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Motivational Speaker Brings Message of Positivity and Hope to Sidney

Large crowd learns how to deal with rural-specific mental health challenges

SIDNEY--Nationally-touring Wellbeing and Mental Health Expert Johnny Crowder came to Sidney Saturday night and held a free talk for area residents at the Sidney Elks Lodge to commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month. Cinnamon rolls and chili were provided to attendees, and a big turnout came out to hear what Crowder had to say, while enjoying an early evening snack.

Crowder spoke with The Sun-Telegraph prior to his talk, and it was immediately apparent that Crowder was not there to deliver a by-the-book academic or conventional speech on mental health. At 31 years old, Crowder has intense gray-blue eyes that focus on who he is speaking with, because what he is saying is important, and his experiences have shown him that far more people need to hear his message than most realize. From Tampa, Florida, Crowder grew up in what he would term a "severe" upbringing with two alcoholic parents, and with trauma inflicted upon himself from nearly his earliest memory. He would eventually channel that trauma and experience into the study of psychology and mental health, but he had many other experiences on the way to that goal which has given him a unique perspective on the challenges of mental health in modern society.

Crowder is a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist (CRPS) and the Founder & CEO of CopeNotes, a text-based mental health platform that provides daily messages of support to users in nearly 100 countries around the world. His TED-talk videos have garnered millions of views and he is a highly sought-after speaker in the corporate and public sectors. Crowder gives audiences practical self-care tools and mental health strategies that are designed to benefit people immediately, and will improve people's emotional and mental health. Crowder has had a very active life so far, touring with a heavy metal band for decades at this point, and he looks the part with both arms, neck and face sporting tattoos. But this is not a wild rock and roller, but rather a thoughtful and erudite speaker, with compelling real stories that are relatable to every listener. Although he never considered himself a "natural" at public speaking, he felt compelled to pursue this path years ago when he was starting out in Stand Up comedy, and was booked for a self-harm awareness benefit in Florida. One of the comedians gave a passionate performance, detailing the struggles of mental health issues and how to heal from trauma. Crowder was so moved by her performance that he sought the comedian out and picked her brain on how to become a speaker on mental health issues.

At first he was speaking with small groups, but the audiences quickly became larger with Crowder's unique perspective and willingness to open himself up completely and share his life experiences while helping build effective plans for people to help change and improve their lives. He then sought a degree in psychology, and started towards that goal at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. One year into his studies, his metal band was signed to a contract, and he ended up finishing his degree while touring with his band around the country. Crowder has mastered his craft, and says the biggest challenge now is to choose his most effective stories and examples of how to improve wellness in the short time he is able to speak to an audience. His goal of these talks over the past 13 years is to change negative energy into positive energy, because as science tells us, energy can neither be created or destroyed, it can only change forms. Which is why the focus is not on "destroying" negative energy, rather it is on changing it to positive energy. He told us that there are many challenges, especially for young and rural people, cause by our culture and societal pressures. For example, in some circles, mental illness can be viewed as "cool", associating the condition with quirkiness or a dark, brooding intensity that many younger people believe makes them stand out from their peers. Also, he explained how many people, and not just young people, fall into the trap of emotional dependence, when their sense of worth and ultimately their own mental health, is determined by the feedback of others. He says you can see examples of this affliction every day on social media and in Tik Tok videos.

For Crowder's talk in Sidney, the crowd at the Elks Lodge ranged from grandparents to middle aged adults, many with children ranging from elementary school aged to high school. Crowder started his talk, and within a minute or so, the microphone went out. But it did not matter to Crowder, as he just raised his voice slightly and continued on, with his stories and statements being so compelling and engaging, the lack of a microphone was quickly forgotten. He started with a story of himself and his older and younger brothers, and his "very cheap" father. his father was so cheap, he would not build a concrete driveway for the boys to play basketball on, but rather put down gravel, making it practically impossible to play the game. One day, his older brother pushed him down onto the gravel, causing a massive cut on the palm of his hand. The blood flowed freely and his older brother knew the would was very bad, telling Crowder not to look at the wound. But Crowder was not mostly concerned about the damage to his hand, or the amount of blood he was losing--he was far more concerned with the angry reaction his father was going to have. The anger would be about the money it would cost him to take the boy to the doctor, the inconvenience to him in having to stop everything and take the boy to the hospital, and probably even for bleeding on the new gravel. It was at this young age when Crowder realized that there was a problem, and his life with became filled with stress, anxiety and abuse. He survived three suicide attempts in his young life, and finally began therapy at the age of 14. he noted that in the United States, the average amount of time between the onset of symptoms of mental health struggles and seeking treatment is 11 years. Crowder said at 4 yers old he started to harm himself and have hallucinations, and when he was 14 he stated therapy. "So the 11 year timeframe was right on the money for me. And during those 11 years, I tried to convince myself and everyone else around me, that things weren't that bad," he said.

He also spoke about Stigma, and how devastating it can be to a persons sense of well-being. he said their were two kinds of stigma, social and self. Social stigma is especially a problem in rural and small-town communities where most everyone knows each other. Their is a big stigma attached to mental health treatment, which becomes an obstacle to many that want to seek treatment. "We're all afraid of judgement, and everybody does it. But remember, whether or not you see a therapist, people are going to judge you anyway. They're going to judge the way you talk, what you're wearing at WalMart--it's unavoidable. you just can't let the fear of what someone else thinks about you prevent you from bettering yourself," he said. Self Stigma can be even worse, and again more prevalent in rural areas, because the judgement being heaped upon a person is being done by themselves. From everything to not making enough money for the family, not living up to expectations of others, or running one's self down as a "failure", self-stigma is very powerful and very damaging, and far too common in Americans. Too often, what we self-stigmatize becomes our identity.

Something Crowder stresses is being active in changing negative energy into positive energy. You are responsible for your path of change, and actively working on what needs to change is vital to becoming mentally and emotionally healthy. As he closed the talk, he gave the audience a task. Get a piece of paper, and draw a line down and make two columns. Then draw a pumpkin. A line figure of a pumpkin, a shaded picture of a jack-o-lantern, it didn't matter. When the audience was done, he then directed them to label one column "Me" and the other column "Them". Next, he directed the audience to write down a few things they could do to help themselves in the short term in the "Me" column, and the write down a few things they could do to help others in their lives in the short term in the "Them" column. The pumpkin was drawn to remind the people that they had until Halloween to start to implement what they had written down. "Halloween is in 10 days, so you're going to have to get on it. Some people say, hey, you should give us 30 days to do this, but I say no. These things you want to accomplish or change are too important to wait 30 days to implement. Start now, and don't tell yourself there's plenty of time--pressure is many times the best way to get things done, especially things you know you need to do, but feel are "too difficult" to get started on. Do yourself a favor and start now."

The essence of Crowder's talk was to be open and communicative about struggles you are having, and to take the steps necessary to correct the things that are preventing you from happiness. Too many of us believe their is some secret techniques, or hidden knowledge about improving your mental and emotional health, but in reality it is just basic common sense and setting goals for yourself. The attendees came away from the experience with the knowledge that just about everyone suffers from some mental health issues, and it's a good thing to talk about these situations. Many people fear they will say the wrong thing, or what they say won't be helpful, but people don't realize the most important thing about talking with someone struggling with mental or emotional issues. They are not expecting you to "cure" them, but just to listen and be there for them. And that's something we are all equipped to do, and should all endeavor to be ready to listen and offer support. To view Johnny Crowder's TEDtalks or other videos, go to http://www.johnnycrowder.com.

 

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