By the time Mike Veny was 15, his mental health problems had led him to multiple stays in hospitals and several suicide attempts.
He had been expelled from three schools and his actions caused him to be known on a first name basis to law enforcement officers in his town.
One of the biggest changes in his life came soon after his mother asked him what it would take for him to be happy.
“I said the only thing that would make me happy is playing the drums all day, 24/7,” Veny said. “My mother said, ‘Give me a week to figure this out.’”
Veny’s parents then enrolled him into a performing arts school, where his grades improved and he learned that if wanted to be a successful drummer he would have to find ways to strengthen and improve his mental health.
Today Veny, 38, lives in New York, is a professional drummer and is considered one of America’s leading mental health speakers. He was also one of five featured speakers at this year’s Peace of Mind Conference, presented by the Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas.
Speaking to a crowd of several hundred people at the Green Aces CrossWalk Conference Center on Saturday, Veny talked about the importance of transforming the stigma around mental illnesses.
“Shame leads to silence, and the silence leads to sabotage, self-destructive behavior, social injustice and suicide,” Veny said. “Stigma starts with shame.”
Using a tactic that Veny advised no one else use, he once went a year introducing himself to new people saying, “Hey, my name is Mike. I’m mentally ill.”
This action caused him to recieve many questions, hugs and positive responses.
“When you start talking about it, it makes everything better,” he said.
He also advised those who struggle with mental illnesses to take time to practice self-care, which he practices through nutrition and exercise.
“When I started to take care of myself, the depression is still there, but I started to feel better about myself,” he said. “The key to transforming shame is self-care.”
The theme of the event was “Mental Health Challenges Facing Today’s Youth and Young Adults: Benefits of Early Intervention.”
Other speakers at the event discussed legal and public policy issues facing families today, challenges specific to parents of young adults with a mental health illness, eating disorders and more.
Tami Anderson, licensed professional counselor and fund development manager at Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas, said she hoped the event both informed attendees about some of the experiences those with mental illnesses face and debunked misconceptions.
“There is a great need to provide information and resources as we also work toward reducing the stigmas surrounding mental health in our communities,” she said.