Ep 29: Ian Adair: Being Stronger Than Stigma

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Erica is joined by Ian Adair to discuss the stigma that surrounds mental illness and the role that marketing plays in perpetuating that stigma. They talk about the transition between negative to positive framing of mental health messaging, othering in marketing, and why it is important for leadership styles to change surrounding mental health in the workplace.

*Trigger Warning* This episode contains discussion mental illness, suicide, and sexual abuse. If you are worried about your mental health, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart and Ian Adair on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


people, mental illness, mental health, stigma, wellness, story, organizations, marketing, leaders, addiction, statistics, conversation, shifting

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:31

Well, hello there, welcome to this episode of the Marketing for Good podcast. This episode, for some may feel heavy, like something you kind of want to just like skip past, because it is about mental wellness, mental health and mental illness. We’re going to talk about the terminology as always, it also is very specifically about the stigma that surrounds mental illness when we use that term and the role that marketing plays in perpetuating that stigma. This show about marketing for good, this is an example of marketing for bad, marketing being naughty marketing, perpetuating things that don’t serve us and that we don’t want in society, right? We don’t want this stigma doesn’t serve anybody. So is it heavy? Yeah, it gets a little heavy. And there, our guest is he is so captivating. He’s such an advocate for getting over the stigma. He just wrote a beautiful book called Stronger Than Stigma, which we’ll talk much more about in this episode. The episode closes with this poem that even thinking about it gives me chills. So it is yes, it’s heavy. But also, I found my conversation super inspiring. I want to give a little more context to this conversation, just so we’re kind of all on the on the same page as a word. In her book, The Naked Mind, Annie Grace says survival deserves a medal, not a stigma. Survival deserves a medal, not a stigma. Now Annie Grace is talking about surviving from alcohol dependency and so much of what’s in her book is applicable very widely, including to this conversation about mental illness. I mean, it’s really, it’s really quite interesting, the statistic we hear often is that one in five US adults, American adults, at some point in a year long period are going to have some sort of mental disorder or episode or something. Annie’s beautiful point is that citing that statistic perpetuates the othering of this, and it is in the othering of mental illness, that we give power to the stigma instead, Ann says, Hey, listen, five out of five of us, that’s all of us, all of us in some form, or fashion, whether it’s because we are dealing with the mental health challenge, or someone we know and love is, five out of five of us are dealing with this because it’s so pervasive. So if this is a five out of five thing, how do we allow the othering and the stigma to continue and marketing, you know, definitely plays a role in this. So we’re going to talk about that. Now, one thing that didn’t come up, it comes up a little bit near the end, if memory serves, is that mental illness affects ethnic and racial minorities differently. Okay, it affects them differently. So I’m not going to actually read off its statistics, because I know a lot of you are out walking or doing something else, which is totally cool. So I just at the big picture level, I want to say that depending on the statistics you look at, sometimes you’ll see that blacks are less impacted or have fewer instances of mental illness or mental health challenges or episodes. However, there’s a, you know, a fair amount of research that says that’s an underrepresentation. And also, the stigma is greater and the access to care is less. So there’s a bigger gap. Right? So one of the statistics that you’ll hear about is that 43% of folks in the United States, with any mental illness receive mental health treatment. Now you may be like, Well, that seems like a bright spot, Erica 43%. Right. But there’s a disproportion when that leaves 57% who aren’t. And if we, if we look at that, in the context of the amount of under reporting that happens, we just have a lot of our neighbors, a lot of the people we love in this country suffering. And that’s preventable, and it’s treatable. So this is something that we can do something about, there’s some intractable problems we can’t do anything about. This is one that if we can get rid of the stigma, and if we can get people connected to services, both things that marketing can help with, we could really make some headway. I find that exciting. We talk about some things in this episode that may be triggering to some listeners. And I want to say that upfront, because I want us to talk more about mental illness, mental wellness, mental health. The more we talk about it, the more it’s normalized, the more it’s normalized, the less power the stigma is going to have right, just by definition have to loosen its grip. And if you are struggling, if you are feeling worried about your mental health right now, please push pause on this don’t listen anymore. Pick up the phone and call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. I want this episode to make things better, not worse. So if you’re listening, you’re worried about that, take care of yourself, make those phone calls, reach out to a friend, tell them what’s going on. Take care of yourself. Alright? For those of you that feel like you’re ready for this, I do promise there’s a lot of bright spots. There’s a lot of upbeat-ness, he is such a positive ray of light force for good in the world. So I felt so grateful and blessed that he took time to join us. Like I said, the more we talk about it, the better chance we have that we will reduce the stigma and Ian talks about that so eloquently and like I said, wait for the poem of the end which comes out of Anne’s book Stronger Than Stigma wait for it truly gives me chills just thinking about it. So now let’s you and me listen and learn from Ian Adair. So with me today is Ian Adair. Ian is a nonprofit industry influencer, TEDx speaker, and recognized expert in leadership, fundraising and nonprofit management. He is an advocate, author and speaker concerning mental health awareness and mental health in the workplace, and is the author of the very beautiful, very poignant, very powerful, my words not his book Stronger Than Stigma: A call to action, stories of grief loss and inspiration. Ian is currently the executive director of the Gracepoint Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Gracepoint, one of the largest behavioral health organizations in the state of Florida. Gracepoint impacts the lives of more than 30,000 individuals, both children and adults seeking mental health, medical and addiction services. Okay, so Ian I want to read something from Gracepoint Foundation website, which is referencing Gracepoint. And says, since 1949, Gracepoint has worked to become Tampa Bay’s leading provider of Behavioral Health Solutions dedicated to inspiring and creating life changing wellness for every individual. So I want to quickly go into defining terms. But as I was preparing for this, it jumped out at me, I mean, I’ve had to have been a very intentional choice to use the term wellness, rather than focusing exclusively on the illness side of things.

