Two Game Changers for Mental Health
In the United States, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. This year especially, it comes as more and more Americans are struggling with their mental health since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, nearly 50 million Americans are currently diagnosed with some kind of mental illness. Bottom line: If you’re struggling with your mental wellness, you’re certainly not alone.
At Rise Interactive, we love data — and we take this data on mental health seriously. As part of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, we’re committed to promoting mental health and well-being across our organization. This month, we launched a new Mental Health Connexion Group* and invited two champions of mental health to speak at our Chicago office to Risers in all of our locations. Christopher LeMark and Dr. Eric Lueshen both changed their respective games and came out stronger on the other side. Check out both of their powerful stories below!
*At Rise, our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) are called Connexion Groups. BRGs help connect different groups of employees with similar interests, experience, and perspectives. Connex is Rise’s media optimization platform that brings our approach to cross-channel media management to life. Hence, Connexion Groups!
A Chorus of Coffee and Community
After a turbulent and abusive childhood, Christopher LeMark suffered from a self-described “breakdown” in a Chicago coffee shop in 2018. It became the moment he decided to seek individual therapy for his long-standing PTSD issues. During his therapy sessions, Christopher realized that part of his healing process was to serve his community. As he explored what mattered to him, he found three concepts that he wanted to use to combat the stigma of seeking mental health treatment: “coffee”, “hip hop”, and “mental health”.
This realization led him to establish Coffee, Hip-Hop and Mental Health in July 2019, an organization committed to serving Chicago’s Black community by using profits from coffee and merchandising sales to fund individual therapy, particularly for those who might not be able to afford it otherwise. His coffee shop boasts custom merchandise and a menu that pays homage to powerful hip hop artists, while “creating safe spaces for people to talk about their issues without bias.”
Throughout his time overseeing this organization, Christopher reached an important conclusion about the impact that the coffee shop has already had: “People don’t come in for just a cup of coffee. They come in for a therapeutic transaction.” If you’re interested in hearing more, watch LeMark’s stirring interview with Carson Daly on the Today show here.
Using Obstacles to Overcome
From a young age, Dr. Eric Lueshen knew he was gay. And, despite the challenges he faced living in a traditional and religious small town, he knew that authenticity would be key. After high school, he went on to become a Division 1 football player for the University of Nebraska — in fact, he was the first openly gay player at this level. “I wasn’t going to live a lie, or live in fear,” said Dr. Lueshen. “I was going to be myself: An athletic, smart, quirky, driving caring and passionate man who just so happened to be gay.” This singular focus on being himself, became much more than he knew at the time.
During his football career, Dr. Lueshen was unfortunately benched for 14 practices due to injury. Right when he was on the cusp of playing again, he sustained a stress fracture in his back during a practice game. Increasing back issues led him to seek surgery, at which point he believed his football career to be over. However, during his surgery recovery, Dr. Lueshen started inspiring his peers. In that moment, he recalls: "I did something much greater than anything I could have ever done on the field simply by being my authentic self."
Dr. Lueshen then realized his calling: To inspire others with his story of perseverance and authenticity. He began to talk about his experience in major venues like universities and radio shows. He even founded LGBT Sportsafe in 2016, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting LGBT+ inclusion within high school, college, and professional sports.
After a tour of in-person and on-air appearances, doctors diagnosed him with the ultra rare osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone, in 2021. However, this obstacle didn’t slow him down. His diagnosis and subsequent surgery led him to realize “you find your biggest strengths when in your deepest lows.” As he recovers and manages his physical health, Dr. Lueshen continues his tour de force of promoting inclusion and mental wellbeing, particularly in LGBT+ youth.
Changing the Rules of the Game
At Rise, we’re so thankful that we got a chance to experience the inspirational words of these two game changers. As Christopher LeMark says, “healing is a marathon,” and we’re dedicated to that race. If you’re struggling with your own mental health, NAMI provides helpful resources to get you started on your own journey. Together, we can end the stigma.