Mental Health Champions: Why & How Jen Monteleone of ‘The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors’ Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness
… People experiencing body-focused repetitive behaviors feel a deep sense of shame and embarrassment about their behaviors because their physical appearance is affected. This leads to isolation and disconnection with family, friends, community, employment, and more. TLC provides a safe environment for BFRB community members to gather to share, learn, and grow together without fear of judgment.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Jen Monteleone.
Jen Monteleone is the Interim Executive Director of The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. For more than 30-years, Jen has supported nonprofits in achieving success. A servant leader at heart, Jen’s career has centered on effecting positive change in the lives of vulnerable community members, with health and human services.
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?
TLC was founded in 1991 to grow awareness for and support people experiencing hair pulling disorder or trichotillomania. What started out as a passion project soon grew into a purpose-driven health and human services organization providing resources and support for the full complement of body-focused repetitive behaviors, including hair pulling, skin picking, nail-biting, cheek biting, and more.
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?
The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive behaviors is dedicated to supporting the 1-in-20 individuals experiencing body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) through advocacy, awareness, connection, health education, celebration, and equitable access to effective evidence-based treatments.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
People experiencing body-focused repetitive behaviors feel a deep sense of shame and embarrassment about their behaviors because their physical appearance is affected. This leads to isolation and disconnection with family, friends, community, employment, and more. TLC provides a safe environment for BFRB community members to gather to share, learn, and grow together without fear of judgment.
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?
This cause is near and dear to my heart, as my younger sister experiences hair pulling. There is so much the general community doesn’t know about body-focused repetitive behaviors. The opportunity to increase awareness and grow advocacy for my sister and others living with hair pulling, skin picking, nail-biting, cheek biting, and other associated behaviors was something I couldn’t pass up.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
While attending my first TLC Hangout (one of the specially designed community engagement programs that provides a safe, judgment-free place for BFRB community members to gather, share, and grow ) a young community member, around the age of 9, taught the multigenerational group attending the importance of believing in yourself no matter what. They offered sage advice that most of us, as we age, forget because we’re conditioned to believe otherwise. It was a profound moment that provided hope and healing — and a reminder to embrace and love who you are because we are all valuable no matter how we walk in this world.
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?
Our BFRB community members are our greatest cheerleaders, helping us remember why we do this important work each and every day. They are our greatest teachers and advocates — and some of the bravest people we’ve ever met.
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?
From our experience, stigma is a product of fear and lack of understanding, along with societal expectations of what “normal” looks like. When we break down myths and misperceptions stigma and isolation are reduced. Our goal at TLC is to bring the conversation about body-focused repetitive behaviors into the mainstream to lessen stigma, shame, and isolation in order to grow understanding, inclusion, and build community.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Growing equitable access to medical and therapeutic treatment providers trained in diagnosing and developing effective treatment plans for people experiencing hair pulling, skin picking, nail-biting, cheek biting, and other associated behaviors. This includes increasing the number of multidisciplinary, multicultural medical and therapeutic providers to support positive patient outcomes and overall quality of life.
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?
Urges to pull and pick tend to become more frequent when our bodies are dysregulated or feeling overwhelmed.
Some helpful strategies to keep yourself healthy and well include:
- Mindfulness and Meditation — Breathe
- Behavior Replacement — Fidgets
- Exercise — Balance
- Connection — Phone a Friend
- Community — You are Not Alone
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Overcoming Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors: A Comprehensive Behavioral Treatment for Hair Pulling and Skin Picking, Charles S. Mansueto, Sherrie Mansfield Vavrichek, Ruth Goldfinger Golomb
The Hair Pulling “Habit” and You, How to Solve the Trichotillomania Puzzle, Ruth Goldfinger Golomb and Sherrie Mansfield Vavricheck
A Parent Guide to Hair Pulling Disorder: Effective Parenting Strategies for Children with Trichotillomania, Suzanne Mouton-Odum, and Ruth Goldfinger Golomb
The Hair Pulling Problem, A Complete Guide to Trichotillomania, Fred Penzel
Trichotillomania, Skin Picking, and Other Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, Jon E. Grant, Dan J. Stein, Douglas W. Woods, and Nancy J. Keuthen
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?
Follow the Golden Rule, remembering especially in trying moments how you wish to be treated, then pay it forward everywhere you go.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can learn more about The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors by visiting our website at www.bfrb.org, or following us on social media, Instagram, and Facebook.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: Why & How Jen Monteleone of ‘The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.