1 in 5. Changing the faces of mental health


May is Mental Health Awareness month.

An entire month aimed to create positive awareness for mental health.

A healthy step forward, right?

Personally, I believe this is an important first step on a long winding road, but merely a starting point. My feelings about this cause are deeply personal, rooted in my own complicated mental health history. I invite you to follow along as I unpack some of my thoughts for you in hopes of shining a light on a different path.

To begin, let’s acknowledge that all of us has mental health. Each person has a brain and therefore mental health. It has been described many ways, but according to the recent Let’s Talk Colorado campaign, “Mental health is a state of balance in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Positive mental health allows us to feel good about life, supporting our ability to participate in daily activities and accomplish our goals.”

“Everyone, regardless of gender, race, income, or religion, faces challenges with their mood, emotions and behaviors from time to time. Some of us, through no fault of our own, face greater challenges than others. It’s important to talk about our mental health with someone we trust, and seek professional care when we need it, just as we would with a physical injury or ailment.”

Based on these broad descriptions, mental health feels like an approachable topic we all should feel comfortable talking about. Yet, that simply is not the case. Healthy dialogue for a cause that affects us all should by now be commonplace. Instead, it is mostly still discussed in hushed tones among those who are affected.

Why are we narrowly limiting the conversation on something that affects us all?

From my perspective, as a professional devoted to the positive promotion of mental health, there are some key reasons. Unfortunately, mental health is an oft used synonym for mental illness, which is a dangerous comparison to make considering the two DO NOT have the same meaning. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes mental illness as “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood.”

Statistically, NAMI claims one in five adults will be affected by a serious mental health condition in the course of a lifetime. ONE IN FIVE. Think about that statistic. In my own state of Colorado, that is approximately one million Coloradans. Given those staggering numbers, each of us will somehow be affected, directly or indirectly.

We speak freely about other illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, even cancer. Yet, mental illness is still often discussed in ‘us vs. them’ language. Mental illness does not discriminate. It knows no boundaries and can affect anyone at anytime. Let’s Talk Colorado has identified some contributing factors that can negatively impact one’s positive mental health. They are:

Stress, Anxiety, Trauma, Chemical Imbalance, Genetics, Environment

At various times one or more of these has adversely impacted me. Can you relate? 

lewy-body-dementia-2965713__340I share about this topic from lived experience and only learned more after it hit my own home. Not so many years ago, life became unmanageable and my mental health completely unraveled. This happened in an unexpected way. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. There were days, weeks, and months where my future felt uncertain, left to sort through the ash.

A lifetime of privileged experience had insulated me and could not have prepared me for what lie ahead. I felt exposed and alone, facing a great unknown. One of the toughest challenges was revisiting the labels my former life had placed on me.

Arrogant. Entitled. Spoiled. Unaware.

At first, I believed I deserved this plight and the associated punishments. A new self-imposed narrative replaced those unkind labels with others that were perhaps even more harmful.

Unworthy. Ashamed. Disgraced. Humiliated. And now, ‘one in five.’

mountaineer-2100050__340From that place, beginning again was a slow and tedious process. It felt like climbing a mountain without appropriate gear. Many days, I barely found the strength to forge ahead, but fortunately clung to a mustard seed of hope. From that tiny seed, I became focused and determined to rebuild my life, which wasn’t easy. In fact, it was more challenging than anything I’d faced. In time and with considerable effort, I began to pack those negative labels away, replacing them with others that felt more aligned.

Authentic. Accomplished. Compassionate. Empathetic. Worthy. Helpful.

Today, I am most honored to put each label in its appropriate place and most proud to be ‘one in five.’ I am humbled to count myself among the brave warriors who boldly struggled before me. This incredibly painful journey brought me to my knees, only to realize that the only labels that matter are the ones you subscribe to.

Of course, I wish some of the collateral damage was different, but I have no regrets.