Ian Adair  07:16

Right? Yes, it’s, you know, I think I think we overuse the term wellness in a lot of things, I think we use it when we talk about any anything from massages, to salons to all these things. But in reference to mental health, it really, talking about wellness is really talking about a state of well being. So I use that term over and over, not only just in a lot of our marketing on the website, but also in the book as well, when we talk about a person’s path to wellness, because I think anyone that’s gone through anything traumatic, anyone that’s dealing, or living an active recovery, anything, anybody who’s experienced, profound grief and loss is really looking to get back on that road to, to wellness, and having that state of good health. And it takes some time. And it takes some effort. And it’s messy. But we like to use that word when we reference where we want people to move to, and not just talk about the illness.

Erica Mills Barnhart  08:13

So is wellness, the journey on the path to health.

Ian Adair  08:17

It really is. It really is, I think one of the reasons, and I will talk about the book later, but one of the reasons why I continually use a path to wellness in the middle of the other two sections, because every chapter is broken up into three sections was really that path to where you need to be to get back to either where you were, or to a comfortable place to where you can talk about something that’s happened to you or loss that’s happened to you, or talk about maybe the recovery that you’re in, if you’ve dealt with an addiction issue. So we really use it when we talk about the path to wellness, it’s just a phrase that we continually talk about amongst our senior leadership team at Gracepoint, amongst the directors, because you can go from an inpatient Baker Act unit to where you’re in crisis, mental health, for three to five days to moving to an outpatient, you know, type of treatment to where you’re seeing somebody once a week, every couple of weeks, also is having a case manager others or other programs, to where you can move to where you get to be to where you’re back in that place that you really desire.

Erica Mills Barnhart  09:27

Yeah, I mean, it’s a it’s a lovely visual image, I think any, you know, we can all go to their different, you know, parts of a path I like, you know, I hike and snowshoe and do all sorts of things. So for me, it’s a really lovely image because there’s going to be chunks to it, but you’re moving forward along that. So just to quickly define commonly heard terms that are used somewhat interchangeably, and I and I want to pull this out. One on this podcast, of course, we talk a lot about words and the power of words and I think it’s in particularly important when we’re talking about this topic, because I have a somewhat working hypothesis, that the use of these terms almost interchangeably is part of what is perpetuating the stigma. So mental health and this comes from mentalhealth.gov. They define it as mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well being. It affects how we think, feel and act, as opposed to mental illness and I got this from psychiatry.org mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion thinking or behavior, or combination of these, mental illnesses are associated with distress and or problems functioning in social, work, and family activities. You okay, with these definitions, any edits, adjustments you would make?

Ian Adair  10:43

Yeah, I think people sometimes overuse certain terms, I think people don’t have such a grasp of certain terms. So mental health really involves a lot of things. I think when we talk about your overall mental health, you can talk about things like self care, you can talk about things that are in your environment, things that are in your social group, all these different things and triggers that can help you along the way, feel more complete or feel more Well, I think mental illness is more of a definition, or a diagnosis that kind of pinpoint exactly where you’re at. So I know a lot of people talk about, I had an undiagnosed mental illness and for a long time, my mental health was off. And so it’s funny when you use those terms all together, they’re really referring to all the things that were off in their life, meaning emotional relationships, friendships, the physical environment was off. So I, you know, I think more people are being more comfortable using the term mental illness, I think more people are talking more comfortably about their diagnoses. And then I think when you talk about mental health, I think you talked about all the things, including wellness, that help people with mental illness manage that each and every day.

