Eli Brown is doing his best to Shine the Light On Mental Health Issues

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?

You can go to our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and visit the Website for more info on us, to find out where I’ll be speaking, where we will be featured, and of course to order our clothing.

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.


Swiss take a step to unlocking mystery of ageing

Swiss take a step to unlocking mystery of ageing (via AFP)

Swiss researchers said Wednesday that they had taken a step closer to unlocking the mystery of ageing after discovering the impact of a longevity gene in mice and then managing to extend the life-span of worms by 60 percent thanks to a basic antibiotic treatment. “They were not only living longer,…

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Become a Friend of Film

Friend is a story about two teens as they experience life as gay and transgender in small town America.  Elliot London wrote the original version of the movie but was inspired to travel across the country in search of teens that were going through similar situations.  The thing I love most about the concept of Friend is that Elliot incorporated the stories and opinions of the real teens he met in his travels so that he transformed his idea into a work of their stories.

I have been so lucky to be able to have the chance to talk with the film’s producer, Ronnie Kroell whose passion for being involved in creating this film has me convinced it must be made.  I would like to share our conversation with you and hope that you will be moved to get involved in any way you can.  Tweet about it, post on Facebook, donate.  The time has come for us to not only take a stand against bullying, we must rally to support those who are its victims as we help them to understand why they are bullied and reason behind why they do the bullying.  It is only through understanding and education that we will be able to eliminate this problem entirely.  Films like this create a much needed spotlight on the situation which can create an atmosphere for discussions and solutions.

Q: Tell me how you got involved with the Friend Film?

A: I met the writer/director of FRIEND thanks to a mutual friend, John Nelson. Elliot D. London is one of the most passionate film-makers I have ever met with a commitment to making a difference through his work (some of your readers may know him from the “Wedding Dance” video: http://youtu.be/vp6oUb0_DlY).

Elliot and I instantly clicked and saw similarities in our artistic goals – not to mention that we are both only children, both Aquarians, and both from the Chicago-land area. The only difference is that he is a Jew and I am a gentile, but I like to think that I am jew-”ish” being that I went to Niles North in Skokie, Illinois. We make a great team! I have joined the project not only as an actor, but as an Executive Producer – I am committed to making this film a reality.

Q:  Being bullied as a child, how did that shape who you are today?
A: When you are bullied as a child, it changes the core of your very being. As human beings we long to fit-in, to be part of something, to be accepted and loved. But, when we are rejected, made fun of, and told that we are different the consequences can be fatal. Thankfully, I have a family that has embraced and accepted me for all that I am. I never had the thought of suicide even cross my mind, but I know what it is like to be bullied. I used to be called a “faggot” at school and beat up on the way home by a group of kids that, for whatever reason, decided it was OK to take out their aggression on me.

Looking back on those times, I have finally reached a point where I can forgive them and find strength from those experiences. I have chosen to redirect that pain and anger into more positive channels – artistic projects that will help change hearts and minds. For others with similar experiences, the outcome has not been so positive. Many victims of bullying feel like they have no one to turn to or that there is no point to living anymore – and take their own lives. When this happens, we are all truly at a loss.

Q: What helped you to get through the tough times and what advice do you give to those who are victims today?

Ronnie Kroell

A: My rock has always been my relationship with my parents, more specifically – my Mom. Even though my coming out (or being found out by Mom stumbling upon my BF and I kissing in the backyard at 16) was not easy, my relationship with my parents was strengthened because I could finally be honest about who I was. I didn’t have to hide anymore and that was such a liberating feeling. When I was being bullied at my school, my Mom had no problem charging like a bull to their parent’s homes and giving them a piece of her mind.

I realize many out there reading this may not have that relationship with their parents, but the most important thing they can do is speak up and tell someone – anyone. Let a teacher, a counselor, a principal, or a coach know what is going on – it is their job to make sure that everyone can go to school in a safe environment that is conducive to learning. Bullying for any reason is unacceptable and must be addressed swiftly and with great care so not to escalate the situation.

Q:  Even though your experiences were similar to the story you are telling, has there been anything that has surprised you during this process so far?

A:  The one main difference between the way I was bullied and the way teens are being bullied today is the expansive reach of the internet. Technology today has made it easy for the bullies not only to harass their victims, but to video-tape it with a smart phone and instantly upload it for millions to see – as was the case in the tragic Tyler Clementi case. 1 in 4 children in our country are being bullied, that is 25% too much. All these kids want to do is be themselves, be accepted, and follow their dreams. Unfortunately, do to the high level of bullying, 62% of students decide to stay home from school out of fear of being physically or mentally abused.

