A Discussion On Social Media & Mental Health
On June 27th, Madhappy hosted an event panel at our Melrose Place Pop Up. The focus of the panel was the role social media plays within the mental health space in both positive and negative ways. We brought in speakers who work across various industries ranging from music and entertainment, to meditation and online support groups. Here is a recap of the panel:
Jesse Israel - Jesse’s path began as a sophomore at NYU when he co-founded Cantora Records. Jesse went on to sign multiple bands such as MGMT and advise rappers like the Wu Tang Clan’s GZA. By putting all of his work into “hustling” Jesse began to experience debilitating stress and panic attacks. These challenges eventually lead to meditation. The practice was so transformative Jesse went on to found Medi Club, a social media meditation club. After realizing how accessible meditation can be for anyone, Jesse used his past experiences and founded The Big Quiet (TBQ), a movement that gathers thousands of people at a time for mass meditations. When Jesse is not leading TBQ, he is speaking about community building and mental health support through meditation courses throughout the country.
Jilly Henrix - Jilly Hendrix is a Writer, Host, and Content Creator. She is known for creating viral content for some of the most innovative companies including Sweetgreen, Bumble and Samsung. Her main focus is making comedic content about the latest cultural trends, viral moments, tech updates and trending humans. She is the creator of #NotesToMySelfie. Jilly co-hosted Lady Lovin', a podcast that received millions of downloads and focused on empowering women through inspiring topical interviews.
Mason Spector - Mason is one of the four co-founders of Madhappy. As someone who has struggled in the past with mental health related issues, Mason sat on the panel to provide insight from an every-day person. Through working with Madhappy, Mason has gained experience on how exactly to incorporate mental health initiatives into consumer-based business.
David Dann - Recognizing, respecting, and revering music’s power, Los Angeles-based Mind of a Genius C.E.O. and Founder David Dann focuses on nurturing talent first and foremost. That approach has driven the label’s continued success since 2013. Dann architected a platform to foster artistic development, and it ignited the careers of Gallant, Klangstof, ZHU, THEY., Kwaye, and more. Reflecting the diverse roster, it’s no surprise the moniker “Mind Of A Genius” actually originated on the founder’s iPod at the age of 16. David’s own connection to music began in a similarly pure manner. Classically trained in piano, he describes the instrument as his “gateway drug.” He traded in the ivories for the decks, becoming a producer and DJ at 16. Between high school and college, he gained an international following through gigs everywhere from South America to the U.S. and a hit in Brazil. With an artist mindset, David made the jump to founding his label.
Courtney Knowles - Over the last two decades, Courtney has developed a specialty in using media, digital presence, artists/influencers, events and grassroots activities to inspire actions that improve people’s lives, health and well-being. He co-founded Love is Louder with The Jed Foundation (JED) and actress Brittany Snow in 2010 and currently manages that campaign through his marketing agency and production company - Louder Now Communications. His agency also manages JED’s media relationships with partners like MTV, TLC and Spotify. Previously, Courtney was Executive Director of JED - a national nonprofit working to improve emotional health and prevent suicide among teens and young adults.
Peiman Raf- As one of the four co-founders of Madhappy, Peiman moderated the Panel to ask questions that linked together social media, business and mental health.
Q & A
Peiman - Jilly, a lot of your career is centered around social media. Can you discuss when you first started using social media and how the social media landscape has changed since then?
Jilly - My earliest memory is on Instagram. I had a profile for a while, but I made it public when I went to New York and started to DJ. It actually helped build my whole career. I guess back in the day with Instagram I felt like people were seeing content that was part of real life. It wasn’t high tech and there were no crazy filters. Now I think there are so many filters and angles people care about that everything we see just feels a lot less real. However, now my Instagram is mostly just words written instead of an image and it’s making my writing and comedy a lot more fun for sure.
Peiman - David, lets touch on how you used to be a musician and now run a record label. How have you seen social media used then versus how it is used now?
David - I have an extremely love-hate relationship with all social media. There will be a couple weeks or months at most where it fully takes over my phone and I feel like I just smoked 15 packs of cigarettes. It is difficult to turn it off when you are an artist because it’s a big way you build your career. You have to constantly connect with your fans and now you are given a platform that actually allows you to do that. No longer do you have to market your company or your music, you need to market yourself. Now we’re so reliant on actual artists who have control of their pages to be able to share their stories. It is almost like everyone is creating a reality TV show for themselves. I never get a break from social media anymore because I know if I’m not getting someone’s attention, it’s going to someone else who is in the exact same lane as me. In that same way, it’s good for new artists because they can gain a lot of attention much quicker. A lot of social media comes with the question “how relevant am I?” not only in making music in my case, but just in the world. It’s no longer musicians competing with musicians but now you are competing with people in the NBA or Donald Trump. It’s an entire world competition and it is very taxing.