Erica Mills Barnhart  11:54

Yeah, I love that. In your book Stronger Than Stigma, you say, “one of the biggest factors, I believe keeping the general public from understanding the importance of mental health and addiction is the messaging and outreach used by the mental health sector. All the national awareness organizations promote the same statistic that one in five adults in America will experience mental illness in a given year, what they forget to promote is the fact that five out of five people have mental health. And by forgetting this, they discount the connection all of us have with anyone who has suffered from mental illness or addiction or suffering today”. Now, we know that during COVID, the statistics around you know, mental illness and people struggling to manage their mental health, and they’ve just they’ve skyrocketed. So can you say more about how a refrain from alienating the one in five or whatever it is, during COVID that are struggling to focus on the connection we all share? Because I think that that’s so powerful. And you know, in messaging terms, this is kind of the negative to the positive frame. Can you say more about like what you’re seeing in terms of that happening? And what else we can do to accelerate amplify that transition?

Ian Adair  13:05

Yeah, I think the one in five thing always stuck out to me. And I started asking other people, what is it that’s really sticking out to you about mental health, mental illness messaging. And they always would say, well it’s that it’s kind of this statistic, we just see over and over and over again, with just a different graphic associated with it. So you can either say one in five people experience mental health condition in a given year, you see one in five people experiencing mental health condition in their lifetime, you see, 20 to 25% of the population is currently experiencing a mental health condition, it all kind of adds up to be the same thing. But then that’s it. And so I noticed when those statistics were being shared at any size audience, you always look to, you always look for the best reaction in the audience to who’s sitting on the aisle. Because if you say one and five, it’s usually that person on the end, looks at the four people next time and wonders which one of those four it’s going to be. And so that’s when I kind of jumped in and said, Wait a second, if we start putting out information that’s already letting people decide whether or not they want to hear it, like one in five, that’s not me, then I think you’re already discounting the conversation moving forward. So I started starting, I started starting every discussion, conversation speech, just so the collective room would see the response of asking people who in the room has been impacted by mental illness, addiction or suicide, either yourself, your family, your closest inner circle of friends, four or five friends. And I started it that way, instead of with the one in five, because when I asked that question, 95% or greater, would raise their hand, speak up or hit that little reaction button on zoom with the thumbs up. And so that changed the climate of the room that changed the atmosphere of the room. It was almost when you were live in person, there was a collective deep breath, that now you’re in a safe place. You’re in room with people that have also experienced something, whether it’s lived experience or whether it’s a caregiver, or whether it’s someone with profound grief and loss. And so after that everything I started saying, when I started doing that, it changed the room. And it made it easier for us to talk about, I think when you only bring up these statistics, there’s you’re always letting somebody escape the conversation.  And, and I, and I found that especially with managers, and HR departments, and supervisors, they were always looking for a way not to talk about employee mental health, not to talk about, you know, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, that’s their private life, this is their work life. And so it always gave them a little bit of reason not to have the conversation. So that’s why I run towards it and I have the conversation, because then there’s no way to run, because the only people that are uncomfortable in the room and asked that question, are just happened to be the four or five folks that luckily for them, have never had to experience this, or had somebody close to them experience it. So they were almost even more intrigued to learn how something so prevelant has escaped them for so long. So that’s kind of one of my biggest critics of that.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:14

Yeah, I mean, sometimes the negative frame works better sometimes. But most of the time, especially right now, when we are all just starved for hope and inspiration and all the positivity, we can glom on to, you know, shifting that but also giving, you know, the bummer, and this happens so much in marketing is we use othering to distance ourselves from something that we don’t want to be a part of, right. So if we’re trying to look at marketing for good, and it’s a force for good, this shift that you’re introducing to a positive frame is so powerful, because it actually it changes who’s in the seat, meaning, I think hitherto it’s been the folks who are like, Oh, I’m the one in five, you know, and then I feel distant and now you’re creating connection and the folks who actually, blessedly haven’t had to deal with this, which, as you said, is very rare. And then so you’re inviting everybody into the conversation, which feels very powerful. Do you think, um, I mean, you and I, before we kind of came, made it official that we were starting the podcast, we’re talking about how one of the cool things about zoom, once we got over both of us being speakers and whatnot, once we got over the zoom, and being like, I really prefer to be live, you’re like, wow, one, you can connect with so many more people but also, there’s been this, this drastic humanizing that has happened. And I’m wondering what you’re seeing in that regard? Like, have you seen any impact of like, I think we just all have a deeper sense of we’re all human, at a very fundamental level.

