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Daily Inspiration: Meet Sheryl Johnson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sheryl Johnson.

Hi Sheryl, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Hearts 4 Minds began on the first anniversary of the loss of our son, Alex. It started as our way to honor a life lost too soon and make changes to improve the likelihood of a positive treatment outcome for those impacted by mental illness. We lost Alex at only 22 years old after he lost his battle with depression and anxiety. But we know that Alex’s story could have been different. In our journey to try to help Alex, we faced barriers like stigma, access to resources, being shut out of his care, and uncertainty around a complex disease. We knew nobody should lose a loved one simply because they didn’t have the tools to help them.

One of our longest-standing initiatives is our pin program. This pin is based on a photo taken of Alex when he was 5 years old, and a dragonfly landed on his nose. It is a moment that captured the very essence of who he was – a calm, sweet soul at one with nature. A dragonfly can have many meanings; its symbol of change and strength guides us. The dragonfly symbolizes transformation, strength, and hope and serves as the basis of our mission to raise awareness – “It is OK. You can change your mind.” As a result of support from people worldwide, there are over 5,000 pins in 5 countries, helping to raise awareness and normalize conversations.

Mental illness can happen to anyone. It could happen because of genetics or a traumatic event we don’t always know why. We know that it is treatable if a person gets help. Yet almost 60% of those in the United States with a mental illness don’t get the help they need. And stigma is one of the largest barriers to getting help. People don’t want to be associated with the mentally ill. They don’t want to be labeled as “crazy” or “dangerous.” So, what if there was no stigma? What if it was OK? Changing beliefs is a war of attrition. We will continue to demystify mental illness, open conversation, and build a bridge between those who need and provide. When we normalize discussions and understand the signs and symptoms early on, we give ourselves a greater chance to treat the disease earlier. Today, the statistics show an average 8-year delay between the onset of symptoms and treatment. That’s like only treating cancer at stage 4, when treatment options are reduced and effectiveness less certain. Just think what we could do if we got in front of mental health issues!

Saving lives by changing, transforming, and breaking the stigma of mental illness will pave the way to creating critical connections, compassion, education, and innovation. This mission is critical because more than 51 million Americans have mental illnesses. Remember this – the average American looks at their phone every 12 minutes, and every 12 minutes, two more lives are lost to suicide and overdose.

In addition to ongoing video and social media campaigns, speaking engagements, and community events, Hearts 4 Minds is currently focused on two (2) primary initiatives:

1. Making Care Coordination a Standard of Care. This was missing in our fight, and we know that arming a family support system with information is critical to successful long-term treatment. We started with Alex’s Dragonfly Fund for Young Adult Mental Health. This partnership with Baptist Health in Northeast Florida created a lifetime fund to support specialized care role that wraps families impacted by mental illness in a system of care that guides them and creates a comprehensive and coordinated approach to healthcare. The role launched on March 1, 2021, just 2 years after we started! In 2021 we raised $1.6M to fund the Dragonfly Care Coordinator for life. By the end of this year, we hope to have 3 Dragonfly Care Coordinators and will begin work to make this critical role a model throughout our community.

2. Creating Connections – in conjunction with the City of Jacksonville, we use art and impactful creativity to reach deep and wide through our community. Reaching people where they live, study, play, and work is a critical way to raise awareness and create connections first, our “Murals with Meaning” both help to beautify our city but include a QR code. That links a resident to a webpage with information about mental illness, resources, and a 24/7 crisis text line. Our mural on the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp stadium entitled “We have the power to change in the palm of our hand” was our first installation. We’ve completed a second mural at the River City Science Academy on Beach Boulevard and have several more in the works. These murals combine education, workshops, and community to make them effective. We are also installing “mini-art” with the same QR Code, a Crisis text line on bus stop benches throughout our community, and “window clings” for local businesses to display.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Taking a leap of faith that includes displaying your personal story and loss is never easy. First, finding the courage to speak up and share our story took a lot of thought, courage, and support. But we knew we had to live what we were speaking about, which was to talk about mental illness and break the stigma—finding a way to share our personal story and honor Alex’s memory and the great kid he was taking time. There were times when it felt like we weren’t making a difference, but little by little, we built partnerships with great organizations and helped save lives one at a time. Those small successes drive us forward when we help a family understand the illness is not their fault or help connect a family to a resource. And we are continually evaluating our mission, vision, and purpose. When we started, the cause was so close to our hearts. As we’ve grown, we’ve learned to adjust so that more and more people can connect to the issue. Alex is the pillar that helps us continue.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I have been a corporate attorney for over 32 years, so venturing into non-profit and advocacy was a change. I’ve leveraged my ability to write and speak to make a difference. I’m most proud of my connections throughout our community and the people I have helped. Their notes to me remind me that I am doing the right thing. And although I know we will not always be perfect, the best way to give life to Alex’s memory and meaning to his life is to continue to move forward and change the mental healthcare ecosystem.

Are there any books, apps, podcasts, or blogs that help you do your best?
One of my favorite books is the Book of Joy – it helps remind me that even though bad things happen, we can still find our joy and move forward. Thinking Fast and Slow is a great book about how we make decisions and when to trust our intuition. It’s a great book to help analytical thinkers trust. Lead Like a Woman is a great read for any woman looking to become an effective and successful leader!

I also am a Leadership Jacksonville alumni. This program helped expand my understanding of my community and the meaning of servant leadership, a leadership style and philosophy that turns “leading from the top down” on its head. This philosophy has helped me understand that my leadership is an opportunity to serve others, drive engagement, listen and measure success by growth.

Pricing:

  • $15 per pin donation
  • $9.99 donation for branded post its
  • $25 donation for a branded hat
  • $30 branded shirts

Contact Info:

  • Website: hearts4minds.org
  • Instagram: @hearts4minds
  • Facebook: @hearts4minds

Image Credits
My photos or Prattify

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