New York City resident Mike Veny uses the painful experiences of depression from his troubled youth to help people today.
On Tuesday he addressed students and parents at Bartlesville High School in celebration of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 6-12.
“Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. However, mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. Despite mental illnesses’ reach and prevalence, STIGMA and misunderstanding are also, unfortunately, widespread,” said Toni Harjo of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Washington County in a press release.
“The STIGMA surrounding the subject of mental health is the biggest barrier to people seeking treatment. That is why each year, during the first week of October, NAMI and participants across the country raise awareness of mental illness. Each year, we educate the public, fight STIGMA and provide support.
“This year we want to focus on STIGMA and encourage people to join the STIGMA Free Pledge: https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Take-the-stigmafree-Pledge/StigmaFree-Me/StigmaFree-Pledge.
“We believe that mental health conditions are important to discuss year-round but highlighting them during Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice. Since 1990, when Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week, advocates have worked together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.”
Veny said his youth was filled with behavioral issues.
“I had angry outbursts that grew violent,” Veny said in a face-to-face interview.
Though he said he grew up in a good home with a loving family, “I was struggling to keep it together. I was very depressed. I was hospitalized three times beginning in the fourth grade and attempted suicide at the age of 10. I did a lot of self harm.”
According to his website, “He convinced the staff at psychiatric hospitals to discharge him three times during his childhood. In addition to being hospitalized as a child, he was expelled from three schools, attempted suicide, and was medicated in efforts to reduce his emotional instability and behavioral outbursts.
“By the fifth grade, Veny was put in a special education class. Aside from getting more individualized attention from the teacher, he learned that pencil erasers make great sounds when tapped on a desk. He had no idea that drumming would become his career or his path to recovery.”
Today he said he is quite the opposite of what he was as a child. Although he wears a constant smile he knows depression can come knocking at his door any time.
“Depression is something that everyone wants to know about but no wants to talk about,” he said.
“That’s why I’m here.”
So many people consider depression as a sign of weakness.
“Men don’t want to talk about it. There’s a lot of shame. Shame leads to silence and that leads to self destructive behavior..
“We all have things we don’t want to talk about and these things rule our lives.”
He said his mission is to help people open up.
“I’m here to encourage people to talk about it and to get help. You’re not less of a person if you have it. I don’t want anyone struggling alone,” Veny said.
“We live in a society where we like to fix things. There’s not a box to put it in and fix.”
With regards to Oklahoma’s high suicide rate, Veny said “people need to be more proactive.”
“It’s not about money or politics. It’s agreeing to talk about it. People who commit suicide usually don’t want to die, they just want toend the suffering,” he said.
“People in Oklahoma should not run away with their emotions. They need to work through their grief.”
A good social support system is essential, he said.
Following workshops with students, Veny said he is approached often through social media.
“Some share some very intense things. “I was that kid.”
Veny presents workshops all over the United States in addition to events featuring drumming.
He’s the author of the book Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero & The Transforming Stigma Workbook.
He has served on the Board of Directors of the Fender Music Foundation, Rural & Migrant Ministry and the Rotary Club of Wall Street New York and he is an ambassador for Self-Employment in the Arts.
As an adult, Mike spent many years facilitating drum workshops for children with special needs, teaching them to channel their energy by banging a drum and at the same time learning how to listen, focus, work together and succeed through teamwork. The project was such a hit that he continued to expand his drumming program, first to adults in recovery and eventually into the corporate setting.
Diversity and Inclusion have been an important part of Veny’s life since childhood. He attended schools where students came from all different kinds of backgrounds—ethnic, religious, and economical. This inspired him to build his company team from a diverse group of people.
Veny’s perspectives have been featured on ABC, NBC, and CBS News. He was a former guest on The Fresh Outlook TV news show, a writer for Corporate Wellness Magazine and HealthCentral.com.
He was a keynote speaker at the 2014 YAI Network’s International Conference on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and regularly works with chapters of the Arc, largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.