Mental Health Champions: Why & How Mike Clare of Mood Health Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

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Talk therapy — I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off for years. It took a while to find someone I liked, but now that I have someone, I try to keep up the practice.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Mike Clare.

Mike Clare is the founder and CEO of Mood Health. Losing his mother at an early age kicked off a cycle of depression and struggle for Mike and his family. After decades of being prescribed the wrong medications; finding it nearly impossible to book an appointment with an effective local psychiatrist; and even having to choose between paying medical bills and making the rent, Mike made it his mission to make excellent mental health care accessible and convenient to everyone.

A proven company builder and designer, Mike was a Director at startup studio Juxtapose, where he took multiple businesses from pre-conception through launch. He has led product development, user research, design, and marketing for companies that have to date raised more than $600M in capital.

Mike received his bachelor’s in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. He loves attending gallery openings, checking out new restaurants, making ceramics, and drawing.

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?

Despite mental health issues rising to crisis levels worldwide in the last few years, the conversations and support systems around mental health in the United States are frighteningly inadequate. Most people fail to get the care they need — whether it’s because of affordability, a lack of available experts to diagnose issues, or simply that they’re not aware of how much better they could be doing. Openly discussing one’s own mental health and journey still carries social stigma, and this exacerbates the problem. We’re trying to address these issues by removing the taboos around talking about mental health and acknowledging that it is part of your overall health. We make treatment affordable, convenient, and accessible. And we do it in a way that produces the best outcomes for patients: authentic, personal relationships with care providers that result in customized treatment plans for every individual.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Since I was a little boy, I’ve known how horrible depression is.

When I was eight, my mom suddenly passed away. All at once, I became a depressed version of myself.

It wasn’t until I turned twelve that I was diagnosed with depression and started seeing a psychiatrist. That’s when I started taking antidepressants. For the first time in years, I started to feel like myself again.

But there was a catch. Psychiatry was tough to afford. My dad would go without basic necessities to keep me feeling better, but the whole time I knew that we were struggling. Our financial issues added to my stress and depression. I give my dad a lot of credit. He did the best anyone could do in an impossible situation. But no one should ever have to decide between paying rent and getting mental health care.

When I grew up, I bounced among several primary care doctors. Each time I switched doctors, they’d ask me what medication I was taking. Then they’d continue prescribing the exact same medication, no questions asked.

Then, one day, one of my doctors said something that always stuck with me: “Mike, I know I’ve been prescribing these for the last few years…but to be honest, I really shouldn’t be. You really should be seeing a psychiatrist.” I realized that for all these years, my providers had been going through the motions. They saw me as a pattern that they recognized and had a playbook for. They weren’t seeing me as a person.

Seeing a psychiatrist sounded simple enough, so I started to look for one. What I experienced was an ordeal. If I could find a psychiatrist online, they almost never had an email address. I would have to call. But when I called, they were busy, and I had to leave a message. And then wait to hear back. And wait. Most of the time, no one called me back. In the few cases where someone responded, they invariably refused to take my insurance and told me that a first visit would be $300 to $500. Often, there would be no availability for months.

Eventually, I found a psychiatrist. For the first time since I was twelve, a medical professional actually asked me how I was feeling. We talked about stress, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness — and how it was all impacting my life. What really impressed me was how Even more, we talked about my goals and how I wanted to feel. And then he told me. “You could likely be feeling much better.”

At the time, I was confused. I felt better than I had in years, I had a good job that I liked, and objectively, everything was going well. Though I didn’t know what better would feel like, I decided to trust him and give it a try.

For the next couple of months, I tried a new medication. And I did feel better, but then I started developing a side effect known as “brain zaps.” If you’ve never experienced this — it’s weird. It feels like you’re getting a small electric shock inside your brain. Freaked out, I told my psychiatrist. We decided to try a different medication.

This time, it just worked. It was life changing. It was like putting on glasses for the first time. Suddenly, I was able to see a world that’s always existed, but that I had never been a part of. “Holy crap! This is what the world is like?” I remember thinking to myself. “This is incredible”.

The seven years since have been amazing. Not every day is rainbows and butterflies. I still have my down days (or weeks), but I feel so grateful to feel as good as I do. But I look back on middle school, high school, college, half of my twenties, and think “what the fuck.” This whole time, I was getting clinical care from doctors. I was following their advice. Yet for 12 years, I was in a depressive fog that it turns out, I didn’t need to be in.