Ian Adair  17:43

It’s been, it’s been funny, I’ve seen social media become more social. I think, I think before, you don’t see as much as many push messages out there, it’s like, this is what I mean, there’s still people that are always gonna always show what they’re doing 24 hours a day, from the webinars that they’re currently on to their cat or dog in their lap to whatever they’re eating. There’s always going to be that. But I think, as in terms of mental health in these discussions, it’s been interesting. I tell people all the time, it might not be appropriate to text me after nine o’clock, because I’m a family person, and I spend time with my wife and my son. But if you DM me at one in the morning, if you’re having trouble, I’ll respond, whether it’s Twitter, or whether it’s instagram, and it’s been funny that people have, like, Hey, I’m taking you up on this, it, here’s my phone number, here’s my email, if you want to get back to me, if I could really use some, some help, or some suggestions, people to follow for positivity, organizations, resources that you might know, in my area, just things like that. And so it’s I think it’s become, although we’ve seen a lot of negative on social media over the last couple years, especially a lot of it’s been politically driven. But I think if you look at this topic, in particular, and how mental health has taken a turn, you know, publicly, marketing, advertising, social, I think there’s been a lot of good, that’s come of it, because people have now been able to seek out people that inspired them, or encourage them, or empowered them, and say, Hey, I just wanted to touch base because you shared your story, or because you shared multiple stories. I feel like I’m in a good place where I can share mine. And, you know, what are some things that can come with that? And you asked about COVID earlier, and I think one of the things that I’ve really found is, for the longest time, there is a stigma to remote work. There was a stigma, especially in the social sector, nonprofit sector of working from home, of flexible work schedule. And then all of a sudden, we were just all told to work from home. And it’s not really working from home. I’ve worked from home.

Erica Mills Barnhart  19:49

Oh no, no, no, thank you for bringing this up. This is this is not working from home, I have done that.

Ian Adair  19:54

This is not working from home.

Erica Mills Barnhart  19:56

For 16 years I’ve done that. That’s not what we’re doing.

Ian Adair  19:58

It’s a my wife, my wife is on a zoom call 200 square feet away, my son is doing e-learning 100 square feet away. This is not working from home. And, and we’ve been told that we had to be socially distant, but what we but we were never getting any instructions for what that was. And somewhere in those first few months, we became emotionally distant. So that really started impacting our mental health. And so I’ve seen what I think myself and others are starting to call the epidemic within this pandemic, is the mental health crisis that’s about to emerge, especially those in the social sector, especially those who are mental health professionals, especially those who are first responders, because we’ve taken on so much in a short amount of time.

Erica Mills Barnhart  20:42

Yeah, I so I want to repeat that for listeners who don’t make sure they heard it, the epidemic within the pandemic, that is powerful and resonates. I mean, I think I, I’m one to look for silver linings, full disclosure, I’m hoping that one of the silver linings is, you know, people, even folks like me, who you know, I’ve been blessed, I haven’t dealt with mental illness, it has touched me very closely, many times in my life. And I think I, you know, because of the epidemic within the pandemic, I can definitely relate more like I’ve had stretches where it’s like, I’m not just bummed out for a few hours, you know, this is prolonged, this is deeper. And that, you know, I hope between that and some, some messaging marketing shifts that we, you know, we might be in a position because more people can relate to it. And I’m wondering, I mean, we might be too far gone. But I’m wondering if there’s a way to get ahead of the curve a little bit, I feel like we have been behind this curve, around talking about and destigmatizing mental illness for a long time. But we have examples of large scale, so what you’ve been talking about what we’ve been talking about a sort of a grassroots bubbling up approach to destigmatizing. But if we look at kind of very orchestrated grass tops, or top down marketing, we have examples like the one out of California that came out of Prop 63, which was specific to raising awareness about mental illness and connecting more folks with services. So they did a large scale campaign, and the Rand Corporation did the evaluation of it and they found, in fact, it was quite successful. So, you know, this, this moment feels a little to me, akin to the moment where we were kind of getting it that like smoking was bad. However, and we knew that however, the tobacco companies were doing such a good job of convincing us otherwise, that it like took a long time for public health and norms to shift in a in a way that were truly supportive to society. And this is, this is gonna seem like a negative question. But I really think it’s worth sort of exploring a little bit like who benefits of if anyone, because all I can see is upsides to destigmatizing mental health to getting more folks connected with services. I mean, on every single level, there seems to be nothing but upside. So then if this is persisting, we’re left with this question of who who benefits from continuing to stigmatize mental illness?

