Mental Health Heroes 2022 – Top People Improving Mental Health


Mental Health Heroes 2022 – Top People Improving Mental Health
Mental Health Heroes 2022 – Top People Improving Mental Health


heroes of mental health 2022

ACROSS AMERICA, we’re dealing with a mental-health crisis: rates of anxiety, stress, depression, and suicide are near all-time highs. Also growing is the number of people stepping up to do something about it. It’s not just a mental health professional thing. People of all kinds are stepping up to find new, creative and effective ways to cultivate better awareness and better mental wellness. Institutions are changing. Overlooked populations are getting resources. Celebrities are getting involved. We can all learn a lot from each of them. Meet the change agents who are shifting minds, creating hope, and saving lives.

CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, driving new conversations about mental health


Comedy Central

IN 2017, when Charlamagne tha God’s book Black Privilege became a New York Times best seller, he never imagined he’d turn into a mental-health advocate next. But writing the book made him look back on his childhood challenges. He started going to therapy and realized, Everything I thought I knew about life, I don’t know. “Therapy was making me unlearn all these things, all these unwritten rules we have in our community and in our culture,” he says.

So he started journaling. And those notes about his own anxieties, fears, and crippling panic attacks led to his 2018 book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, which blew the doors off the idea that Black men have to be strong and silent in order to be successful. In 2021, he started the Mental Wealth Alliance to raise money for mental-health organizations like Black Men Heal and the AAKOMA Project. This year, he’s hosting free expos to change the conversation about mental health for Black men.

MH advisor Gregory Scott Brown, M.D., asked CTG for his strategies on becoming your own mental-health advocate.

1. Get a Name for What You’re Feeling

“I remember driving down I-26 and feeling like I’m about to have a heart attack. So I went to the doctor. It was the first time a doctor didn’t just say, ‘You have an athlete’s heart.’ He said, ‘Man, it sounds like you had a panic attack.’ So when you ask why I focus on Black men and mental health, it started with me.”

2. Let Yourself Unlearn Things

“When you’re Black and you come from a certain environment, there’s so much trauma we call culture. I love my dad, but he had issues with mental health and you know he raised me wrong in a lot of ways. I had to unlearn a lot of those things. We have to break that generational curse so we don’t pass trauma on to our kids.”

3. Invest in Your Mental Wealth

“Finding a therapist isn’t easy, but when you do get a recommendation or a suggestion for someone you should talk to, just go do it. See what it feels like to vent and get some things off your chest. Go sit down with someone and talk, because the older we get, those inner-child wounds eventually rise to the surface.”


VINCE FLORES-MALDONADO, helping Indigenous people heal through music, art, and tradition

vince flores maldonado

Sonya Salway

WHEN VINCE Flores-Maldonado, 40, began seeking help for his mental-health issues in 2004, he felt as if something was missing. His mental baggage included gang life in his teens, two stints in jail, and drug and alcohol use as a remedy to erase the shame of the bad stuff he’d gotten into. The experiences left him addicted, depressed, and traumatized.

He tried things he’d heard could help—therapy, church, a 12-step program. “But I wasn’t connecting with Western medicine,” he says. “It helped me put a name to what I was feeling, but I wasn’t progressing and I didn’t feel whole.” Colonialism, land loss, and historical trauma like the epidemic of missing Indigenous women have all weighed on the psyches of many Native Americans. Compared with the general U. S. population, Indigenous people are nearly three times as likely to experience mental-health issues. Substance abuse tops out at higher rates for Indigenous populations than for any other ethnic group.

vince flores maldonado horse camp

Vince Flores-Maldonado provides activities like a horse camp to help Indigenous people connect with their roots and avoid feeling lost, lonely, and criminalized.

Vince Flores-Maldonado

Around that time, Flores-Maldonado was traveling with his uncle to reservations in Arizona, California, and the Dakotas to try to reconnect with his Indigenous roots. The teachings he picked up along the way ended up changing his life, especially when he attended a sweat-lodge ceremony high in the barren, windy mountains of southern California. When he shared his rocky past with the men inside, he felt empathy instead of judgment. “We talked not only about how colonization hurt our people’s ability to live but also created the perception that Native Americans are criminals instead of people who need help when they face hardship,” he says. “The men made me realize I was someone who needed help, not a criminal.” After several hours of sweat, prayer, and conversation, something inside him shifted. “A sweat lodge represents new life, and when you crawl out after, it’s like being born. So it represents the chance to change our ways and overcome some of the things we’re not too proud of,” he says.

