for adoption because I knew that I was too young to take care of her, I chose an open adoption and picked out the most amazing parents for her. She has always been and is still in my life now 24 years later and her adopted parents are an extension of my family. I went through challenging times just like everyone else, but there are more good parts then bad parts, so I cannot complain.
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?
My nonprofit BCC Evolution is a mental health and suicide awareness nonprofit. Mental Health is the epidemic, suicide is the action that occurs from a mental challenge, including but not limited to, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse, which are all risk factors. Or past traumatic experiences like child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, rape, grief or loss, divorce, bullying, head trauma or any type of trauma throughout life can also be a huge factor. And we know there is not enough mental health facilities or providers to support the amount of people in need or suffering from a mental health challenge. This lack of resources is causing people to attempt or complete the act of suicide due to feelings of being alone or not having another option. Our future and our past are dying by their own hands and the stigma and silence that surrounds mental health needs to be eliminated.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I lost my middle sister on my mom’s side Carrie Lyn to a completed suicide on Feb 20, 2017. I knew that I could not sit around and do nothing, so I created and founded BCC Evolution so that another family didn’t have to go through what our family did. Through this journey I have learned so much about myself and gained so many skills around mental health that I never knew I would learn. It has been an incredible journey so far and I am so excited for what the future holds for the nonprofit and the amount of impact we can make on this thing we call life.
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?
Yes, there was a clear “Aha Moment” for me. The first year after my sister passed, I don’t know if I was actually living, I was just surviving and making myself busy because that is how I was coping with her loss. I thought I had to be strong for my family and I had a 2-year-old that had 2 episodes of seizures and he needed me to be strong. But what I found was that I was pushing everyone I loved away and shoving down my emotions. The pivotal moment was after I attended a 3-day event called “The Greatest Year of Your Life” (GYOYL) thinking that it was going to be super motivational, happy go lucky event, but what I experienced the first day was an NLP session that completely changed my whole trajectory. I was able, during this session, to forgive my sister for her taking her life and forgive myself for not being able to save her. This was the most powerful and emotional session I had ever experienced in my life and ever since that moment and a couple more NLP sessions around my son’s episodes of seizures, I was finally able to live, really truly live, not just survive.
This opened my mind enough to know that I wanted to make an impact on this thing we call life and since my sister suffered from pain with MS, several mental health challenges, was a CPR instructor and a care giver for a paraplegic, I knew I wanted to do something in the health space and something around mental health and suicide awareness. A nonprofit just made sense to me because I was working with another nonprofit that focused on adolescent risky behavior and the chocking game, but since my sister was an adult, I wanted to focus on the adult aspect also. I wrote starting the nonprofit down as a goal and shared it in front of the group at the mid-year retreat for GYOYL. I was challenged by my mentor George Carroll to make it a reality and that is what I did. I had already researched the cost, but never thought it would become reality because at that time the amount was well out of my financial means. However, I raised the necessary funds to get it up and running within 24 hours and filed the paperwork the same week. BCC Evolution was officially a 501c3 nonprofit on June 30, 2018.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
We had our 2nd annual MHSA Film Festival last year in May and had to move it virtually due to COVID closing down all the theatres, but it ended up being the most amazing thing that could have happened because we had 45 film entries from across the world which we narrowed down to 12. We hosted the film festival in my living room, but I can almost guarantee you would have never known besides the doorbell ringing at one point. But the coolest part was we were able to bring on the film makers and crew via Zoom for a Live Q&A from Nederland, Ireland, Malaysia, Vietnam, Canada and across the U.S. We officially became an international film festival which was so exciting. This year we are so excited for the 3rd annual coming up on May 22nd and being able to do a combination of virtual and very exclusive VIP in-person behind the scenes film festival.
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?
I have had several mentors throughout this journey, my main mentor from the beginning is George Carroll, the creator of Greatest Year of Your Life event, he challenged me to make my goal of creating BCC Evolution into a reality. He has been one of my biggest supporters over the years and I am so grateful for his support and making me break through my fears and step outside my comfort zone. He has been a constant donor to support the cause, which is incredible. Through his event I have met so many brilliant, like-minded individuals that have been avid supporters and have led to many great collaborations. I joined the Transformation Academy with GYOYL 3 years ago and all the people in this group have been so supportive and have become family. I found that when you surround yourself with greatness, you become greatness when you put in the work.
I cannot forget about my partner in life and my whole family, they have been constant supporters and without their love and support I probably would have given up when there was no movement when I first started the nonprofit. I now also have an incredible board of directors that allow me to be the visionary, but also bring me back to reality so that we can execute on our goals and continue our mission. There are so many people a long the way that I have been blessed to have met, have become my family of friends, and supported me through this amazing journey. I know for sure it really does take a village and we cannot be successful by ourselves.
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?
There is such a stigma around mental health, and I believe it is because we are so conditioned to not talk about our feelings. As a child, some children are told to stop crying or phrases are used like “suck it up”, “don’t be so dramatic”, “be a man”, “get over it”, “don’t be such a girl”, etc. and phrases like this condition us to not want to cry in front of people or cry at all or we learn over time that it is not okay to show emotions due to feelings of being judged. Our brains are specifically designed to protect us from pain and steer us towards pleasure. The feeling of being judged is not pleasurable. Therefore, our brains protect us from feeling this judgement.