Mental health doesn’t care about where we come from, who we are, who we know, how tug-of-war-673571__340much money we have, our education, or the successes we’ve achieved. It’s a great equalizer that can level just about any playing field. Isn’t it time we shed light on the truth?

Shouldn’t we approach mental health for what it is, something we all have?

Each of us has a personal choice that can start with a new understanding, making clear distinctions between mental health and mental illness. From that place, we can begin to depart from our ‘us vs. them’ culture. I realize we have a long way to go to achieve this ideal state, but each us has a role.

It’s time we start seeing each other as individuals having a human experience. Reality shows that EVERYONE STRUGGLES WITH SOMETHING. Everyone! For me, it was mental health, for you it may be addiction, low self-esteem, illness, or anything else. It doesn’t matter. Struggle is struggle. It is painful and interrupts our lives. It can break us down and force us to find the courage to rebuild ourselves. Regardless, it changes you.

My sincere desire is that this month can be a starting point for new awareness within each of us. Maybe we begin by replacing judgment with understanding, criticism with kindness and divisiveness with empathy. I encourage each of you to take one next step, like:

  • Reframing your perspective about mental health
  • Speaking more kindly to yourself and others
  • Acknowledging a personal struggle
  • Lending a hand to someone in need

Regardless of your choice, every step will lead us beyond where we are. Together, we can forge a new path, which hopefully leads us all somewhere more inclusive. By facing our individual struggle, we begin to come out of the shadows and in turn, become more accepting of the struggle in others.


The first steps are often the hardest, but can be the sweetest. I encourage you to make the investment even as the outcome is coming into focus.

Will you join me in taking one next step?

Jason C Hopcus is President and CEO of NAMI Arapahoe/Douglas Counties



Gratitude: Honoring the Good Stuff

Each day is an opportunity to face life in a renewed way. Our waking thoughts can set the tone for everything that follows. Think about your first thoughts on the days you overslept or didn’t sleep well…what is your mood like?




  • Cranky? 
  • Irritable?
  • Quiet?
  • Anxious?
  • Unmotivated?



If you are anything like I was, these days could have disastrous consequences for everyone.  I didn’t want to be a person with a whole range of less than stellar emotions, which directly impacted others. This daily grind wore on me and I knew there had to be a better way.

As a lifelong student of self-improvement, the journey of personal growth has been a path I’ve walked much of my life.  The rollercoaster of emotions felt like an opportunity for improvement, to become more aligned. This new awareness became a research project.  I dug in and devoured the work of many great thought leaders, vowing to start of each day in a renewed way. Quickly, I discovered that most practices weren’t sustainable for me because they took more time and energy than I was willing to commit.

On the day’s I took the time to plug into myself, things went more smoothly.  I got positive feedback from others and knew I was onto something.  I kept looking for a practice I could commit to. Then, almost all at once it clicked and a light came on.



A connection was the key link of these practices. As humans, we are wired to connect to ourselves and others. My old morning routine was anything but.  This new awareness was eye-opening. I searched for ways to become more connected and discovered a common thread in the work of many others was gratitude.

Gratitude changed EVERYTHING!  

So, now what?


To be completely upfront, this new awareness had a complicated beginning. I set an intention to replace dread with gratitude, which was easier said than done!

From the start, I began with an expectation to practice gratitude perfectly…perfect words, perfect requests, expecting some perfect outcome. It was steeped in mantras and prayers from a groggy or rushed state. It was just too much and quickly became the easiest thing to push off my plate.  I was quickly defeated and retreated to my old unpleasant morning routine.

NOTHING IS PERFECT…there had to be an easier way.

I took some time to regroup and slowly began to adapt to a simple plan that worked for me.  What evolved has become a recipe for success that has only changed everything.