Flores-Maldonado wanted other Indigenous people to find the same kind of healing. It took more than a decade of fundraising, but in 2016 he founded the nonprofit Native Music Coalition in Tucson; it has grown to seven locations that offer activities that connect participants to their roots and provide teachable skills. Drum-making classes help soothe grief, with the rhythm invoking the heartbeat of relatives who have passed away; beadwork classes train focus and patience; a horse camp teaches responsibility, boundaries, and how to overcome fear.

He sees these centers as a way for Native Americans to access good mental-health care, which is often scarce in cities and on reservations, and receive treatment that feels more culturally relevant.

Connecting with his ancestors’ traditional practices helped Flores-Maldonado kick alcohol and has led to 13 years of sobriety. “If you don’t know who you are, you can feel very lost,” he says. “I feel like we’re on a pioneering trend for people to feel good about who they are and get help.” —Magdalena Puniewska


BILL HAWLEY, tackling suicide prevention where rates are high

bill hawley

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

BILL HALWEY knows that boys do cry. He’s trying to get men to see that, too. It’s part of his mission to encourage guys to talk about their struggles and feelings to help solve a big issue in rural Wyoming, where he works. The state has the highest rate of suicide deaths per capita in the U. S., and 60 percent of people who died by suicide in 2020 were white men, according to the CDC.

When issues and emotions are stuck inside, they can spiral out of control. But bringing them out into the open through conversation helps you realize that you’re not alone. Just talking about whatever is causing the pain, with the partnership of compassionate people who can guide you through, can be healing, says Hawley.

bill hawley

Bill Hawley talks to the owners of Buffalo KOA Journey as he delivers thank you notes to donors.

The Washington Post//Getty Images

Asking men what’s bugging them seems simple, but it’s a tough sell in rural Wyoming, where many men still follow a tough cowboy code. They’ve been taught what Hawley thinks of as “unhealthy paradigms of masculinity,” like anger being the only emotion it’s okay for men to show. Hawley knows firsthand that the guys are hurting. As a community prevention manager in Johnson County, he sees people struggling with substance abuse, tobacco addiction, and suicidal impulses nearly every day, which can be difficult to address in rural areas, because they tend to have limited mental-health resources, higher levels of poverty, and more isolation. Hawley’s job is to connect people with help.

Hawley sees men who aren’t used to allowing themselves to feel things, much less used to talking about what they’re feeling. Along the way, he’s made some discoveries about getting the conversation started:

Ask someone, “how are you feeling?” not “how are you doing?”

“We are human beings, not human doings,” says Hawley. Doing gets people wrapped up in the successes of their days. “Part of toxic masculinity is thinking our self-worth is based in things that we do or have done or will do,” he says. But asking how someone is feeling can help them zero in on their emotions and be vulnerable and gives you a better chance to talk about what’s going on inside.

Be patient.

“How are you feeling?” can be a hard question to answer. So don’t be afraid of silence, and let the other person respond in their own time. Just being there with an accepting vibe and assuring the person they can always turn to you can be helpful, Hawley has found.

Talk about your own stuff.

Hawley has experienced depression, bipolar disorder, and a suicide attempt. When he talks about what he’s been through to other men, they find a camaraderie that allows them to unearth and discuss what’s inside themselves, too. Inspired by Hawley’s push for conversation, local veterans recently launched a peer-support group in which men can work through their struggles with PTSD, anger, and grief. “When men are kind and gentle to themselves, they can be kind and gentle to others,” Hawley says. —Magdalena Puniewska


MIRIAM BROWN, changing how Los Angeles responds to mental health crises

miriam brown

Damian Dovarganes/AP/Shutterstock

THE POLICE have always been a go-to resource to call in an emergency. But mental-health emergencies often aren’t law-enforcement issues, and cities are now realizing that there are better solutions.

This year, Los Angeles County rolled out its Therapeutic Transportation Program, which sends mental-health workers to non-violent mental-health-related 911 calls. “Every crisis doesn’t need hospitalization or police,” says Miriam Brown, L.C.S.W., who’s helping to build out L. A.’s program. “It’s just a matter of de-escalating the situation and providing people with the tools that they need.” That could be as simple as a prescription refill; some crises stem from a resurgence of paranoia or anxiety.