Also, back in the day it was not okay to be “weird” or “different”, people were put in insane asylums for not being “normal” and I really believe that has bled into our society, even now. I know several people that their parents to this day don’t talk about issues, challenges, or emotions. So, we learn how to shove our emotions down and not acknowledge what we are going through.
The flip side is we have labeled people by their mental health challenge instead of seeing them as a person first. Their condition does not define them, they may struggle from their mental health challenge or they might live with it just fine. We assume that everyone struggles, and it makes people not want to talk about their challenge due to the feeling of being judged, as I said above. We talk a lot in the mental health world about person first language. For example, when talking about someone most people would say “she is OCD” instead of “she experiences or lives with OCD” or “he is bi-polar” instead of “he has or lives with bi-polar”. Also, you may have noticed when I talk about my sister I said she “completed” suicide, she did not “commit” suicide, committed has such a sigma as related to a crime and the person who completed this act did not commit any crimes, so we are changing the verbiage to “completed” or “died by” suicide. Changing our verbiage around how we talk about mental health is the first step to start taking away the negativity and stigma that surrounds mental health. Opening our hearts, minds and mouths will help start to break down the walls of this stigma.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Overall, we need more education, more communication, and more compassion. Education needs to start early with youth. Youth these days have so much access to technology that they need to learn at a young age what mental health is, why it is important and what we should and should not say to our friends. Also, how to express their feeling in a positive way. Schools are overpopulated and teachers are underpaid, and they are the people that help shape and support our children. Why the government and as a society and we do not focus on our schools more, blows my mind. Schools need to have the funds to massively step up their mental health education and resources. Suicide is at the highest rate and is the 2nd leading cause of death in ages 10–34 and it is getting younger and younger.
Also as a society I believe there is more of an awareness and conversation about mental health that is starting which is great, but just talking about it will not make the necessary changes that our society needs, we need people to really truly understand how to help instead of potentially hurting. That is why my organization is currently in the process of writing a curriculum that is trauma centered and really gets into the nitty gritty of the brain, trauma and how to actually help someone when dealing with a mental health challenge.
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?
- Find something that lights you up. For example: I love baby Yoda; he makes me happy when I see him, so I have a whole bunch of baby Yoda things in my house. Other examples are doing extreme sports, for me I like riding dirt bikes and going skydiving. Some more examples might be a group of friends, your family, or a religion. Anything that makes you happy, which leads me into to #2.
- Find a way to release your brains “happy juices” which are serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. For me doing random acts of kindness for strangers makes my “happy juices” flow. Volunteering has been proven to help make people happy, you are helping someone else and helping yourself at the same time. Other things could be exercise, meditation, or simply just smiling.
- Practice gratitude. You cannot be grateful and depressed or sad at the same time. It is not mentally possible. Therefore, I find at least one thing per day to be grateful for, I am grateful for my family, the roof over my head, my kids sleeping safe in their beds and even the toothbrush that I use daily. Picking even the smallest thing can start to change your brain.
- Write out a safety plan for yourself. If you experience severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, writing out a safety plan for yourself may be lifesaving. I think about a triangle, since it is the strongest shape, so a safety plan would include picking 3 people that you know would have your back no matter the day or time. Pick 3 places that you love that make you smile; for me it is by a beach listening to the sound of the ocean. Pick 3 resources that you already know that you have inside yourself. My example is this list of strategies that I know I can use.
- Practice what you preach. For me this is the hardest since I live in the mental health world and want to help everyone else, but I have to make sure that I can step away from my desk when working from home and get out of the house
- Words are important. If you walk around saying you’re broke or that everything bad happens to you, then your brain will say okay, you are broke, okay, bad things happen to you. The brain translates in black and white and does not know if something is negative or positive. So on the flip side if you say, like I do, I have abundance, I am healthy, I am energetic, I am unstoppable, then my brain says okay you have abundance, you are healthy, you are energetic, you are unstoppable.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I love audibles, the most impactful one for me was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Also, I really like Becoming Supernatural, by Joe Dispenza and The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins.
Anything Tony Robbins, he is truly a legend and I hope that one day I can meet him because he has been so inspirational and impactful for me on my journey through the loss of my sister. I have taken several of his workshops, was able to attend UPW virtual last year and many of the masterminds he has done throughout the years. His priming technique is one that I reference in my keynote speech because it is a perfect tool for mental health.
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?
When you know you are doing good for others, it makes you feel good too. It is such an incredible feeling to be a part of a community. You never know what is going on in someone else’s life, but sometimes that is not the important part. Sometimes the important part is just being there and that person knowing that you care when maybe they feel like no one else does. Being alone is not how humans are designed and no one really truly wants to be alone. So being a part of a community that really truly wants the best for others is what life is truly about. We are all humans living on this planet and we all deserve love, kindness, and compassion. The feeling you get when you can make an impact on another human is more than anything I can explain. When I see a huge smile come across someone’s face that I was able to help at that moment, that is when all the hard work just makes sense. Some people are helpers and are drawn to this kind of work. I personally know and have always known that I want to make an impact on this thing we call life, I just did not know how and I unfortunately had to go through grief and loss to really figure that out. My best advice is do it now, you have nothing to lose, you can only gain from making a positive impact.
How can our readers follow you online?
They can visit our website at: www.bccevolution.org
Or Like our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/bccevolution
Or Follow us on Instagram at: www.Instagram.com/bccevolution
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!