After I started feeling better, I started talking to people about my experience. As it turns out, my story isn’t entirely unique. One out of seven adults in America take antidepressants. But as I discovered the hard way, millions of prescriptions are written after a five-minute conversation with a primary care doctor, with no follow-up. Medication is the first and last line of defense, rather than part of a more holistic mental health plan.

As a result, millions of people aren’t on the right medication, or are taking the wrong dose. These people suffer with unnecessary side effects and never achieve the results they might be able to get if they had proper care.

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?

  • Once I started feeling better, I started telling my friends about my depression, and about my challenges with finding the right treatments. The more people I told, the more stories I heard about their own struggles. It turned out that about half of my friends have had awful experiences with trying to find a treatment that works for them. With each conversation, there was another nudge, another voice telling me that this space just needs to be fixed.

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?

Working at Juxtapose, I got to work side by side with incredible leaders as we launched their businesses. Craig Elbert (Care/of), Jay Goldberg (Great Jones), Court Cunningham (Orchard), Doug Hudson (Tend). It was incredible to see that each of them had wildly different leadership styles, yet how each of them found success. It gave me confidence to pursue the style that felt most intuitive and most right to me.

I think the most impactful was Court Cunningham. He leads in an incredibly straightforward, honest, empathetic, open way. He epitomizes strong opinions loosely held. In our first week working together, he told me that he didn’t want to waste any time doing user research. After having a discussion about key questions, we had, and outlining how user research could help answer these questions, Court immediately changed his tune from why we shouldn’t do user research to buying plane tickets to go do in-home interviews with customers in Texas. I really admired how open he was to listening to other perspectives and changing his mind based on their expertise.

Court and I are still close. He was the first angel investor to put a check into Mood.

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?

The stigma surrounding mental health is certainly not unique to the United States. Various cultures worldwide treat mental health as a taboo topic. There aren’t clear reasons why this treatment is so widespread, but it may have something to do with fear around things we don’t understand. The science around mental health has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last few decades, but there’s a lot we don’t know. People fear that mental health issues are a sign of weakness, or a threat to others. Stereotypes around common mental health challenges don’t help with this perspective.

We’ve made incredible progress with destigmatizing mental health in the last few years. In many communities, therapy has gone from taboo to trendy. Yet, taking antidepressants and medication are still closely guarded secrets for many. There’s a lot of guilt associated with taking antidepressants, as there’s a narrative that it’s “not the real solution” or “an easy way out”.

I believe that no one should feel shame in working to improve their mental health, whether it’s through medication or anything else. It took me years to feel confident in telling people that I take antidepressants as I didn’t want people to think about me differently or know that I was depressed. I hope that people start to acknowledge that different treatments work for different people and stop criticizing those who take meds.

I’m encouraged to hear about Gen Z and millennials bringing awareness about mental health to their parents and older generations. The stigma is even more present in BIPOC, Latino, East Asian, and Asian households. It takes a lot of courage to openly share with your family that you’re seeking help, but it’s making a big difference.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

As with anything in life, individuals should come from a place of respect and compassion. If someone opens up to you about their mental health, acknowledge that they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position. The most effective thing you can do is to aid them in getting the expert help they need while withholding any personal judgment. You should also be aware that you can’t make fundamental life choices for them, and you should never force anyone to do anything they are not comfortable with.

Socially, it’s crucial that we begin treating mental health as part of overall health. Just as we have open conversations and support systems set up around physical health and disabilities, so too do we need those social structures around mental health. This can include supportive communities or simply safe spaces to have the important conversations.

Our government has a fundamental role in preserving our well-being. It would be great if there were more publicly available resources for those suffering from mental health issues, but as a society we have to fill the gap as best we can.

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?

Medication — I take them every day.

Mindfulness — I don’t have a dedicated practice, but I’ve woven core philosophies into my day to day. I try to be present and avoid my phone.

Talk therapy — I’ve been seeing a therapist on and off for years. It took a while to find someone I liked, but now that I have someone, I try to keep up the practice.

Spending time with friends — I find friends are a great reset and a way to get out of my own head.

Long walks — I don’t love exercise, but long meandering walks re-energize me, get me to focus on my here and now, and let my mind wander.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Truly, it’s conversations with real people that inspire me most. Being vulnerable and sharing my story has unlocked a world of insight from hearing other stories.

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?

People tend to be best at the things they love doing. If you’re passionate about it, you should do it.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow our Instagram!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Mental Health Champions: Why & How Mike Clare of Mood Health Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.