Mental Health Champions: Why & How Flora Nicholas of ‘All Sober’ Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness
I surround myself with a supportive, positive, inspiring community of people — and they include my wonderful family members, as well as great friends from all aspects of my life. As anyone who has ever struggled with mental health and addiction will tell you, community is essential to mental wellbeing and recovery. And my fantastic community is essential to me!
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Flora Nicholas.
Flora founded All Sober along with her husband Paul Gayter, as a result of journey with a family member who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. Along the way, Paul and Flora realized that there were major problems at every stage of the addiction and recovery lifecycle — and that existing solutions for people in need were fragmented, highly specialized, not available on the scale that the problem demands, or non-existent. Having faced the problems themselves, Flora and Paul realized the challenges millions of Americans face daily and have founded All Sober to help them. In her previous professional life, Flora worked at some of the best advertising agencies in the world, including Ogilvy, as well as her own creative company Brainwave. During that time, she created campaigns for famous brands and non-profits alike and won prestigious awards too. Flora has always been committed to using her professional skills to making a difference. In that regard, Flora is most proud of pro bono campaign that she and Paul created for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children ( NCMEC). The “We’re here because they’re out there” campaign played a key role in the establishment of an entire Family Advocacy Division at NCMEC, and Paul and Flora were named the 2004 Justice Department Volunteers of the Year in recognition of their efforts. Flora graduated from the University of Leeds (UK) with a BA (Hons) degree in International History & Politics, is married to co-All Sober founder Paul Gayter, and is the enormously proud mother of two amazing children
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in London. My parents were both Greek Cypriots who grew up in unbelievable poverty in Cyprus and emigrated to Britain in search of a better life — just as many people do to America. We were poor and lived in really overcrowded circumstances when I was growing up, which was a mental health challenge for everyone, including me. But my parents ensured that I was rich in so many ways, and that has defined who I am today. I was abundantly rich in their unconditional love and their encouragement and support of my determination to get a great education so that I could fulfill my potential in life. They also instilled their values in me and taught me to be honest, trustworthy and kind, to work hard every day, to stand up and do the right thing no matter how hard it is, to treat everybody as equals and always with dignity and respect, and to help those in need. My parents recognized, as poor as we were, there were others who were infinitely worse off than us — and in a variety of ways, too. So, they always did what they could to help people and they raised me to do the same.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
There is an epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction in this country. 192 million Americans have a substance use disorder, need treatment or have a friend or family member in treatment. And many of those who are suffering have co-occurring mental illness of some kind too. And the problems have worsened during Covid.
The statistics are shocking, the deaths are rising and the urgent search for help with addiction and mental health issues and post treatment, sober life support continues unabated. However, the resources that individuals and their families and friends need are spread out over the Internet, hard to find, siloed, fragmented, or simply nonexistent.
We have therefore created All Sober to provide everyone with all the tools, resources and connections they need for treatment, recovery and sober life — all in one place. So, when people come to All Sober, they’ll be able to find treatment options that suit their needs quickly and easily, join 24- 7 support groups to get help and advice, and build their own sober networks and communities. Additionally, they’ll be able to find resources that can help them get jobs or go back to school post treatment, and access sober lifestyle content and information so they can stay physically and mentally healthy — and lead fulfilling sober lives. Finally, and just as importantly, they’ll be part of a massive All Sober community whose energy, positivity and wonderful stories of recovery will help them see that sobriety is not only achievable, but sustainable.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Over the years, I have watched in horror as the number of Americans dying of addiction has skyrocketed. I have also heard heart breaking stories from my friends — some of whom have lost their children to addiction — about all the challenges they faced as they searched the Internet desperately trying to find help. Then the problem really hit close to home for my husband Paul and me, when one of our loved ones started suffering from addiction and we experienced the horrendous issues that exist for ourselves. In short order, we realized that the only way of alleviating the constant search for solutions was to bring together everything that people need and house it all in one platform. That inspired us to create All Sober — with the emphasis on delivering it ALL for those who need to get and stay SOBER.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Those who are helping loved ones through addiction will tell you that the visits to hospital emergency rooms and detox wards are common. And it was an experience in a detox ward with our loved one that inspired us to step up and create All Sober. The ward was packed with people of all ages and backgrounds who were suffering from addiction, as well as their desperately worried family members, friends and allies. In a conversation one night with one of the nurses, we learned that hardly anyone on the ward had health insurance, and that after detox they would be back on the street, with no way of getting treatment and little or no chance of surviving their addiction. Paul and I were both stunned, and I remember standing in the corridor of the ward and thinking “This should not be happening in America and we’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to provide people with ways of getting help and support even if they don’t have health insurance.” And I knew from looking at Paul that he felt the same way. Though we didn’t know it at the time, All Sober was born right there and then.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
There have been numerous interesting, inspiring stories since I began leading the company. But there was one early on that I will never forget. Paul had created a fantastic iteration of the All Sober platform in WIX so we could demonstrate our vision to people both in the treatment industry itself and members of the general public, and get their input and feedback. The first time we presented the WIX platform was to the Head of Addiction Treatment at a leading Hospital Center in the DC suburbs. She cried when she saw it and told us that she had waited 17 years for someone to step and do something like this. We knew then that we’d got it right, and that we were on the road to creating something that would make huge difference in the lives of all those in need.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
The list of people who have helped me succeed in life is long. I have detailed the massive and foundational influence of my parents above. But there were also other relatives who mentored and cheered me on when I was growing up — and one such person was my Uncle Andrew. When I was 11 years of age, I was admitted to one of the best schools in London. My dear Uncle Andrew took me to a shop around the corner from our house and bought me a wonderful black leather briefcase as a way of congratulating me. And he cheered me on constantly regarding my education. I’m proud to say that I paid back his faith in me, and my mum and dad’s faith in me, by becoming the first member of my family to go to University, and the first to graduate. And that black leather briefcase came along for much of the ride.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
There’s a stigma not only about mental illness but also about addiction. In term of mental illness, I believe the stigma comes from people not understanding the nature and complexities of mental illness and believing that those who are suffering should simply try harder. Over the years, these perceptions have been reinforced by negative news stories and movies, and that has exacerbated the problem and prevented people from seeking help, preferring instead to suffer in silence.