Here are my three simple steps to living a grateful life:

  1. Start by thanking God, or whatever your individual Divine source is. First, be grateful to your source.
  2. Next, think of at least 5 things you are grateful for.  Even in dark times, I can find something worthy to honor. Personally, I prefer to write them down to empower them, but it can be a practice in your head.  This step sets the tone for what follows
  3. Make an “I am” list.  I will admit this step usually happens in the shower after I am more awake.   Simply, it goes something like this… 
  • I am happy
  • I am radiantly healthy
  • I am love/loved
  • I am kind
  • I am Divinely guided
  • I am authentic
  • I am free
  • I am… you fill in the rest

I use these simple “I am” statements to set an intention.  Even if I don’t feel completely nurtured in the ways I am claiming, it becomes a practice that

THAT’S IT! For me, it really is that simple.

In the beginning, this wasn’t a practice I was wholeheartedly committed to and my follow through was lackluster at best.  I would go days without remembering to complete the simple steps listed above. As I began to see positive results (quickly), I became more diligent in my journey of gratitude. It actually was working, other people even began to comment on my improved mood state.  That was a bonus!

Looking through the lens of gratitude has changed everything.  Now, I notice things I never used to see before.  I see beauty in so many things in a more profound and beautiful way.  It could be the sky or flowers on my evening walk, maybe it’s the moon in its fullness. Sometimes it’s just breathing in beautiful air. There is so much beauty to see when we become open to it.


Are you willing to commit a week to practicing three simple steps?  

It just might change everything for you too…




Discovering Authenticity in Struggle

Authentic is a buzzword that seems to be used frequently these days.

What does it really mean though?

I hear others reference an “authentic life” and often fail to see its true application in their daily lives.  I don’t mean to discount anyone’s journey, but do believe it’s a word that has real weight and power. For me, it is a cornerstone for a strong personal foundation.  Recently, I shared a post on a kind and honest life, listing “authentic” as a step toward that goal.

Personally, I believe an authentic life is the unique intersection where self-love meets our highest alignment.

My path to an authenticity hasn’t come easily or quickly. In fact, there have been many painful twists and turns. To accurately paint the picture of my path, let me share some historical context first.

microphone-2574511_960_720Some years back, life was an exercise of dancing as fast as I could. Each day I was on the stage of my creation in an exhaustive and futile attempt to live a life I believed everyone else expected from me. My internal need for perfection only perpetuated the dancing…faster, harder and more complex.

This amplified dance demanded more of me, so I continued to work faster and harder to perfect my routine.  For many years, that recipe blessed me beyond belief. I achieved success that surpassed my circle of influence and became a living testament to the American Dream. I am beyond grateful for the experiences that shaped that life, but gratitude couldn’t absolve my internal hollowness. It left me feeling trapped and wanting to escape.

The dance had become dangerous.

Daily, I searched for distraction by seeking escape with sleep, food, shopping, or any other anesthetic that helped me unplug for a while. Temporarily, this behavior helped me to avoid painful parts of life, but like I often say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

I was overwhelmed, depleted, panicked, and depressed, constantly looking for a way out.   

Finally, through a series of disastrous reversals I couldn’t no longer run from myself. The music had stopped and I was completely alone and out of moves.  I fell from the mountain top I had built from mostly inauthentic means.


By trying to manage and control every outcome, I often found myself feeling like a fraud, even in those moments where I was completely in my element. The duplicity of this self-created life left me hanging between a life of the “expected” and one where there was no roadmap.

At rock bottom, I knew I had two choices, to end it all or begin again. 

light-2068404_960_720I spent considerable time contemplating both choices. I am grateful for the path I chose, which allows me to share from my own authentic place, honoring the struggle and pain that shaped this journey.

As I began again, there were days, weeks and months in the dark. Slowly, through a divine series of events, the light began to shine again.

One enlightened moment, was hearing Alanis Morissette share about her own turning point on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Her life changing words were, “getting to the bottom where there was no lie left.” 