Peiman - I think you made a good point about how now it’s inevitable that someone will be on social media. Courtney, can you touch on one of your first real exposures to metal health whether it was personally or with someone else that eventually lead you to start Love is Louder.
Courtney - Of course. My first exposure to mental health was growing up when I had a lot of family members that struggled with depression. I was the soon-to-be gay son of a southern Baptist minister in the belt between Florida and the Alabama line. I got involved with Love is Louder because someone reached out and said “hey I think this organization is great and could use some help”. But it was my history with and interest in mental health that lead me to get involved. I soon realized there was a lot of issues with how people treat mental health. We needed to get attention and for people to view it as an illness of some sort so we could provide the same attention that physical healthcare received. Mental health is something people really struggle talking about because I think everyone, in some way or another, is impacted by it. This is reflective in the social media space. I’ve done focus groups around the negative impacts of social media. We try and reshape the conversation from solely focussing on the down sides of social media, but how we can use these platforms to combat their own issues.
Peiman - Thank you. Me and Courtney were actually talking beforehand about how mental health can encompass the good and the bad. That’s how we came up with the name Madhappy, it comes with the idea that all optimism is balanced with a side of darkness - and that's something we need to embrace more. With that being said, Mason, do you want to talk about growing up and your first hand experiences with mental health and how as you grow older mental health has those experiences with mental health?
Mason - Well where do I start? I have a very interesting blended family situation that I won’t go into detail about right now, butI think because of my constantly changing family life I had to learn pretty quickly to get in touch with my feelings and embrace my emotions at a very young age. I’ve never felt weird being vulnerable or been uncomfortable talking about my feelings even to a fault at times with how sensitive at times and how emotional I can be. My sensitivity is a big part of who I am. I think my first memory on instagram was just how fun it was. I loved how funny people would be and how carefree they were and now when I go on instagram with my friends and laugh at old posts they go “oh I would never post that now” and all I think is why? Because you care more? Because you have a larger audience? Social media is one of those things, like many, that start off as fun but the larger it grows the more serious it gets. I guess I started noticing that when I would post, I would almost get hits of endorphins. I already struggle with addiction and have enough demons already so I realized I had to stop and I’m off Instagram now. It has been tough at times- especially having a business like Madhappy which grew so much because of its social media presence. That is just one of the many positives, I like that social media brings people together. I mean the name is literally social media but now we treat it like isolation media.
Peiman - Thank you. Now Jesse, you mentioned panic attacks before. Can you discuss a little bit more about those and how meditation helped.
Jesse - As mentioned before, I started a record label when I was a sophomore at NYU. We began managing MGMT. When they took off we found ourselves in this really unique position where we had a very successful band that we signed to our label in our early 20s. We were working really hard and also students. Again, this is before social media even took off. On the outside my career was awesome, it was sexy. We were going to concerts and selling millions of units on iTunes. But on the inside I was so confused. I was having panic attacks which were an experience I hadn’t even heard about before. I was experiencing debilitating anxiety and the stress was so noticeable and tangible that my body would just crash at every shock to my immune system - I was constantly sick and never sleeping. I found meditation as a means to work though stuff. I did my research and went to a buddhist center and eventually found a Hindu practice called Vedic meditation and it transformed my life. My nervous system reset by having a daily practice and allowed my body to be in less of a fight or flight stress state constantly. I started to experience less stress, less anxiety, and be more clear about how I wanted to show up in the world and work on my relationships. I found passion in life again and I knew as a business I had to share that with others.
Peiman - Thank you Jesse. When we look at social media we often feel like we are just on a highlight reel of someones life, but we never see the behind the scenes. Can you talk about this epidemic and how it contributes to mental health challenges going on in the world?
Jilly - I always see right through the bullshit, so that’s a positive thing. I had a bunch of friends were on a reality show in the early 2000s and I was in the background of some episodes. In 2007 I read something really mean about me online and I still remember it and it truly destroyed me at the time. I’ve always gotten social media hate thrown at me after everything I’ve done on Instagram and I’ve taught myself how to ignore it. I’m lucky I didn’t grow up with social media because I don’t know how I would have been able to handle the negativity as a young girl. It is really upsetting to think about. But then I think about how social media gives us access to everyone- all body types, all skin tones. It has opened up this new world that wasn’t around me. Growing up all I looked at were girls that weighed 90 pounds in magazines and I could never relate to them.
