I was recently introduced to a company and movement I immediately clicked with called Shine the Light On. Shine the Light On is on a mission to bring a voice to mental health issues impacting youth. I’ve had a few phone conversations with the charismatic founder, Eli Brown, who has impressed me even more! You should head over to the website and check out the Our Story video to see him in action speaking on stage and giving away t-shirts like a rock star! But, it’s not all fun and games, on the homepage you can view a video explaining more about the company and the Our Cause page tells you that “with every purchase, STLO donates one educational program to advance mental health in youth.”
The facts may be a bit shocking to some but “1 in 3 youth from all walks of life suffer from mental health related issues. Two out of three suffer in silence due to fear of rejection and alienation.”
From the first moment I spoke to Eli, I felt like I knew him and his own struggles. His battle with his issues began after he was sexually assaulted at a young age. The shame and difficulties navigating his feelings were familiar to me in my own experiences and struggles as a youth. I know his story will resonate with many young people and adults and his advice is important.
As with all Social Good issues, the most important part is that WE CAN HELP others in what may seem like a small way. Buying a shirt or a few shirts may not seem like much but once you see what they are doing you realize that collectively, it will help a great many people. After you read our little chat, be sure to head to Shine The Light On to check out the merchandise for yourself.
Q: For those who aren’t familiar, tell us a little about you and how Shine the Light On came about?
Eli Brown: Shine the Light On is a clothing company that uses thought provoking designs to let people suffering from mental illness know they aren’t alone. People wear the clothes and become billboards, carrying the message with them. We work with non profits to partner and send this message throughout the communities who need to hear/see it.
We want to shift the conversation from reducing the stigma to acceptance and for every purchase we donate one educational program to help advance mental health in youth.
Q: As you have said, when we suffer certain traumas in our lives or carry certain secrets, we tend to feel we can’t talk to anyone about it because they won’t understand. Looking back, do you think now that you could have come forward earlier?
Eli Brown: Looking back now, having gone through sexual abuse I think I could have said something earlier and gotten help. It can be embarassing and difficult. As far as sexual abuse, there is a lot of shame and embarrassment. I was pretty uneducated on the symptoms of depression and anxiety so I thought it was normal freshman college issues. I went through sexual abuse at the age of 14 and kept it inside for years. At 18, 19, I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. That caused the mental struggles to grow.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who is suffering in silence or struggling with their mental health?
Eli Brown: The best advice: Find a support network that will help you get assistance. Guidance counselor, teacher, health professional. Reach out so you can start to receive help. Telling one person or two people creates a support group of your own and will give you the courage to go forward to seek out professionals. A friend or family member, talking it out with them helps you to get guided and ready to talk to professionals.
Q: Movements like Shine the Light do help to erase some of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues but there is still lots of work to do. What would you say to loved ones of anyone who is struggling?
Eli Brown: The stigma around mental health is definitely decreasing. I can say that when it comes to the people who reach out to me, I can only listen with no judgement. Hear their pain and their story, and then help them to seek professional help. Validation and support are key.
Q: You’ve been open and honest about your own struggles and the things you have done to self medicate. We see so often that individuals get to the point of overdose and many times it ends tragically. Are there certain signs we can look for in the ones we love that could prevent things from going so far? There is a difference between experimenting as we grow up and abusing to escape. Is it a difference that can be caught in time?
Eli Brown: I do think it’s something that can be caught. It depends on whether people want to act upon it. Weight loss, sleeping in, suddenly pale complexion. There are tons of signs but sometimes it’s difficult to confront someone about it. I went from being a high performance athlete, playing tennis, getting up early, eating healthy to not working out, not eating healthy… you may notice changes.
Q: I know you have some exciting things going on and coming up, can you tell us some of your future plans for Shine the Light On?
Eli Brown: One exciting thing is that we are going to start donating a significant part of proceeds to affordable housing for people who struggle with mental health and addiction. We have found that being able to afford a place to live can be difficult for those you are dealing with these issues and trying to seek help.
Another thing is that we will be launching in Europe. Mental health awareness is different in each city in the states and each country in Europe. The Royal family in the UK is on the leading edge in that. They are doing some ground breaking things for the people there and they have been open to doing what it takes to help.
Q: I ask this of everyone, What is one thing you absolutely cannot live without and one thing you wish we could all live without?
Eli Brown: One thing I can’t live without is this little book I carry with me where I write daily activities, phone numbers, notes. I love writing stuff down. I keep all of my notes and numbers in there. And ice cream! I love ice cream so I’d definitely say that.
I wish that at meals people could live without their phones. I don’t what it is, it really bugs me. People are out on dates or together in groups and are on their phones instead of paying attention to each other. People should pay less attention to technology during intimate dinners or gatherings and more attention to the people who are present there in the moment.
Q: Since you are so open about your own story and have spoken about it at events, do you have any particular stories that have touched you in surprising or memorable ways?
Eli Brown: I think one of the main things that surprised me is how many people there are that are impacted by mental health. When I was going through it, I felt like I was alone and I’ve found out so many others are going through it. So many of the stories I hear are impactful. Always very, very impactful stories after I speak somewhere or meet people through my work.
Q: I LOVE the partnership of Social Good and fashion, would you consider doing clothing for other causes?
Eli Brown: Yeah, when we initially started that is something we discussed. I think as we go on we will continue to Shine the Light on other social causes that impact youth.
Q: Where can we find you and Shine the Light online to learn more and to order some items so we can proudly and stylishly support?
Q: Since you are someone who had a vision and made a success of it, what advice would you give to those who have passions, dreams, and visions but are having a difficult time getting stared or haven’t been able to overcome certain fears that come along with pursuing them?
Eli Brown: One of the most difficult things to do is to stay focused and to stay tight on your vision.
There was too much feedback on what I was trying to do. I was getting sidetracked listening to eveyone else.
My biggest piece of advice is once you have that vision established, stay on that course until you start to see the vision becoming a reality.
Tommy: I want to thank Eli for sitting down with me for this interview and I definitely look forward to working with him more. I’m proud to be one of the brand ambassadors for Shine the Light On and would love to do something possibly for the LGBT community with them at some point in the future.