Dave Leon, the co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Painted Brain, is a licensed clinical social worker who is open about living with depression.
He thinks that as someone who has experience with mental illness, he brings humility to his work as a therapist.
“Someone who hasn’t struggled … and just enters into our field as a clinical professional might literally think they’re sane and everyone else is not,” he said. “And so they’re just trying to help everyone be more like them.”
Leon said that generally he’d rather change the environment around his patients than change his patients.
“What I’ve seen, especially with my own experience with depression — and with people with anxiety, people with personality disorders — is that a lot of it is a very realistic reaction to the crazy, insane contradictions that we’re expected to make to live in this world,” he said.
Studies have shown that the pandemic elevated adverse mental health conditions for many Americans. According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about four in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, compared with one in 10 in early 2019. A study from the JAMA Network reports that one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms.
The idea that having mental health struggles could be a logical response to trauma is easier for many to understand after a global pandemic. Leon said in some ways, peers — people with lived experience with mental illness and recovery — had an advantage when COVID-19 hit and everyone was suddenly isolated.
“They have to face something about themselves that is hard to face, hard to sit with and makes them an ‘other’ in some ways,” he said. “And having to go through that is transformative. It forces people to grow up and be more aware of what they need and who they are in the world.”
What can we learn from people who have experience managing difficult mental health challenges?
To explore this question, first, we learn about the peer-run organization Painted Brain and how their founders were able to find inspiration from their diagnoses. Then we dig deeper into peer support and the importance of creating community, especially among people struggling with mental health who often feel …….