Sadly, there’s even a bigger stigma associated with drug and alcohol addiction — and in this case it comes from the fact that society doesn‘t understand that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing. Society therefore judges people with addiction as making bad “moral” choices, condemns them as being “bad people”, criminalizes their drug use in many instances and jails them for their addiction. It’s hardly surprising therefore that many of those who are suffering feel immense shame and often don’t seek treatment because of it.
One of our goals at All Sober is to end the stigma of mental illness and addiction and we are determined to use all our resources and connections to do it.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
I think there’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to help people suffering from mental illness.
- I hope that more individuals — both famous and otherwise — will speak out about having mental health problems because every single person who does so will help end the stigma and the shame. And kudos to both Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka for doing just that. Their courage and willingness to not only speak out, but to put their health and wellness first, will inspire others to do the same and therefore help destigmatize mental health issues and mental illness.
- I believe that as more people speak out, society will begin to understand that there are various levels of mental illness, and that in one way or another almost half of all Americans are affected, including virtually everyone’s loved ones. When that happens, society’s view of mental illness will change, just as views changed about sexual abuse as a result of the #metoo movement.
- The government can do a tremendous amount to support those suffering from mental health issues and illness — including providing more access to healthcare generally, more resources on a local, state and national level to treat those who are suffering, and more communications campaigns that explain the complexities and various aspects of mental illness, and guide people to the support they need. And, of course, treatment should be easily available, and medications should be accessible.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
These are the things I do daily to promote my own wellbeing and mental wellness. I have learned a lot of these strategies from people in recovery and have found that they are just as helpful to me as they are to them.
- I wake up every morning and write a gratitude list — which comprises of 10 different items daily. These can be big items (my family and friends), or small ( being able to watch beautiful sun rises from my house.) This is a common practice in AA and it helps me immensely because it reminds me that not matter what comes my way, I have so much in my life that I am really grateful for. As a result, I can more easily let go of “the small stuff” to quote a famous book, and approach each day in a more appreciative, calm way.
- I exercise every day. In fact, come sun, rain, sleet or snow, you can find me running around the streets and lakes of the DC suburb that I live in. Running takes away my stress, fills me with feel good endorphins and gives me the energy to power through everything I need to get done on any given day — while feeling great at every step of the way.
- I see a therapist whenever I need to. I actually resisted going for years and thought I could just talk through things that were causing me anxiety with my friends. But seeing a therapist has made a world of difference to me. It allows me to not only talk through things that I am concerned about, but also to understand why certain situations are stressing me, develop strategies to allow me to manage them better and improve my overall mental wellbeing at the same time.
- I meditate. I regularly find a quiet space, shut out the world, put my headphones on and listen to a meditation podcast. This allows me to get out of my head, slow down and get to a place of peace. And who doesn’t love peace!
- I surround myself with a supportive, positive, inspiring community of people — and they include my wonderful family members, as well as great friends from all aspects of my life. As anyone who has ever struggled with mental health and addiction will tell you, community is essential to mental wellbeing and recovery. And my fantastic community is essential to me!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
- Book: “Recovery- Freedom of Addictions by Russell Brand”. Russell’s comedic writing about mental health and addiction is inspiring in and of itself.
- TV series: Dopesick. This series documents the actions of drug companies who knew their drugs were addictive and sold them to millions of unsuspecting Americans anyway. Watching it and reading about it made me angry and it inspires me to make a difference and help all those who succumbed to opioid addiction and the mental health challenges that come with it. Thank you, Beth Macy!
- App: The Calm app. A great resource and it lives up to its name.
- Podcast: How I built this: The Head Space episode. Always wonderful to hear the stories behind the creation of mental health and mindfulness companies.
- Album: Clean by Ben Lerner. It’s the single best album I have ever heard about addiction and recovery. Ben’s musical talent is unbelievable, which is no surprise because he’s Irwin Berlin’s great grandson. Check him out!
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Everyone can make a difference, no matter how big or small that difference is. Your individual voice, words, experience, talent, connections and resources can help. Paul and I were two people outraged at all the suffering and despair we saw in that detox ward in 2016. And we used our voices, words, experience, talent, connections and resources to create and launch All Sober — and it’s going to have an enormously positive impact on the lives of the 192 million Americans impacted by drug and alcohol addiction. And we’re only two people!
How can our readers follow you online?
They can follow me:
On Twitter: @flora_nicholas
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: Why & How Flora Nicholas of All Sober Is Helping To Champion Mental… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.