Peiman - Thanks, Jilly. Last week Jesse hosted a three-day meditation course in our Abbot Kinney pop up space and he talked a lot about how taking 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening to put your phone away and meditate can be incredibly detoxing. Jesse, do you mind sharing more about how “detoxing” from technology has helped you in your practice?
Jesse - I heard some interesting research about the amount of information and input we receive and process in one day living in 2019 is equivalent to the amount of information we would process throughout an entire lifetime when we existed in tribes. Technology plays a major role in this, but also our immediacy and constant contact with this technology. It’s normal we feel stress from this, our bodies weren’t made, and aren’t used to, processing that much information. This becomes a major burden on our nervous system. That is why meditation is so relevant, because it reverses all the stress our bodies are being put through daily. It also helps us become aware of what habits are good for us and which are bad. I’ve completely taken my phone out of my bedroom. I charge it outside and use an old fashioned alarm. It has revolutionized how I use my bedroom- how I sleep, how I make love, how I navigate the space. Another thing I’ve done wit my phone is that I’ve completely turned off notifications. This means I see text messages or instagram likes when I want to. This way when I check my texts I can check a batch of them rather than constantly texting back and forth all day. We are so used to getting a reply or response as quickly as possible but this strategy has helped me realize that nothing bad is going to happen if I don’t respond as immediately as I want to. If I see my phone in five minutes versus an hour, not much will be different. The colors and the flavors I taste in life are brighter and more flavorful because of this.
Peiman- That’s awesome. Courtney and David, can you share tips about habits and routines you find useful?
Courtney - It’s funny you mention how important it is to slow down. We now have the technology to respond in real time. When I was in college and I got in a fight with my roommate, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with him all day. This seems like a nightmare now but it gave us time to cool down, to think about what we wanted to say, and we would have better and more productive conversations on how to fix our issues because of it. Now when something happens, our emotions are at our fingertips and we can express them as they are generated. I think the ability to react all the time is dangerous. When we are stressed, we look to destress by playing with things physically, like coloring books or stress balls. So often times we pick up our phone and mindlessly scroll through social media because we think that’s how we wind down. But we are actually taking in all these stimuli on social media that make us feel bad about ourselves. You should use social media as a way to look at things that will make you feel better, not worse.
David - Every time I try to detox from social media I end up finding some sneaky way to get back on it that I didn’t even know I could do. If I take the app off my phone, I’ll look on my computer. If that doesn’t work I’ll just find some other hack to look at what I need to. Or want to. The difficult part about LA is that it isn’t just limited to social media. Let’s say I put my phone away and go on a walk. You go outside on Sunset and there are 30 billboards in a row that still make you feel the same shitty way Instagram does. Social media is addicting and you can’t avoid it unless you are disciplined. I really solute anyone who can do this, I wish I could.
Mason - I learned a lot this past year about the importance of having a good routine to do. I went to treatment on a year ago in June (I actually just celebrated my one year being sober on June 3rd). One of the things I learned was re-introducing myself and building a relationship with my inner child. We all have an inner child that we used to be. For some reason we grow up and forget about that inner child and all the things they used to do and enjoy. Innocent things. For me that was watching movies or playing sports. I’ve been slowly picking these things back up and returning to that innocent inner child, which has helped me forgive myself for a lot of things. Establishing a positive relationship with myself was huge when it came to setting routine and getting into my groove.
Peiman - One thing I’ve noticed recently is brands putting a bigger focus on mental health initiatives. What do you think about brands that are extremely mission driven like The Big Quiet (TBQ)? How do you think companies be profitable but still really change the mental health space?
Jesse- I think I found more passion each day when I moved from a more traditional space to building a business that I really believed in and felt really called to do. There’s no model for building business around mass meditations right now. As I’m building TBQ, I’m watching my friends build businesses that are being valued a billion plus dollars. I’m 34 so I’m watching people really start to move into financial success and sometimes that is really challenging for me. There are so many times where I’ve been working on TBQ and thinking “wow I should just quit this shit and start a Sweetgreen knockoff.” I am lucky that I am in a position of privilege where I can take the path that makes less money, because a lot of people are not. I wanted to commit myself to something deeper- it was about what I felt like my purpose in life was. That was a really long-winded version of saying when we get clear about what we want to do and what fulfills us- and we devote ourselves to it- we can accept our path will be different than our peers. Really special things unfold but it requires acceptance and commitment.
Peiman - Thank you. Jilly, when it comes to all the content you’re creating and writing you’re doing, how do you feel you can leave a long lasting impact and affect the people that are reading your content? What do you think about the messages you’re spreading and the content you’re creating?
