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Shine The Light Founder Eli Brown: “Why we need to take mental health history into consideration in the justice system”

…Take mental health history into consideration in the justice system. When people are convicted of a crime, I wish police officers and judges looked at how potential mental illness and/or drug addiction played a role in the criminal act. Many people who struggle with mental illness are convicted of a crime and sometimes that crime […]

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…Take mental health history into consideration in the justice system. When people are convicted of a crime, I wish police officers and judges looked at how potential mental illness and/or drug addiction played a role in the criminal act. Many people who struggle with mental illness are convicted of a crime and sometimes that crime happens because of mental illness. Our criminal code is based on the assumption that people are rational and their perceptions of the world are completely accurate. But, often times that is not the case. In many cases, the criminal justice system can be a trap for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses are more likely to get into the system, have a hard time navigating it and trouble getting out of it.


I had the pleasure of interviewing: Eli Brown. After struggling with his own mental health and addiction issues, in 2016 Eli Brown founded Shine The Light On, a clothing company designed to bring awareness and a voice to those struggling with mental illness. At just twenty-two years old, he founded STLO with one goal in mind: to shift the paradigm and redirect the conversation from reducing stigma to acceptance. The powerful, signature t-shirt designs with simple but positive messages such as “Normal Is Boring” debuted in just seven stores across Canada, but can now be found online and in 500 stores across Canada and the US.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From the outside, my life looked perfect. I was in college, playing tennis in the NCAA, surrounded by friends, coaches, and peers. I’d checked all the right boxes and yet I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I knew something was wrong, but I stayed silent. For years I struggled alone. I was sure that no one would understand. I lived in a perpetual state of fear; fear of judgment, fear of alienation and fear that I was permanently damaged. I thought asking for help would make me seem weak, but it was only through reaching out that I began to recover. My struggles were a part of me, but they didn’t defy me. I realized that recovery was possible and that through a willingness to be vulnerable there was a way through. Today, I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. I’m living life in a way I never thought possible. Having come through the other side I feel compelled to carry the message forward. I want to end the shame and stigma that causes people to suffer in silence. It’s my hope that through advocacy, education, and outreach we can start a conversation, create a platform and ultimately shine a light on mental health.

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

Although only a short five years ago I was hopeless and suicidal, today I find myself an advocate for mental health awareness, an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, and philanthropist, among other things. I have even been featured in outlets such as “O”, The Oprah Magazine and ET Canada and was recently nominated for a 2018 CAFA Fashion Impact Award.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

By far the funniest mistake I made while I was starting was when I thought I was emailing my Aunt Barbara, but I accidentally sent the email to the head of sales of Canada’s largest department store (her name also Barbara). I was trying to email my Aunt a recent feature I had in a magazine. My whole family was cc’d to the email and everyone kept ‘replying all.’ They were all saying nice things but was not the best email chain for the head of sales to be on. I learned to always double check my work and triple check before I click send on an email.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Shine The Light On takes a percentage of proceeds and donates it to a variety of non-profit organizations around the world. All the non-profit organizations that we work with provide educational programs and tools to help youth who struggle with mental health. As we are always looking to expand our social giving, we are now working with the City Of Toronto to build affordable housing for youth impacted by mental health and addiction. The goal is to provide struggling youth with an opportunity to get their lives back on track with affordable rental units and quicker access to health care.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

Selena Gomez has made a tremendous impact on mental health. She has been very open in her own struggles with mental health and has created a platform for many people to share their story. Selena also produced a great Netflix documentary that raised a lot of awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

– Take mental health history into consideration in the justice system. When people are convicted of a crime, I wish police officers and judges looked at how potential mental illness and/or drug addiction played a role in the criminal act. Many people who struggle with mental illness are convicted of a crime and sometimes that crime happens because of mental illness. Our criminal code is based on the assumption that people are rational and their perceptions of the world are completely accurate. But, often times that is not the case. In many cases, the criminal justice system can be a trap for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses are more likely to get into the system, have a hard time navigating it and trouble getting out of it.

– Provide more services in school to help youth deal with mental health difficulties. I have found that many schools (middle-school, high-school, university and post-graduate schools) do not have enough if any resources for their students to access if they are struggling with their mental health. I have heard from many different students at a variety of schools than when they try to speak with counseling about it, they often suggest “those are typical feelings of a student and you just need to destress” It would be amazing if proper mental health care was available to students at any school or university.

– Educate employers on how they can help employees who have a mental health history. Many people who have a mental illness doubt their abilities and sometimes appear less confident. A person may have a tough time concentrating on projects or executing on tough decisions. I would love to see workplaces offering support to impacted employees by helping them through their struggles rather than judging them. Team projects have been found to help struggling individuals find their voice in a group and become contributing members of the workplace. I also think employers should have resources for all employees to access if they are struggling with their mental health.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Through vision, motivation, empathy, creativity, thoroughness, managing, team building, and taking risks. True leadership seeks continuous improvement. Leaders have the ability to turn the people in their teams into stars, people who have improved and developed their skills through the influence of their leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

1) Start small and grow slowly. This is one of the most important lessons I learned. When I first started, I wanted to expand across the country within the first 90 days of launching. I saw what my competition was doing, and it pushed me to expand quicker than I should of. I was eager to create a massive movement and brand, but it almost broke our organization up. Orders were flying in quicker than we could ship out. Quality in the product started to dip and it was difficult to manage cash flow. Luckily my mentor guided me to pull back, slowly grow and expand when we had the resources and right opportunities.

2) Stay lean. When I first started, I was eager to expand our product line and on our business plan. I spent countless hours and finances on developing new product rather than sticking with the basics and growing it out. My business plan would change constantly, and I was jumping on almost every opportunity that came up. I would sit there 90–120 days later, be exhausted from all the work but was seeing very little results. When I zoned in and focused on one thing, one part of my business plan and one mission, the business grew!

3) Believe in your vision. Starting out, there is no shortage of people providing advice and suggestions. I would listen to almost all of it and it would take me in a million directions. I was spinning my wheels and not a single goal was completed as I was focused on too many visions. When I stuck with my vision and believed in it, I started to execute our strategic plan more efficiently and quickly.

4) Hire the right people to do the things you can’t. In the beginning, I tried to do everything. From marketing, PR, graphic design, production, bookkeeping, etc. I do not have the skill set to do many of those things but felt compelled to do them. When I started to hire the right people for each job I saw that everything was getting done faster and better.

5) Find partners who think differently than you do. It is common for people to try to find partners that they get along with on every level. I found this to be very challenging as we had many of the same thoughts. It made it easier to get along with them but our strategic plans were too similar. When I started to introduce new partners who thought differently it allowed us to challenge the way we thought and look at things through different lenses.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I aspire to end the suffering for all of those suffering from mental health and addiction difficulties. For many years I struggled in silence and I know how difficult it was to turn my life around. I was fortunate enough to have a strong support system around me who helped me get my life back together, but many people are not as fortunate. My goal is to create a community and a global movement that provides emotional and financial support to those struggling with mental health and addiction.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If the deed is noble then your commitment and pursuit of it should not be dependent on whether or not you achieve it,” I say this to myself almost every day as my goal to create a global movement of social change is an ambitious one and it sometimes feels unobtainable. At times I have been discouraged to continue butI constantly tell myself to that if I push forwards change will eventually happen.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have a private meal with Tony Robbins. He is such an inspiration and a powerful speaker. Having to spend time with him would be life-changing as he is able to create tremendous personal growth within people that he meets. I watch all of his public speaking events and read all of his books and articles. Every time I hear him speak or read his work, I am blown away with what he says and the impact it has on me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@shinethelighton

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