Ian Adair  23:05

Yeah, yeah. And I’ve thought about that I know about that study. The only thing I could come up with, because it’s hard to even fathom or think about who would who would benefit from this. I think the only people that benefit are the people that aren’t willing to change the current models of which they supervise and manage their people and then there’s fear if you become more human base, and not ROI base, what’s going to happen to your company? What’s going to happen to your leadership style? Will your shareholders be a part of that? So I think change is the number one reason for fear. I think people just have, especially people, if you look at Gen X and above, look at the way we were supervised look at the way we were mentored look at the way the advice we were given. I was always told that if you have the opportunity to move for a better title, and a better salary, you should take it. And that is not what’s going on in this country anymore. And if I look back at a couple of the times that I moved, I am almost horrified now like I moved just because I went from manager to director I moved for $2500 or something along those lines. That’s that’s nothing, because I wasn’t taking into account the things that are important to people today. And if you look at who’s in the workforce today, 70% of the entire workforce is made up of millennials and Gen Z. And they’re not. They’re not looking at title. They’re not looking at salary. They’re looking for a positive work culture. They’re looking for organizations that care about their mental health and wellness. They’re looking at mentorship and sponsorship, they want to work with up to date and the latest technology. They want to feel like there’s a connection to the vision or the mission of the organization that they have. They want their voice to be heard in all of these top five or six things that they’re they’re desiring it’s a little bit incomplete left field from the things that, you know, I was brought up in, and so many other people. So who’s benefiting? I think people are just afraid of that switch, because now it’s that unknown. I’ve been, I’ve been a manager of people for a long time, I’ve had over 300 employees. And now you’re telling me, I have to basically become retrained. And if I’m going to be effective, as a leader, I have to be I have to seek professional development, and further educate of what today’s employees desire and want because I’m wanting to keep my best people. And if I’m going to attract top talent, I have to change. And that’s scary for a lot of people.

Erica Mills Barnhart  25:42

We talk about that humans crave progress, and we resist change. And so if I’m tracking what you’re saying, it’s sort of those who currently hold power, positional authority and I wonder if there isn’t an undercurrent of I mean, one of things I love about you know, millennials and Zoomers is they, they are very open about, you know, even if I listen to my kids, and they’ll say things like, wow, I’m really anxious today, or Wow, that was really triggering. We didn’t say these things, and that there’s sort of a, there’s a vulnerability in saying that. So if I’m tracking what you’re saying, it’s less like a tobacco industry thing. Although, you know, maybe that exists and we just haven’t, we don’t know it is yet. But it’s more just a real resistance among leaders, currently, because they might have to do some changing, they might have to show some vulnerability, other things like that.

Ian Adair  26:33

It is I think it’s scary for some people that the warning label is new workforce may contain authenticity and vulnerability. That is scary to some people who aren’t used to it. I mean, if you’re not thinking about if you’re not used to it, if you’re if you’re used to an authoritative, authoritarian, supervisory style, and you’re told now, by HR, the reason, our retention is so poor, the reason why we’re losing good people, is because we need to start looking at these things that are more important to the workforce today. That is terrifying.

Erica Mills Barnhart  27:10

Yeah. I mean, the millennials and Zoomers, you are listing off things and the thing that keeps coming up is that they’re looking for a sense of purpose that that their personal purpose aligns with the company or organization’s purpose. And that is very different from, I mean I am a Gen Xer and so Gen X and above, that’s different, right? I always say, I mean, I feel so blessed to do the work I do. You know, it wasn’t by design, maybe it’s subconscious level was, but you know, I feel great purpose what I’m doing I mean, I honestly believe that marketing can be a force for good if we can do some shifting, because it hasn’t always been used as a force for good. And I’m also aware that that’s kind of it is rare, you know, it’s rare to really dig what you do. My son is great about because I, you know, I work a lot, but it’s fine. And he’ll come and say, Mommy, you know, I’m sorry, you have to work so much. And I say I am so blessed, I have this portfolio of just incredible things I get to do in a day. So sometimes I’m tired by the end of the day, and a little bit cranky. But that’s a blessing. And so but the idea of you know, this vulnerability in these shifts, that’s, um, that’s interesting that that’s, you know, in your opinion, sort of what’s holding us back, though, that rings true. Okay, I wanna I want to make sure that we talked about your book.

Ian Adair  28:17

Oh, for sure. I just wanted to say to close out that conversation, as it redefines leadership, and for people that have always kind of identified themselves as leaders. That’s scary. Because now you’re you’re redefining the term. And I think leadership today is much more about caring for the people doing the work, and not just the work itself. And for people that just basically live their entire life and, and receive bonuses based on just purely outcomes. That’s it’s difficult to swallow. And so I think that’s where you’re seeing the painful amount of change happen in the workforce today.

