An interview with mental health advocate and author, Jack Travis
In late October, the Stigma-Free Society connected with 23-year-old Jack Travis, who wrote a self-help book titled Starting Point: Your Journey to A Better Life Starts Here… Inspired by Jack’s personal, first-hand experiences regarding mental illness and addiction, the book aims to provide knowledge and guidance to those who are struggling in life and wish to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.
One of the key themes that weaved through our conversation was the idea of fear, and how it fuels the stigma of mental illness. On one hand, many people fear the mentally ill because they think people with mental illnesses are dangerous. On the other hand, people who are struggling with mental health issues are afraid to seek professional help because of the misconceptions about mental hospitals, therapy, and support groups.
Stigma is like “Twisting a Knife”
One of the first questions I asked Jack was, “What does mental health and stigma mean to you?” And Jack responded by saying:
“I believe stigma is a big problem and a big barrier that makes it hard for people to heal. In order for the sufferers to heal from their mental illnesses, they need love and support from other people. They need people to point them in the right direction. If they have people in their lives telling them that there is something wrong with them, and that they are dangerous or crazy, it’s just adding to the problem, making them worse. It’s like twisting a knife that’s already in your body.
Before I sought professional help, any time I felt the need to talk to somebody, I tried to talk to my friends. I wanted them to be there for me, but they were going behind my back and telling people to stay away from me because I was supposedly “dangerous.” Then, they betrayed me by making false accusations against me and trying to get me in trouble. It was really hard on me. I lost a lot of friends because of that, but they were not bad people; they were just afraid of me because of the stigma.”
Overcoming Fear with Knowledge
When talking about addressing the unfounded fear and prejudice the general public has towards people with mental illnesses, Jack explains,
“The most common fear is the fear of the unknown, and the only way to conquer that is by gaining knowledge. The more you learn about something, the less scary it is. It’s like when you were a kid; you thought there was a monster living under your bed, and you had a stress response because it was a perceived threat to your survival. However, when you grew up, and you learned that it was not a monster, but just a sweater. It eliminated that stress response because you now know that there’s no immediate threat to your survival.
Similarly, when I learned more about mental illness, I realized that it’s actually not that scary. People who are mentally ill are not dangerous; they are just really hurting, and they really need love, support, and guidance to get through their issues.”
“The Mental Hospital was Actually Quite Pleasant.”
We also talked about the misconceptions about mental institutions, and how they prevent mental illness sufferers from seeking professional help. On this topic, Jack shared his own experience with being in a mental hospital.
“There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to mental hospitals. That’s why I talk about my personal experiences with that and how it was actually a pleasant experience. The first time I got hospitalized, I tried to commit suicide the night before. I was in the emergency room for about 12 hours before the doctors did a psych evaluation, and then I got transferred to the mental hospital. I did have anxiety going into it, but once I got into the psych unit, it was a very positive and welcoming atmosphere.
The security guard brought me to the unit and introduced me to other patients, and they all welcome me with smiles. They were saying things like, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” They all had interesting stories, and I connected with them. It was really nice. The staff took great care of me, and there were all different kinds of activities like meditation, art therapy, music therapy and group therapy. You got to go outside if you wanted to, and they fed you three meals a day. That’s why I tried to let people know that it’s not as scary as it seems. Professional help is a much better option, in comparison to the terrible alternative of self-medicating with substances.”
Trust the Professionals
A lot of people, who are troubled by mental illnesses, also have difficulty trusting mental health professionals and opening up to them about their own personal experiences. Here is Jack’s response:
“A lot of people are afraid of opening up because they opened up to the wrong people in the past. Those people judged them and made them feel worse about themselves. That happened to me, and I was afraid to open up because I thought that I was going to be beaten down, threatened, or yelled at like others did to me.
Sometimes, families and friends may not be the best people to open up to because they are the most biased; they are not entitled to keep secrets, and they may mislead you. Again, it’s not because they are mean; they want to help you, but they may not know exactly how. That’s why you want your support network to be mainly people that know how to help you.”
Building Resiliency and Finding Your Passion
When I asked Jack, “what recommendations would you give to someone who is struggling in life? How do you motivate them to make a positive change?” Here is Jack’s answer:
“It’s all about breaking unhealthy thought patterns. If you were abused for your whole life, especially verbally and emotionally, you are conditioned and taught to think in a certain way. Unless you recondition yourself, you will continue to think that way. I hope the information in my book can help people break out of those negative thought patterns and teach them the right ways of life.”
One thing I learned in life is that the harder you fall, the higher you can rise. Think about dribbling a basketball; the harder it hits the floor, the higher it bounces back up. In other words, the worse you feel in one moment, the better you have the potential to feel in the next moment.
When I think about how sick and unstable I was, as opposed to how I am now, I honestly believe that anybody can do what I did if they are given the right help and guidance. I want to help prove that to the world. That’s the reason why I wrote this book because I want to help others who are in a similar place and be the person who wasn’t there for me.”
Author’s Final Thoughts
I certainly learned a lot from my conversation with Jack in terms of why people behave in certain ways, when it comes to mental health issues, and how we can go about reducing the stigma in both the general public and the sufferers. Knowing Jack’s lifelong struggle with mental illness and addiction, and how he was able to bounce back and change his outlook on life in less than a year, gives me hope that other people who are struggling in life can do the same. If you would like to connect with Travis Jack and/or purchase his impacting book, please check out his website.
Author, Danny Li, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society