Q:  How do you think we can eradicate bullying in our society?

A: The only way to eradicate bullying of all kinds is to break the silence, to move out of a state of fear, and decide to take specific ACTION. We can talk about the issues until we are blue in the face, but that does not solve the problem. We cannot simply tell these teens that it will get better, we must make it better. The other thing we must do is realize that the bullies are not villains – they are people that have been emotionally or physically abused themselves. The bad behavior they chose to exhibit and the harm they cause their victims is usually coming from a place of fear and pain within their own lives.

We cannot simply send the bullied to detention – by doing so we give them time and motive to plot their revenge against innocent victims. What we need to focus on is a national standard by which bullying is addressed in our school systems. Together we must create a proactive solution where teachers can take the bullies aside after class and ask them if they are ok; perhaps recommend/mandate that they take some time to meet with a school counselor. Bullies are not bad people, they are victims themselves that are part of a vicious cycle.

Elliot London

Q:  What does being able to make a film like this mean to you?

A:  Out of all the projects I have worked on thus-far in my career, this one will be definitive of who I am and what I believe as a person. I want this project to be successful with every fiber of my being because I know how much our community needs it. Yes, things are getting better, but we cannot become complacent. Those of us who are lucky enough to live in more liberal cities are lucky to escape a lot of the prejudice and harmful behavior that others must endure in small towns across the United States. Even with-in the LGBT community there is still so much division and animosity, but why?

Now, more than ever, we must unite as a community to take care of the generations to come by educating them and letting them know they are loved. We are all special, we each have a story to tell, and no one can possess the power to put us down – unless that is, if we give it to them. We have talked the talk with plenty of powerful campaigns, but now it is time to walk the walk. Beyond simply producing this film, we plan on embracing teens like Ali & Joseph that have been so brave in sharing their stories. They are real life role-models and we intend to take them on the road to meet with youth all across the country.

Q:  How can people get involved and help make sure the film gets made?
A: Most independent films have a budget of $3 Million, but we are trying to raise a mere $250k. This is what you call a micro-budget film, but we are confident in the team that we have assembled and know that they can get the job done. We have less than 2 weeks to raise $81k of our goal on indiegogo. If everyone could take a moment to hear Ali and Joseph’s story of being bullied, donate what they can, and share the link with family and friends we would be well on our way to reaching our goal. ALL DONATIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE. I’ll say that again, ALL DONATIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE, thanks to Fractured Atlas – our fiscal sponsor. Thank you all for your time and support!
To learn more, simply go to: http://www.indiegogo.com/friendproject. For all other inquiries or questions, please email: ronniekroell2020@gmail.com
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National Coming Out Day

Today was National Coming Out Day, which got me thinking about all the people who struggle with this on a daily basis.  Some choose to keep their truth from everyone because they fear not being accepted, being disowned by their families, and worse.  In some cases, the fear of what could happen is much worse than what actually does happen but in other cases the uneasiness is warranted.  I have always felt that every person has to be able to tell their story in their own time.  We cannot choose when, where, or why they should no matter how much we care about them.

I have also been reading and watching a lot about Amanda Todd, a young woman who committed suicide because she was being bullied online.  Bullying happens for many reasons, none of which are valid in my opinion.  We will be participating in Spirit Day on October 19th, which is a day we stand up against bullying and stand beside LGBT youth.  In my opinion, we should do this everyday so that tragedies like Amanda Todd’s suicide could be prevented.  Amanda was not gay but she was a victim of relentless torture because of something she did that people felt was wrong and would not let her forget.

Since when did we become such a heartless, unforgiving society? Why is it that in this day and age of easy access to information and enlightenment, we cannot see the hurt and damage we cause by what we say and do to and about others?  The Internet is such an awesome tool but it can also be a horrific weapon.

I would love to get a discussion going on this post in the comments section where people could offer help to those in need so we may prevent some of the pain and stop people from feeling so alone in this.  Maybe we could create a place where people would actually feel comfortable to come and share their stories?  Perhaps others who can offer help might read their words and a connection could be made?  Is this too lofty of an idea? I am not an expert but I am someone who has endured my share of bullying and I know that being heard and not feeling completely alone will help some who are going through these things in silence. Whether you are struggling with coming out, bullying, or any other situation that has you feeling like an outsider, it can help to put your feelings into words.

I would like you to watch the video of Amanda Todd, and just imagine how alone she felt. Had someone, anyone, reached out to her, perhaps she may have felt she could overcome her issues instead of feeling so alone, so isolated, and so humiliated that she decided ending her life was the only answer.  Even after this young woman took her last breath, the cruel individual continued to post online about her.  Is this what we have come to?