Unlike in the case of a law-enforcement response, mental-health workers do an evaluation, which can pinpoint new issues or connect people with care like counseling. Other cities—like Denver; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and New York—have started similar efforts. —Magdalena Puniewska


MATTHEW JOHNSON, reigniting the psychedelics revolution

matthew johnson

Seth Jacobson

PSYCHEDELICS AS mental-health tools are having a major moment, but getting them to this point was quite the trip. Although research on compounds like LSD and psilocybin boomed in the ’50s and ’60s, things took a turn. Psychedelics were stuffed into Schedule I during the “war on drugs” in the ’70s, meaning it was hard, if not impossible, for scientists to get access to them for study. Now their healing potential is being taken seriously again thanks to people like Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins.

Early in his career, Johnson looked at existing research on psychedelics and had a hunch that these compounds could be game changers for mental health. “I’ve never heard of a single claim from any other drug class where someone used it once and had a profound, positive experience that changed their life, but you had no problem finding stories like that with psychedelics,” he says.

With money from private philanthropists and foundations, Johnson began collecting data. Then he made a move that helped the FDA and university boards feel better about green–lighting studies on these compounds: He helped put together guidelines for how scientists could safely administer psychedelics in the lab.

He was the first to publish research showing that psilocybin can help shut down tobacco addiction and did one of the largest studies showing it can help alleviate cancer distress. Other studies of his have found it may be helpful for alcohol-use disorder and depression and for decreasing suicidal ideation.

In 2020, he helped launch the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research. As the first such facility in the U. S. and the largest in the world, it brought legitimacy to the study of these promising treatments. They’re not going to solve all our mental-health problems, he points out. But what if they open our minds to what is possible? —Magdalena Puniewska


JUSTICE ROE WILLIAMS, making gym culture friendlier for every body

justice roe williams

Jennifer Bentsen Gordon

ALL HIS LIFE, Justice Roe Williams felt some chafing at the gym, a nagging feeling that he didn’t fit in there, even when he became a fitness coach at 38. “I learned that fitness was basically about fixing bodies. I didn’t learn that it was about wellness,” he says. “The gym was selling all these ideas that we should be a certain way.”

That just didn’t fit with Williams’s lived experience as a trans person with a gay brother and friends of all body types and sizes. Where the world saw boxes, he saw fluidity—no need to punish someone in a man’s body for not acting within a gender binary. No need to force a larger body to be smaller.

So instead of training people to reach an ideal, he started “meeting people where they’re at,” he says. When trans clients came to him saying, “ ‘I need to build a man body,’ I would challenge them and ask, ‘What does a man body look like?’ ” They’d come up with an answer that was their definition alone—not a societal definition of what a man’s body is supposed to be—and one that included what they already liked about their physique.

justice roe williams

Some call the approach body neutrality. Williams doesn’t love labels. But he does love the idea of not judging yourself—of not holding yourself to someone else’s standards—and feeling included. He does that in his work and began wondering what would happen if all trainers did that. It could be a revolution in how people feel about their bodies and the gym. So in 2019 he founded Fitness4AllBodies, a company that offers trainers classes on how to value and honor all bodies and abilities in their natural state and to let go of societal standards. It also serves as a networking and skill-sharing space where fitness professionals can learn how to be inclusive. Williams will know his message has gotten through if we all have a sense of belonging where we are in the bodies we have.

How do you go about actually befriending your body? Use Williams’ tips for letting self-judgment go:

Rethink what you think you know.

Look back at what you were taught about your body from institutions you were part of, he says. Then imagine the authority you’d have over your body if you were never taught that it was broken or needed to be fixed.

Ask questions.

When you notice you are getting judgmental about yourself, Williams suggests asking, When do I begin to judge? What does this serve? Why do I feel the need to punish myself? To cast off limits, it’s helpful to know more about where they are coming from.

Read between the lines.

We have to understand that we exist in a world with multiple dimensions, he says. Yet we punish ourselves if we don’t conform to the binaries we’re taught to live in (boy/girl, good/bad). Instead of accepting polarities, see the possibilities in between.—Marty Munson

This story originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Men’s Health.

preview for 6 Male Celebrities Who’ve Opened Up About Depression