Erica Mills Barnhart  28:58

So So if it is the case, that kind of the target audience for shifting, shifting culture, shifting norms, as leaders, how do we how do we reach them?

Ian Adair  29:08

I think once they once they realize and once they’ve been trained to understand what, because everyone wants their organizations to do well. And so you can make this ROI based you can talk about mental illnesses, the number one reason today in this country, for loss of productivity, for workforce absenteeism, more people are missing work today because of mental illness than all the other chronic conditions combined, like back pain, asthma, all these other things. So if you have identified it, if you’re only able to get through people on on pretty much strictly a balance sheet level, we can do that. And we can talk about that. And then I think when they said okay, how do we combat that? What can we do about that? We’ll feel a little bit shy to kind of start doing all these new programs, we don’t know what our people really need. I keep telling people leadership can simply change the conversation by normalizing the conversation. There’s lots of things that we do already, internally in our systems, whether it’s employee intranet systems support, employee message boards, bulletin boards in break rooms, all these things, the best part about mental health, that I always tease about is there’s a mental health awareness day, almost every month of the year. So just are promoting those things, makes it easier to slowly seep into your workforce, that you care about those things and then for leadership to lead those discussions, or even, you know, be a little bit vulnerable themselves, and share their lived experience or share an opportunity where they, you know, suffered profound grief and loss or where they are a caregiver, it makes their staff when things happen to them more likely to feel comfortable and safe to disclose when something happens to them.

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:00

Yeah, I mean, imagine getting an out of office from your boss that said, I’m taking a mental health day. I mean, I, in terms of leading by example, that would so be huge. And actually what came to mind, I forgotten this, but I had a boss, who was, you know, had had a parent who was very, very, very ill. And they went, and, you know, were there and we knew that I mean, this, this parent was on the cusp of death and that was pretty clear. But what they said was, but that’s okay, you know, keep emailing and you know, I’m available and text if you need anything. And I remember thinking this was like 20 years ago. So, you know, well before, I would say, mental health and taking care of your mental health was on people’s radars in any substantive way. And I’m, but I do remember thinking like, wow, that’s not a great message to send, it’s not a good example to set. That’s not, you know, we’re all hard workers. And what that says is, even if your parent is dying, even if your parent is dying, you’re still going to work. And I hope that, that the opposite of that will soon become the norm. And I think, and I’m going to transition to your amazing book, that your book, like if I were a leader, business, nonprofit, does not matter a leader of any sort, one of the first thing is I would do is read your book, Stronger Than Stigma. Then in the book, you share 12 stories, including your own. And these are wide ranging. I mean, they’re about mental health or about addiction. It’s about loss. It’s about love. It’s about grief. It’s about shame and resilience and grace. And I’m, I am hoping that you will share with us both what what inspired you to write the book, I think we have a sense for that now, you sort of covered it. But if there’s anything else you want to add on that, you know, in which stories particularly resonated with you, yeah, I know I can say is me as a parent, the ones by other parents certainly struck a very deep chord. But I’m curious your thoughts as the author?

