Engage, Empower, Educate – Launching the ‘State Of Mind’ Festival & Event Series

Launching the ‘State Of Mind’ Festival & Event Series.

Here is a picture of my brother 18 years old and me 15, at a time in our lives when our mental health started to decline to crisis levels. My work with hospitals, mental health agencies, high schools, universities, and my constant practice of recovery and well-being has provided me with a unique experience and perspective into the current structure of mental health education and health care. My past life and present work have inspired me to develop a platform to transform how we teach and learn about these topics.  The three themes are Engage, Empower, Educate.


Youth Mental Health Education needs to be a top priority of our education systems. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.  The school system is obsessed with standardized tests and traditional subjects such as math, science, and English.  I’m not saying they’re not important, what I’m saying is nothing should take a back seat to the importance of personal well-being and mental health.

Suicide is the second highest cause of death in Canada for people between the ages of 15-34(statsCan), and 2nd globally for 15-29-year-olds(WHO). Our response to this crisis is terribly inefficient. It’s important to acknowledge that up to this point, educators, politicians and mental health organizations haven’t had the knowledge or experience to address this crisis. I’d argue, that now, we do.

How can we invigorate youth mental health education?

Awareness is critical, but it’s time to develop platforms for young people to internalize what all this “mental health awareness talk” means, how it applies to their lives, and how they can be empowered to enhance self-awareness, improve self-care and prioritize the practice of well-being. Mental Health awareness week at Mayfield SS

If you want a healthier, happier, and safer world for your kids and future generations, then I believe this is the number one thing we can do to create it.

Do you want your children to be swallowed up by the stress and anxiety plaguing our high school and university students today?

The 2011 – 2012 Student and Parent Census established that – (TDSB)

  • 73% of students between Grades 9-12 worried about their future
  • 59% of students in Grades 7-8 reported worrying about their future.
  • Over a third of Grade 9 -12 students reported that they were under a lot of stress (38%) and also reported they were nervous or anxious (34%) ‘often’ or ‘all of the time.’

A 2012 TDSB Survey (Resource Mapping) of 210 elementary and secondary schools, involving a range of school staff numbering over 900 revealed that – (TDSB)

97% of respondents reported that student emotional well-being is very/extremely important to academic achievement in their school.

Respondents indicated that Anxiety (44%) and Depression (41%) were their primary concerns.  Staff reported that a stronger, more coordinated approach to mental health is needed to better serve our students.

OUCHA  2016 College & University Study

  • 65 percent of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the previous year (up from 57 percent in 2013).
  • 46 percent reported feeling so depressed in the previous year it was difficult to function (up from 40 percent in 2013).
  • 13 percent had seriously considered suicide in the previous year (up from 10 percent in 2013).
  • 2 percent reported attempting suicide in the last year (up from 1.5 percent in 2013).

Do you want to ameliorate the global conflicts and challenges that are going to define the later years of our lives and the future of our kids and grandkids? Do you want a happier and healthier world?  If you do, can you recognize the priority to improve the well-being and emotional intelligence of the people who inhabit it?

Can you contemplate that it’s more important to teach people how to love themselves and each other, than teach them calculus, algebra, the periodic table, or what a soliloquy is?

Seriously, we care more about our kid’s test scores than we do about how they feel inside.  I challenge you to reflect on how your daily life with your friends and family reflects our collective obsession with achievement and education over healthy lifestyles and relationships.

Here’re a couple of random examples of our conversations and justifications.

Child – “Can you make sure you come home for dinner tonight, you haven’t spent much time with us lately.”

Dad – “Oh honey I can’t come home to spend time with you and the kids, I have to stay at work to finish this project.”

Child – “Mom, I’m too tired and don’t want to study for my math exam.”

Mom says – “No Jimmy, you must study, or you won’t get into that university, then you won’t get a good job, then no one will want to marry you, then you’ll be working at McDonalds.”

These are simplified conversations that happen in all our lives.  From my interactions with young people I hear so many stories that reflect how bankrupt our emotional lives are in exchange for ‘achievement’ or ‘status.’

We’re not nurturing our fundamental human needs, we’re not creating a world that works for people, we’re creating a world that works for ‘things’ Simply put, we’re not supporting our fundamental needs as human beings. (Human Needs)

I understand that we’re not going to alter the course of history overnight.  So how do we work with where we’re at today?

We can slowly integrate lifestyle changes into our daily routines and teach young people about the plethora of ways they can improve their well-being and support their mental health.  I’ll get into some of the details of this in the following blogs.  These things are cheap, and don’t take much time.  They just take the honesty to address that we’re not where we need to be, and a willingness to think outside the box, and try new things.

Imagine a world where people had the tools to address difficult and stressful situations in a manner that didn’t immediately lead to physical, emotional, and societal abuse.  Just look at the US presidential situation to see how widespread these problems are.  Look at the discussions in city hall, provincial parliament, federal politics to see how dysfunctional and immature the average conversation and debate is about any given topic.