For me, those words changed everything.  Suddenly, a light came on and illuminated the reality that building an authentic life requires one to stand in their own truth. The Good, bad, and ugly all matters. Each and every step was a building block.

So, now what?

Bit by bit, I have become more aligned with a life that I had always longed for. I began uncertain of the end game, but set forth by showing up and saying yes to experiences that I’d always avoided.  Doing so, forced me from my self-created box and opened me up in new and unexpected ways. Each new experience served as an opportunity to face my fears and become more aligned with my passion and purpose.

I’ve discovered the things that scare me the most are usually the greatest teachers. By honoring my feelings, I can view each new opportunity with discernment, deciding on its expansiveness by choosing yes or no. That power of choice leaves me feeling;

Peaceful. Relaxed. Aligned. Intentional. Purposeful. Powerful.

Each emotions is richly rewarding, filling my cup to overflowing. Ahhh…Authentic!


Painful experience taught me that none of us is wired to live a life that isn’t meant for us. Of course, we can show up and meet our obligations, often for quite some time, but as time goes on, there is an erosive and damaging effect.

A fully authentic life is one that honors our history and allows us to become more fully who we are here to be. Through integrating our stories, we can serve all that has come and gone while learning the appropriate lessons each offered.  Standing in the face of what once trapped us allows us to challenge and discredit the painful stories that keep us from fully being who we are meant to be. I now lovingly refer to this process as “learning to love what is.”


For me, embracing my beautiful history in a kind and honest way has been the only clear path to an authentic life.  I now use everyday as an opportunity to show up and face what life seeks to teach me.  That has made all the difference and  I no longer dance as fast as I can, but instead enjoy the gift of living in the flow.

Does something keep you from living a wholly authentic life?

If so, are you willing to explore yourself in a more focused way to find its rich reward?

I encourage you to join me on this journey of self-love and alignment…




Showing Up: Taking action to cure fear

Recently, I posted The Journey of Being Kind and Honest where I shared a life changing  discussion from many years back about being kind and honest. That single conversation had a profound impact on me and seemed worth sharing with you all.

In that post, I offered 3 key steps that I believe are fundamental to pursing a kind and honest path.

  1. Showing Up
  2. Being Authentic
  3. Telling Your Truth

The first step of showing up is the most important because it sets the tone and intention for the journey. I view is as our willingness to say YES to pursuits that feed our soul.

But what does SHOWING UP actually mean?

Of course, it requires your physical presence in a given situation, but the real work is a little more involved. Simply put, I believe it is doing more of what scares you and taking action that pushes you beyond your comfort zone.

Can you think of one area in your life that you aren’t showing up for?

box-550405_960_720Perhaps it’s something like finding courage to:

  • Have a difficult conversation
  • Face the truth in a relationship with yourself or a loved one
  • Put yourself up for a professional pursuit that feels beyond your reach
  • Confront a personal issue that has become unmanageable



So, what is REALLY holding you back from taking the first step?


What often stops us short of action is FEAR. Fear of the unknown or a desire to avoid possible judgment, shame or ridicule. Perhaps, there is a truth we aren’t ready to reveal.

Does the thought of taking the next step leave you feeling anxious or depressed? Regardless, any self-limiting thoughts and fears can literally paralyze us from showing up for something that could be expansive and life changing.

The first step can take tremendous courage, like most anything in life that is new and different. It requires a willingness to face what holds us back, which builds momentum for the next steps. Any new result/outcome requires committed action that begins by showing up.






Now…imagine taking the first step toward what you’ve been avoiding.  Connect with how that might make you feel.

  • Relieved
  • Happy and joyful
  • Accomplished
  • Calm and peaceful
  • Stronger
  • Connected

Don’t we all want more of that?

When we commit to show up and take action, not only do we face our fears, but we become more aligned with living the life our heart desires.  By connecting with the feelings associated with taking action we can begin to move forward toward more of what we want.


Are you ready

to say YES

and take the 

first step?