Community//

“Tell your story.” With Beau Henderson & Lori Maney Lentini

As the old saying goes — it takes a village to raise a child. Local communities can empower the organizations, committees and groups already active within their towns and cities. Local mental health organizations and professional groups already exist in many of our communities, but lack resources and recognition. Find these organizations in your community […]

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As the old saying goes — it takes a village to raise a child. Local communities can empower the organizations, committees and groups already active within their towns and cities. Local mental health organizations and professional groups already exist in many of our communities, but lack resources and recognition. Find these organizations in your community and support them in any way you can, whether that be financially, through volunteering, or by spreading their messages to your family, friends, colleagues, and social media followers.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Maney Lentini.

Lori Maney Lentini, M.S. is a respected mental health advocate with a social media presence who lives with an anxiety disorder (a peer) and works as a Senior Vice President of Access: Supports For Living , a large not-for-profit agency in New York serving over 14,000 people a year with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse disorders. Her experience in the mental health field as an executive, patient, and parent of grown children with mental health issues culminate together into a richly honest and authentic voice with universal appeal. These experiences are the foundation on which she delivers a message of hope, understanding, and real-life strategies for coping with stress and anxiety. Her end game is to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness in her lifetime. In her just released book, Anxiety Insights: What Gets to Us and What Gets Us Through (May 24, 2020; Little Pink Press; paperback $14.95) Lori offers a better understanding of anxiety issues, connection with others who suffer, coping strategies, and most of all hope.


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

Iwas born and raised in upstate New York where I still live today. My mom babysat kids at the house and my dad was a junior high school science teacher. We lived on a horse farm and helped my father run the farm and a tack shop he operated out of our garage. Dad bought and sold horses and supplied them to summer camps in the area. In the 1970’s we had over 40 horses at a time to care for and feed. I have one older sister and we had hours of chores each day around the farm, including animal care, mowing the lawn and field, planting and maintaining a garden and canning food for the winter. As kids we worked hard and struggled financially so we grew much of our own food. It was a lot of work, but fun too. We got to ride horses all the time, had sleepovers with friends in the loft of the barn, competed in horse shows and barrel racing competitions, joined 4-H clubs, Brownies and Girl Scouts, went to square dances and rodeos on weekends. Life was pretty simple. Mom left my dad and us when I was 14 and then we also took care of the house and cooked (if you call it that). My childhood, although I couldn’t see it at the time, gave me gifts that I treasure today — a strong work ethic, an appreciation for what I have, resiliency, a love of reading and just plain old true grit and strength to draw on when life gets hard.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love to read so it is a challenge to narrow this one down, so I will go with a very recent choice: Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottlieb. This book delves into mental health from both the clinical and personal side. I connected with her message which to me is we are all human and struggle, and it is ok.

Mental health is a normal aspect of overall health and we all have redeeming qualities although sometimes we hide them under our pain and trauma. In addition, this book actually changed my son’s life. He read it and recommended I read it. He has struggled with anxiety and depression his entire life but didn’t believe therapy would help. After reading this book, he found a therapist and tried it. He was shocked to find that he really likes her and she helps him a great deal. So much, in fact, that just this month he declined his offer to go to medical school at Northwestern to become a physical therapist and instead enrolled in a master’s degree program for Social Work. We both would love to meet Lori Gottlieb one day.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

One of my favorites is from Iyanla Vanzant — “You have a right to your thoughts and feelings. Your feelings are always valid.” It is simple but powerful. In my life as a parent, this was the foundation for how I raised my children with mental health issues. Somehow, I figured out early on that the last thing they needed when they were emotional, angry or having a panic attack was to have what they were feeling be marginalized or discounted, or worse yet to be made to feel like something was wrong with them or what they were feeling or experiencing. I credit this approach and life lesson for our strong relationship today and for their understanding that having a mental illness does not make you in any way less than or inferior to anyone.

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

Leadership is important in all aspects of life, not just business. You can be a leader in your family or for a cause or volunteer activity. Being a leader to me is helping people discover their passion and then supporting them to go accomplish it in their own individual way. For me, this mostly happens when you are present, truly listen and want to understand what makes the other person want to get out of bed in the morning. Once you have that understanding, I give people in my life the advice to just go until someone tells you to stop. Do not wait for permission or approval from others. Do your thing. It could change the world or at least your life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?

The crisis I would like to focus on is the silent one that affects and runs through so many of our current issues — mental health. The fear and isolation of the Coronavirus has brought anxiety around the world to an all-time high as it isolated people, changed their routines, created concern for our loved ones in the medical field, forced some us to figure out how to work from home, took away millions of our jobs and financial security, threatened and closed our small businesses, stopped us from seeing our friends and relatives in nursing homes and hospitals before they died and then told us it was illegal to have a funeral to say a final goodbye to our loved ones. Mental health resonates with me because I have felt personally and professionally the profound impact it has on all of us and I know we don’t have to suffer in silence — we all have mental health and it is time we start to accept it, talk about it and treat it.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Anxiety had already been on the rise for years in the United States and around the world as the worldwide pandemic of 2020 hit. But this took it to a whole new level. Fear became the new normal and not just for people who already knew, acknowledged or were being treated for anxiety or depression, but for us all. It brought worry into each of our lives and houses. We were obsessed with how to protect our children, elderly parents, family with chronic health issues and ourselves. It seemed to become all anyone was talking about or focused on. The World Health Organization confirmed the Coronavirus crisis is increasing stress and recommended to avoid watching and reading the news. If you were already dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or just about any emotional issues, this was the one last hit to knock you off your feet. Because of the stigma of having mental health issues, over half of the people who need help do not get it (SAMHSA). Without treatment, like any other health condition — it gets worse.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?