Imagine a world where we reduced this madness by 10%? I’d argue in a very short time if we practiced the tools suggested to us by the great leaders of our time for better well-being and healthier lives we’d dramatically improve (not solve) our global challenges in a very short amount of time.speaker1

I ask you to contact the principal of your kid’s school, the local school trustee, any member of the government.  Ask them what they’re doing to improve the mental health and well-being education of your kids and community.  I invite you to explore what you can do to improve your mental health and well-being.  I didn’t name my brand ‘Starts With Me’ for nothing.

A happier and healthier world start with our individual contributions and how we can amplify those to help and support others.  Please share, comment, or offer suggestions on how I can improve my work.


‘Starts With Me’ is bringing these ideas to life through an annual Mental Health and Wellbeing Festival Tuesday, May 2nd 2017. The Festival is supported by monthly events starting on November 15th, 2017 to celebrate, practice, and learn how joyful it is to take care of ourselves, listen to each other, and improve the quality of our lives. You can find more information here EVENTS or contact me. mike@startswithme.ca


Mike Stroh


Download Mental Health Curriculum

Sink or Swim?

I’ve been reading a lot of content in the public mental health conversation lately that’s so focused on defending, telling other people what not to do, and complaining. This frame of reference isn’t helpful. Most situations get the best results when we focus on what we can control…ourselves. When we point fingers we don’t get anywhere; it’s that simple. I’ve written about this topic before, but lately I’ve been struck my the constant complaining, even by leaders in mental health advocacy. We can sink, or swim. We can rise and empower ourselves, or we can continue to focus on the problems around us and keep our head just above water.

I’m guilty of complaining about all kinds of things. I relentlessly practice catching myself in a cycle of complaining to ask myself; What’s the validity, usefulness, and frame of reference I’m in when I’m complaining. I always find that no matter what, it’s never optimal to complain. 100% of the time there are better responses to my situation.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
― Maya Angelou

It most cases the best thing for me to do is change the way I think about it. When I’m resistant to doing this, it’s because I’m stuck in self-centredness. I don’t want to put in the effort of working on changing. The person who’s hurt deep down inside is angry, resentful, sad, hopeless and feels defeated. Whining about things I didn’t like was so strong in me, and it’s taken a lot of work to replace it with more constructive responses. I no longer need to complain, because I can empower. When I embraced the gift of self-awareness and responsibility, I had a chance to live the life I’d always wanted to live.

“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
― Randy Pausch

I still complain all the time, my first reaction is often to complain. About the traffic, about my wife, about my kids, about whatever is in front of my face. Today my new pattern is to empower myself. If we want to change things, we’d better be damned sure we start with our actions. By doing this, we can empower those around us. A gift given to me by all the amazing people I look up to and learn from. They say the only way you can keep something is to give it away. So I hope to share these experiences with others in the never-ending cycle of learning and teaching.

What are you complaining about?
Can you bring self-awareness into your patterns of whining and blaming and finger pointing?
Can you start by changing your perspective to the situation?
How can you empower yourself through this change?

A New Paradigm For Stigma

Stigma has been a constant sidekick throughout my personal and family experience with mental illness, addiction, recovery, and well-being. Working in youth mental health education, I’ve come to believe that the most effective way of reducing stigma is to empower people to embody the characteristics of empathy, love, patience, resilience, and understanding. Without the human experience of internalizing these qualities, telling people to STOP doing something is as effective as using straw to build a skyscraper.We need a paradigm shift in the way we discuss stigma. Stigma exists and is not going away. Trying to fight it, smash it, or go to war against it is futile. These frames of reference limit our ability to embody the change we want. It is time for us to shift our perspectives from fighting to enlightening. We need to enlighten people on their ability to be compassionate, loving, understanding and patient.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― R. Buckminster Fuller

When I present or speak about mental health and stigma, I never tell people to stop or fight stigma. Instead, I do my best to invite them to discover the love, empathy, and understanding that exist in all of us. I hope to empower people to be an example of the solution instead of a barrier.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
―Mahatma Gandhi

If we do not want to be stigmatized, then let’s help people learn why we are similar to them. This fighting mentality is not going to foster open, healthy dialogue that’s going to allow us to be examples of what we are expecting from others. This type of language “stigmatizes” others because it creates an “us vs them” scenario. The confrontational mindset is not supportive to changing how we engage in discussions about mental health. This position does not free us from the “mind” that creates stigma; it is the other side of the stigma coin.

“We can not solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
―Albert Einstein

I’m in love with the idea of eradicating stigma. I’m also in love with the idea of humanity turning into loving, caring, and compassionate people. Reality tells me either of these situations is highly unlikely. One thing is certain, we have a much better chance of creating a better world if we chose to work on the latter.