Jilly - Well I think anyone making content of building a company now has a responsibility. I don’t think it matters what career you have or what business you’re in- everyone has a social responsibility to give back. So I guess in terms of giving back in the content space, I make sure I never post anything mean or with malicious intent. There is a way to post meaningful content and spread messages without offending anyone. Especially in comedy. I feel like people confuse being funny with being judgemental and mean. There are ways to be funny without being offensive and I try to do that with my content.
Peiman- Thanks! Mason, do you want to touch on what we’re trying to do at Madhappy when it comes to driving awareness around the mental health space?
Mason - When we came up with the name Madhappy it really hit us how powerful that word truly was. It is a name truly everyone can relate to. For me, it encapsulates the essence of life. Things obviously aren’t always good or always bad. I think I’ve really learned through the message of Madhappy that we need to value the lows just as much as we value the highs. We can learn both from our success and our failures. We know mental health is a bigger issue than we can even begin to handle thinking about. None of are professionals but that’s the point. You don’t need to be an expert to talk about mental health as long as we are speaking from our own experiences. And there is power in that. Like I was saying before with expressing their inner child, we want people to have the space to express that within our company. We literally have a wall that reads “___ Makes Me Madhappy” that we encourage people to doodle all over and talk about the simple things in life that make us happy.
Peiman - Awesome. David, I know you mentioned earlier about wanting to sign new acts that want to release music that focuses on mental health and other pressing issues. How do you think about the role you play in the power you have within that?
David - We were actually one of the first labels to announce that we were going to have a mental health division of the company. The pressure that new artists feel is extremely profound so we wanted to create this division that made sure resources were available whether that looks like having a therapist with you on tour or just simply a mentor to help you navigate your career. I then found a correlation between lyrics and popularity and actually the more emotive and expressive lyrics had a much higher rating. So we want our artists to express this raw and vulnerable side of that and be proud of that side. The issue with mental health in America is that it’s become its become inaccessible to get help or resources unless you have a lot of money or know the right people. It doesn’t matter what business we are a part of, we all have a platform to include mental health resources whether that be through music, or a shoe company or what have you. I want to redefine success. America is so capitalistic driven that we've told our kids the second they come out of the womb that you have to make money and if you don't make money you're not rewarded. So we see this on social media. I mean, on my page all I see is Gary Vee talking about how to be successful, and we define success in America as making a lot of money. So if you're not able to make a lot of money then you're not successful in it. Even if we choose to look at success as monetarily related, there are ways to make money and do good and provide resources.
Peiman - That’s a great point. Courtney, you are obviously an expert when it comes to communications and marketing. Can you talk about how you’ve applied that to Love is Louder and other mental health resources as a whole?
Courtney - Whenever people tell me that they think I’m an ‘expert’ in my field, I want to correct them. I don’t even remotely have this social media stuff figured out. It is unfortunate that more marketers don’t enter a more impactful space. We choose to advertise how products like Sopa can change our lives, but not how changing their mentality or attitudes or sometimes bad habits can. We know social media can be bad and that bullying is terrible. But not enough people say “Oh hey, we can use social media in a positive way and really make an impact.” A lot of people wake up and just wait to be offended because they know they can. I remember once there was this Buzzfeed article about the 10 most offensive comments from the Kinky Boots float in the Thanksgiving Parade. These people who made these horrible comments had 7 followers combined. But we gave them a voice. So I think sometimes my advice overall when it comes to how we get people to change their behavior is to think about why are we doing the things that we're doing. If you want to find something you can find something. So sometimes we just need to stop looking for it. My friend once deleted a picture on Instagram because there was one bad comment. I asked her to show it to me and she had to scroll through like 300 positive ones just to find it. I think where my focus has become is how can we use the marketing machine and all these things that are happening to get people focused on the things that they can do to feel better. It is really hard to find a good mental health professional in America. So we have to get smarter about how to market reasonable and practical strategies for people to get help. Yes, these platforms have really negative sides if we seek them out, but we can also use them for a lot of good if we seek it out.
The panel was followed with questions and comments from audience members. Input ranged from “How did the name Madhappy come to be?” to simple comments about finding validation and truth in what the panelists had said. Overall, social media can be an amazing platform to find support, seek inspiration and link with like-minded people. It is always important to know we can take a step back and check how certain media is making us feel and to be aware that if we want to avoid it, we can. At Madhappy, we want to make sure our social media is a resource that brings positivity into our viewer’s feed. We hope this panel recap has given viewers new perspectives, and allowed time to seek validation and find comfort knowing that the epidemic of social media is something we don’t have to experience alone, but together.