I am a parent, professional and patient who deals with anxiety. As a mother, I have raised two children with serious anxiety and depression issues. As a professional, I have worked for almost 30 years in the field of mental health and advocated for eliminating the stigma. As a person, I have gone to counseling and am on anxiety medication. I have both worked on and personally experienced working towards mitigating the stigma surrounding mental health. I guess the best way to express this is to share a little about my family. My children and I struggled through their early, teenage and college years as they fought anxiety and depression. I knew about some of their struggles; but some I did not. At first, we didn’t know we needed help, then we couldn’t find the right help, then I learned my son needed help — then we found help. It was all harder and lonelier than it ever needed to be and I want to change that for others. I am proud that both of my children as adults have been inspired to follow in my footsteps and work in the mental health field. My daughter, who struggled and still does, this did not stop her from becoming a psychiatrist and my son who just started going to counseling has chosen to go to social work school for his master’s. I guess you could say we are all in the family business — the mental health business.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Step One: Heal thyself. To heal our country we have to heal ourselves. This starts with understanding the real impact on our lives and health of stress and emotional distress. If each of us is going to make a positive impact on our family, friends and community, we have to be healthy. We have to be resilient. Self-care is essential. Annual physical check-ups are essential. Mental health treatment is essential. It is the concept we are told when flying in an airplane — put your oxygen mask on first so you are able to help others.
  2. Step Two: Tell your story. It takes courage but it is worth it. When I talk with people about their experience in living with a mental health issue, the one thing I always hear is — I thought I was alone. You are not alone. If you love someone with a mental illness, they are not alone. The only way we can normalize mental health is to share our experiences, advice and coping strategies with each other. One in four people in the world will experience a mental health issue in their lives. So if there are four of us in a room or a family, chances are, whether you know it or not, at least one of us is struggling, so let’s open up and help each other. Silence kills. Suicide happens.
  3. Step Three: Advocate for funding and access. Funding for mental health cures and treatments are not adequate, especially when you consider how many people are impacted compared to other medical conditions. Consider being vocal with our local, state and national elected officials about the need. Call them. Write them a letter. Support funding bills. Consider joining mental health advocacy groups, like MHA. Fair and affordable access is a significant barrier to treatment especially in underserved populations and areas. Health care, including mental healthcare, must be made available to all who need it. Teletherapy is helping with access but more advocacy is needed.
  4. Step Four: Train our educators, professors and caregivers. Train our first responders. Let’s support activities and budget enhancements to provide training days, resources and certifications to our teachers and professors in our school and college systems along with our direct care and elderly care support workers. Training like Mental Health First Aid can help us save lives. Let’s host virtual and in-person discussions about how to support children and adults with stress and anxiety and mental health issues in these critical roles and professions. I would love to host some of these. Become a trainer. Get trained. Let’s train those helping and teaching others to be more aware and prepared to help.
  5. Five: Don’t accept the stigma in the media and or in our everyday language. This is something we all can easily do. Don’t go see movies that portray people with mental illness through a negative lens. Don’t use words like crazy, insane, deranged or nuts. The language we use makes a difference.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?

As the old saying goes — it takes a village to raise a child. Local communities can empower the organizations, committees and groups already active within their towns and cities. Local mental health organizations and professional groups already exist in many of our communities, but lack resources and recognition. Find these organizations in your community and support them in any way you can, whether that be financially, through volunteering, or by spreading their messages to your family, friends, colleagues, and social media followers.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Yes, I am optimistic we can improve awareness, access to treatment and decrease the stigma of living with a mental health illness. In just my lifetime, I have seen positive changes. Younger generation are more open and willing to talk about their mental health. Famous actors, actresses and athletes are now talking about their struggles. Just this week I saw a program where Michael Phelps shared his struggle with depression. Over the past few decades psychiatric centers have been downsized and programs with funding have allowed more people to move into community settings with supports, new medications have been introduced, and today in the news you hear reports not just on the physical effects of the Coronavirus, but also the stress and mental health effects. This is progress. I know it can continue. It must continue.

If you could tell other young 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 would tell them if they want to make a difference, have a voice, and the most impactful way to do it is to be a role model and an advocate. Take care of your health, both physical and mental. Talk about your experiences. Listen to others and what they have gone through and need. Help those who can’t help themselves. It will make your life better and in the process make others’ lives better. If you do it with consistency and passion you will look back one day and be proud and amazed at the impact you have had on the world. Change happens one person at a time. It can start with you. You can start today.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂 I would say Chrissy Teigan. She has a sense of humor, says what’s on her mind, seems genuine, is an author, likes to read, values family and has a strong social media following. I think I could learn a great deal from her and it would be fun.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is lorimaneylentini.com. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram (@anxietyinsights).

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

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