Ian Adair  32:47

Yeah. One thing that I looked at, I think people have to understand the context for the book when when COVID happened, and we lost the ability to be in front of people in a live format. The actual the largest event that we have at the foundation is actually called Stronger Than Stigma as well. And we started to find that when we started the event, a couple years ago, we were worried that the Tampa Bay Community, the Tampa area, greater Tampa area, wasn’t ready to start talking about mental illness, we had never really done it as organization when I came in, they focused on kids, and not adults and that’s our primary population. So when we started bringing people in to share their lived experience, whether they were in active recovery, whether they were out of bipolar diagnosis, depression, anxiety, diagnosis, or whether they were a caregiver, that resonated unbelievably with our audience. And so since we couldn’t get in front of people, in 2020, the idea was, let’s create a book that went all in on that idea of storytelling, let’s create an opportunity to where we can get these stories out, knowing that so many people were suffering right now, knowing that so many people, because of and I think you talked about silver linings earlier, the silver lining of 2020 and the pandemic is that I think more people become empathetic to people who actually suffer each and every day. And that’s what we need, we need more empathy with this, instead of, you know, diminishing people who are suffering, we need to support them and empathize with them. So for leaders, I’m like, what can I get out there that I hope leaders would want to read? And I think the goal for leaders really was to just promote the acceptance and inclusion of those dealing with mental health related issues and addiction related issues. And then how can we improve those support systems for that population? And so I wanted to target leaders within this community with a wide range of perspectives, diversity at all levels, and have me tell their story in the first person and that was the trickiest part. Because a lot of these stories resonated with me in, the best thing about all these amazing people was nobody felt that their story was worthy enough to be put in this book, which is unbelievable in its own right. But to have them all be at a place where they’re willing and able to trust somebody with their story and to put it in, in a, in a context, in a fragmented way that was a little bit different than it they had ever done before, really took a lot of faith on their part. And that was an opportunity that I spent a lot of nights worrying about. And they were part of the process the entire time. And I think just to give context, each story has three parts to it, we’ve kind of already mentioned that it has a part that’s called my story, where we just kind of explain why they’re why they’re part of this book, and why they’re in what and what that perspective is, whether it’s somebody who lost somebody to suicide, or to a violent crime, whether it’s somebody who’s been sexually assaulted or abused, whether it’s somebody who’s dealing with a diagnosed mental health condition, and then we quickly move into that path to wellness, like, what it what did they do, and some of them despite incredible odds and challenges, what did they do to get to a place to where they were comfortable with who they are comfortable sharing their story, and then put them on a path to wanting to be of service to others. And that’s the call to action. It every, every personal story ends with a call to action. And everyone’s doing something differently. Some people are very public writing articles that are featured in magazines, three people did TEDx talks, number of people written books, to more private where people are very involved in their church, very involved with family groups, very involved with support groups, want to be behind the scenes, helping people who’ve lost people, others or family members to suicide. So I’m personally connected to a lot of these stories. I know you said the parent ones really connected with you, I think the ones that people who’ve just been through unbelievable amount of challenges, and one of them. Vanessa is one of these stories. And when you read her story, a young lady who was sexually abused by family members, and then when that experience was over, has a little bit of a piece is working through a lot of these things, then gets raped on a trip visiting a college. And now she has to experience all these things with rape culture, shame, not knowing that she can, who she can tell her story to not knowing who she can trust. And, and that’s scary. And to read this story from this amazing person, Vanessa McNeal, I didn’t say her full name. And to see what she’s done with her life, and to see that she takes on tough topics. She’s now an award winning documentarian. She’s taken on men who have been sexually abused, she’s taken on human trafficking, she’s taken on women who have been victims of sexual assault, she tells her personal story on stage after stage after stage. You know, it’s just amazing. And you’re justcompletely inspired by people like that. But everyone has a reason why you can be proud of them and inspired about them. But I think the I think when people read this book, they read it knowing that that question, I asked everybody at the beginning of every talk, who’s been impacted in some way and those 95 plus percent of people raise their hand, it’s a lot of those people read this book, and they’re like, you know what, I’ve been wanting to get involved in some way and just didn’t know how, and the book is for them, because it inspires them to get involved.

Erica Mills Barnhart  38:44

Yeah, well, one of the things I appreciate about this book, yeah, you don’t I mean, I was gonna say you don’t just give inspiration like that, even if you had just stopped with the 12 stories, it would be a gift to the world this book would be in, I mean, I have so much respect, and just, yeah, for the folks who were brave enough to have you tell their stories, but you bridge from inspiration to action. And I mean, you don’t hide it, the subtitle is a call to action. So it’s not like it makes like what, but but one of the things I found most interesting about the call to action piece was that you have an overall call to action, then you have a call to action for men, then for businesses, and then for the kind of the government, so general advocacy. So can you break down the different calls to action, I mean, there’s a theme to it. But there seem to be some specific things to each.

Ian Adair  39:34

The stories kind of set up everyone’s personal call to action. And then and now I kind of want to address some of the issues where I think stigma is getting held up. And I talk about friends and family because the first person anyone discloses to is usually a family member or close friend, and sometimes it’s that initial reaction they get, which keeps them silent for the next five to 10 years. And I think as as as close friends and as family, we don’t want anyone we’re associated with to be hurting. So sometimes when someone discloses something to us, it’s never truly the full extent of what’s going on. So our response usually is quick, it’s usually not as empathetic as it should be, you know, we want to give, just don’t worry about it go for a run, it’ll be better tomorrow. You know, there’s other fish in the sea, whatever you want to say. There’s always something, time will heal all wounds, we say these platitudes. But we look back at it later, like, did they just disclose to me something serious and I did not take it that way? And you never know what they’re hiding in when they disclose because no one just fully comes out and says, Erica, I’m having suicidal thoughts every night, I don’t know what to do. That’s not how it, they’ll say, I’m not sleeping well, I’m having negative thoughts. I don’t know. And you try to figure out what the root problem is, you try to solve it in five minutes or through text, and then you walk away going, I think I just really helped my best friend, when they’re walking away going, man that did not go well. So we take on that and really explain to people how better to respond to people disclosing and how traumatic it can be and how we can impact them. When you when you respond in a poor way. Then we take on men, I think, as a as a two time college athlete, former pro athlete, I’ve surrounded by overly masculine culture a lot. And men do not take mental health seriously, I don’t know why they’re not taking mental health seriously, they should be. I think there’s too much of a toxic masculinity in this country where if anyone discloses a mental health condition, they’re automatically shamed and perceived as weak. So we have to address that men are dying by suicide four times greater than women, and much more violent means. So, you know, there’s just a lot going on, to unpack that. And I tried to unpack it as best I can, starting with just how we raise young men. And that perception that anything disclosed about feelings and emotions is wrong. And then the last part of that is addressing it at work, which really is talking about, we’ve spent more time almost at work than we do any other place. How can organizations, companies, businesses, create a culture that’s more accepting of those who disclose and supportive of the wellness and mental health of their overall employee base? And what are some of the things that they can do that are at basically zero cost to low cost that they can incorporate today to change their work culture. So if we’re going to talk about a call to action, we’re going to talk about inspiring people to do something, you really got to lay out what that can be. And so I try to lay that out as best I can.

