Charity Charge Show Episode 44 featuring Cassandra Vieten, Executive Director of the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation

In episode 44 of the Charity Charge Show, Cassandra Vieten shares a bit on the background of the John W Brick Foundation as well as their upcoming Never Alone Summit. Cassandra is a licensed clinical psychologist, mind-body medicine researcher, author, consultant, and public speaker. She is the Executive Director of the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation. She also serves on the Board of Trustees of The Marin School in San Rafael, where her daughter graduated from high school, the Board of Directors of Partners for Youth Empowerment, and the Board of Directors of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative.

How did the John W Brick Foundation come into being?

The John W Brick Mental Health Foundation was founded by Victor and Lynn Brick who are some of the largest franchise holders of the Planet Fitness franchise and have also been pioneers in the fitness industry since the 1980s. They had a brother, John Brick, who suffered from schizophrenia and throughout his entire life had been on lots of medication and gone through lots of therapy and institutions, causing a lot of pain for himself and the whole family. Never once was he offered as any part of his treatment, anything around nutrition, exercise, mind, body practices. John was on such a narrow approach to treating mental illness that ended up with him dying of complications of schizophrenia.

And so the Bricks became very interested in directing their philanthropy toward changing the way the world treats mental health. In other words, making it more holistic, doing research on how exercise, nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, mind body practices, benefit mental health. The John W Brick Mental Health Foundation has been around for about four years now and they’ve been able to donate over $1.3 million to science on mind body practices and how they can help people be more resilient to stress and deal with mental health issues. They’ve also invested in programs like installing fitness centers into community clinics that deal with severely mentally ill folks, such as the Johns Hopkins Child Psychiatry Unit, as well as support for programs that give gym memberships as well as online coaching to veterans through the Catch-a-lift Fund. 

Can you share a bit on the upcoming Never Alone Summit and how it came into being?

When the COVID crisis hit, we recognized that we couldn’t have an in person gathering, so we quickly pivoted to how can we help people at home who are dealing with some of these issues. So I reached out to some partnering foundations, one of which was the Chauffeur Foundation headed up by Deepak Chopra. They have a initiative called never alone, which is a suicide prevention and mental wellness initiative. So we decided to partner up to create this global mental health summit, a three day summit on May 22nd through the 24th, which is really bringing this holistic focus to mental health globally via livestream completely free. We have over 70 speakers lined up, including Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington, Peter Coyote, Mariel Hemingway, as well as Zach Williams who’s had his own journey with mental health, especially with the death of his father, Robin Williams.

We’ve just added the former director of the World Health Organization and the lead mental health person at the World Economic Forum and dozens of scientists, physicians, psychologists, as well as people who you may not have heard of, but that have extraordinary stories of their own survival through mental health issues. So we’re really excited about this because we think it’s going to bring a lot of light to people who are at home, whether or not they deal with mental health issues themselves, have a loved one who does, or maybe they work in the mental health industry, or just want to build their mental and emotional resilience. What we’re seeing now is that the mental health pandemic is being called the parallel pandemics. So people who are facing losing jobs, losing income, being quarantined there’s already a significant intensification of mental health symptoms even in people who never had them before. So we think this is going to be a really important offering to bring encouragement into people’s lives, particularly with a holistic focus.

So the Never Alone Summit is a free offering?

It’s completely free. It’s been incredible how everybody has been more than willing to contribute their time to come and speak at no cost. We view mental health as a continuum and so rather than thinking there are people who have mental health issues and people who don’t. It’s really a spectrum where any one of us could travel one way or the other on the spectrum. Now you may come in with certain genetics, life experiences, trauma, exposure to toxic environments or injuries that cause you to have a higher risk for mental health symptoms. But really anyone who faces a tremendous amount of stress can find themselves becoming depressed or anxious or even something more severe. People who have that high risk for mental health issues can engage in practices that create a kind of ecosystem in their lives that allow them to move more towards the healthy side of the spectrum.

In your opinion, how has COVID-19 influenced mental health overall?

So one of the things I think that this crisis gives us is an opportunity for people to really start talking openly about depression and anxiety. You see this all throughout the media now as people are being much more vulnerable and honest. Even seeing the news announcers at home sort of without makeup, there’s sort of a vulnerability that’s starting to happen that I think holds the potential to not only have this summit be something that affects people right now, but that really does change the conversation around mental health.

How can individuals get more info or sign up for the summit? 

You can go to our website, Neveralonesummit.live and you can register for the summit there. Again at no cost. There will be a ton of followup resources. It’s 18 hours over the three days, but we don’t expect that many people will stay for the entire 18 hours. So it’ll be viewable on demand easily right after each day of the summit. We’ll also be taking the content in the future and having a weekly webcast where we dive a little bit deeper into the topics that come up during the summit. We’re hoping to be able to offer people a lot of access to resources that they may not have heard of so that they can use those practices and tools right away. You can also find out more info about the work of the John W Brick Mental Health Foundation by visiting Johnwbrickfoundation.org. 

Kevin Price

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