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“Why you should keep a gratitude journal.” With Beau Henderson & Eric Coly

One my mother’s favorite says was: “When the gods start clapping, you better start dancing!”The sentiment here is that whatever success and opportunity you’ve garnered in your life is not solely based on your own effort, faculties, motivation etc. The Gods/Universe participated ‘quietly’ in making that a possibility by clapping for you, then you got […]

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One my mother’s favorite says was: “When the gods start clapping, you better start dancing!”

The sentiment here is that whatever success and opportunity you’ve garnered in your life is not solely based on your own effort, faculties, motivation etc. The Gods/Universe participated ‘quietly’ in making that a possibility by clapping for you, then you got up and started dancing.

It is always your turn to clap for someone else so they can dance to your beat — Pay it forward!!


Asa part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Eric Coly.

Eric Coly is a mental health advocate and the founder and CEO of Ayana, a technology company that offers access to therapy by enabling virtual communication between marginalized communities and licensed therapists who share their cultural traits, identities and experiences. Prior to Ayana, Eric served as founder and CEO of Le Dessein, a socially responsible fashion line created to educate underprivileged girls in West Africa through art. Eric has held senior positions in investment banking and private advisory at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. Eric attended the UCLA Anderson School of Management. He was raised in his native country of Senegal and is fluent in French and English. He lives in Los Angeles.


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 Senegal (West Africa), and moved to the US to go to college. I had a great childhood

I am the second of 4 children. Senegal is the westernmost country in Africa, and in addition to having been colonized by France, it was always been a landing place for many people first arriving to Africa, due to its location. As a result, we’ve been able to benefit from a rich tapestry of many cultures. These translated into being exposed to many types of food, sounds and languages.

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?

Ayana is a telehealth platform that matches minorities and marginalized communities with an emphasis on intersectionality, and licensed therapists based on gender, race, ethnicity and religion. It allows for flexible, convenient and anonymous online communication (text, call, video call) and addresses barriers to care such as transportation issues and mobility challenges.

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

Ayana was built because I wanted to help a dear friend of mine have access to counseling, As an African American woman, she had long expressed that she could not find a Black woman therapist she felt comfortable with and ideal enough to hire.

In tandem with that, while developing the product, issues of depression and anxiety that I had dealt with for over a decade started to heal somehow — which further propelled the passion for this mission.

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?

For me, the “Aha moment” appeared a bit differently. It was how debilitating my issues of depression had been and how much they ‘cost’ me. There was an inherent immense level of motivation behind the building of this product whose purpose (I might have been thinking) would have healed the old me. My “Aha” moment is not an idle, impromptu and unexpected moment, but rather a continuous one that I keep on drawing from. “Find Your Passion”

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

I’d say it’s been the ability to attract some wonderful and great talent I am humbled we’ve been able to bring along!

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?

It takes a village indeed. For me, I believe it was the very person that inspired the building of our product. She too, I learned did have some difficult moments in her life. But it was her constant support and also the grace with which she faced her own challenges, while still keeping her eye on the ball, that I found to be quite empowering and inspiring.

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?

Stigma in the US can be traced back to US’ history; which if you dig a little deeper could be (among a number of other things) be attributed to religion, traditions, social constructs.

Religion: Mental health challenges are issues that were hard to explain back in the day. It was easier to associate one’s public debilitating mental health issues with ‘evil’ forces, than make room for empathy, but as equally important, it also fortified the beliefs that the forces of ‘good’ could always and still be deified and seen as victors.

Traditions: Someone attached to the point above, a lot of traditions grew out of religious beliefs and became deeply cemented throughout society. They are natural extensions of a set of religious beliefs. They became part of how we came to governments and states were built, where certain topics were still being seen as taboo.

Social constructs: “The model minority myth is considered a “positive stereotype” — or a stereotype that generalizes a group with seemingly desirable attributes. The model minority stereotype includes ascribing Asian Americans intelligence, diligence, and law-abidingness. Some examples of this stereotype are the portrayals of Asians as mathematical geniuses, musical prodigies, and hardworking immigrants who have achieved the “American Dream.” Consistently, white American college students presented with photographed faces of eight Asian Americans rated the Asian Americans as significantly more intelligent than the photographed faces of Hispanic and white Americans and more conscientious than white Americans.3

The model minority myth places high expectations on Asian Americans, leading to feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, psychological problems, and suicidality.8 Compounding these negative effects on mental health, the model minority stereotype may also discourage Asian Americans from seeking help. Asian Americans are less likely to seek mental health services and are more likely to present with greater severity of symptoms when they do seek services, compared to white Americans.”

The overarching sentiment linking all the above is shame — it is the wall between that stands between the sad state of affairs and our inability

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

They are indeed all intertwined, although It should start with the government. They have the power and influence to set the tone, politically and culturally, and to create societal shifts.

That then trickles down to society, then individuals. Take Finland, Sweden or Norway for instance, their entire societies are permeated with a belief the health of their citizens is primordial — in that, dwells mental health. One you invest in, you nurture and give attention to, by for instance spending on ad campaigns of education/de-stigmatization, etc.

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. Meditation — Everyone can do this if you start small. I started by staying quiet in my room for 1 minute every morning, then 3, then 5.
  2. Yoga — Yoga is a practice I which I had started a lot earlier, and one I hope we can introduce to every child in school.
  3. Reading — This practice I also caught on a tad later In my life despite my mother’s pleadings.
  4. Time with friends and or boundaries — Boundaries is to me as important a tool to employ in your life as the human connections we yearn with our friends and families.
  5. Gratitude journal — 3 thoughts every day. It is a very underestimated tool that has had a profound impact in my life.
  6. Exercise — I need to get back to this ☺

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

Podcast: “The hilarious world of depression”

Books: 1. “(Don’t) call me crazy” 2. “Get out of your own way”

Resources: We’ve gathered some of the top mental health resources on our website: https://www.ayanatherapy.com/resources

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?

One my mother’s favorite says was: “When the gods start clapping, you better start dancing!”

The sentiment here is that whatever success and opportunity you’ve garnered in your life is not solely based on your own effort, faculties, motivation etc. The Gods/Universe participated ‘quietly’ in making that a possibility by clapping for you, then you got up and started dancing.

It is always your turn to clap for someone else so they can dance to your beat — Pay it forward!!

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.instagram.com/ericcoly/

https://www.facebook.com/eric.coly.754

https://www.linkedin.com/in/eric-coly-8a347613/

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

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