Erica Mills Barnhart  42:42

Yep, it is, it’s a roadmap, I really feel like it’s a roadmap to finally destigmatizing mental illness, it is, I challenge anybody to read this book and not be totally inspired to take action either personally or professionally in the workplace, I issue that challenge, because it is it is so moving in. The you have a poem in here, which I would like to read in this poem is by Albert Rios, I believe written, Alberto sorry, was written in 1952 called When Giving Is All We Have. “One river gives its journey to the next we give because someone gave to us we give because nobody gave to us. We give because giving has changed us we give because giving could have changed us. We have been better for it. We have been wounded by it. Giving has many faces. It is loud and quiet. Big though small, diamond in wood nails. Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too. But we read this book anyway, over and again, giving his first and every time hand to hand mine to yours, yours to mine. You gave me blue and I gave you yellow together we are simple green. You gave me what you did not have and I gave you what I had to give. Together, we made something greater from the difference.” And I want to say you have given with this book and your work, and your speaking and your general overarching awesomeness as a human, you have given so much to this world. I really hope anybody listening and I’ll put it in the show notes how to buy the book because it is it’s a I think it’s a game changer for how we talk about think about and then ultimately experience as a society, mental illness and mental health and getting on that path to mental wellness. So thank you so much for this gift.

Ian Adair  44:38

Well, thank you and that poem, you know, everyone gave me their personal truth and their story. And I honestly think that stories have the ability to just impact us on a profound level. And especially when we feel a strong connection to the storyteller and you know, I just try to be a storyteller of these incredible people who have been through something extrordinary in their stories, I mean, even trying to tell them as best I can, I mean, stories have this, this common ground to allow us to, to communicate and overcome our differences. But also to better understand each other. And I think anyone dealing with anything right now, mental health related addiction related, recovery related, can read this book and feel connectedness with a number of people in it who share. And that’s why and that’s what I want to happen because everyone who experiences anything, and I’m very open about being a caregiver, I’m very open about my own battles with depression, anxiety, no matter who it is, we always the first thing we always feel is that we’re alone in this feeling. And the one thing I want to share in this book is that you’re not. And there’s, there’s people out there that care about you. There’s people out there that want to inspire you to get through whatever it is you’re going through right now.

Erica Mills Barnhart  45:55

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Ian. At the end of every episode I ask, you know, I say do good be well. I just I say that with with greater urgency, I guess. I do also like to close by asking every guest what inspires you and what keeps you motivated to do this work? And I mean, this can be tough work, you’re talking about tough topics.

Ian Adair  46:16

Right? I think it’s just from the process of this book, although the subject matter was so heavy, sad, very sad in so many different ways. I think, when I see people that give themselves and their story to others, when I see people that want to commit themselves to service to others, who have been through so much, that to me is completely inspiring. And some of these people that I deal with some of the people that are in from the book that I’ve dealt with writing the book, and so many people that I work with, at my organization, Gracepoint, who have, who have suffered the loss of loved ones, who have seen loved ones battle and struggle with addiction, and that they continually want to give themselves to help others. It’s unbelievably inspiring.

Erica Mills Barnhart  47:08

The book is inspiring, you are inspiring. I just can’t say thank you enough. And I’m really proud of you for writing this book. On a personal level, we’ve known each other for a long time. And I’m like, look what Ian did. It’s incredible. So I will say at the end, as I always do, but with greater empathy and urgency to all of our listeners. Thank you for listening to this. I hope you leave as inspired as I am. I really do hope everybody buys the book, particularly the leaders since that’s where the shifting needs to happen, and that you’ll continue to do good and be well, and we will see you next time.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?