Last month’s shooting in Parkland, Florida re-ignited a national conversation around mental illness. And yet for all the attention, issues of mental health remain shrouded in stigma — despite the fact that 1 in 5 American adults are thought to suffer from mental disorders.
“It’s hitting me so hard listening to these conversations and hearing educated people using such stigmatizing language when discussing mental health,” says mental health advocate Jordan Corcoran. “I believe that it is a mental health problem and a gun problem. I believe it is a cultural problem, a human connection problem, a lack of kindness problem.”
Corcoran has been fighting stigma and fostering human connection for almost five years with Listen, Lucy, a website where people grappling with mental illness can anonymously share their stories. She was inspired by her own experiences with writing, which she used to cope with her diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder.
She recently launched Listen, Lucy Live, a weekly podcast that provides a platform for guests to speak candidly about issues ranging from anxiety and depression to eating disorders, sexual assault, self-harm and suicide.
Corcoran believes storytelling is the first step toward normalizing these all too common experiences. Beyond Listen, Lucy, she tells these stories as an author and speaker at schools and mental health organizations.
“I hope my audience walks away with an understanding that we have all struggled,” says Corcoran. “I hope they know it is OK to not be OK.”
She also wants them to know they’re not alone. “Let me tell you from my experience,” she says. “Loneliness is one of the most difficult parts of having a mental illness and I would wish it upon no one.”
Corcoran is a lot less lonely these days. Through Listen, Lucy, she has forged relationships with other local advocates, like Kristine Irwin and Erin Drischler, who are also shining a light on dark topics.
Irwin is doing this through Voices of Hope, the nonprofit organization she founded to raise awareness about sexual violence. A rape survivor, she says writing her memoir (also called “Voices of Hope”) was a healing experience — particularly since it helped her understand how the rape impacted her family and friends. The book goes on sale March 5.
Through its second annual Consent Coaster campaign next month, Irwin’s nonprofit will distribute coasters with statistics about consent at local restaurants including Stack’d, Tipsy Cow and Social at Bakery Square. She wants to expand the partnership to involve the founders of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which she credits with sparking an important dialogue.
“I hope that more people talk about these situations and say, ‘This happened to me,’” she says.
Like Corcoran and Irwin, Erin Drischler is also drawing from her personal experiences to help others. That’s why she launched The Garment Project last year.
This nonprofit works directly with eating disorder treatment centers to gather measurements and lifestyle details about their clients. They use the data to create individualized, private shopping websites where women can choose from a selection of never-worn, on-trend pieces; before the clothing is shipped, all size labels are removed.
Drischler understands firsthand how numbers — weight, size, measurements — hold sway over women in the throes of an eating disorder. She wants people to know that people with eating disorders aren’t on a quest to be skinny — they’re trying to make sense of a life that feels out of control.
“I lost friends, tested relationships and destroyed years of my life,” she says. “No one would do that just to be thin.”
Today, she adds, “I truly do not care what size my shirt is because I worked really hard to realize that my self-worth has nothing to do with the arbitrary number printed inside.”
Recovery, Drischler says, has taught her to be gentle and forgiving of herself.
Corcoran echoes that sentiment: “Learning to accept yourself is such a beautiful and healing thing.”