Better Humans Book Forward by Executive Director Erin R. Ryan

It’s always inspiring when community members write books to shed light on our experiences with mental health and how we can work together on solutions to improve lives. Here is the forward written by NAMI WLA Executive Director Erin R. Ryan for the book “Better Humans: What the Mental Health Pandemic Teaches Us About Humanity” by Janeane Bernstein.

Ring! Ring! It’s 2018, I’m sitting in my office near the UCLA campus in Westwood, California. The phone rings. Yes, an actual landline phone. My reaction is quick to answer the call and yet I hesitate. My body tenses with a twinge of anxiety because of the uncertainty of what waits for me on the other end of the phone…it rings again. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and prepare to provide support. “Hello, NAMI Westside Los Angeles, this is Erin, how can I help you? (For those of you who know NAMI, you know! And for those of who don’t; NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by mental health conditions… So essentially, we are dedicated to helping everyone! As is the message in this amazing book! )

Context. 1 in 5 U.S. adults and 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year and suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14. Millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental health conditions each year. So that means you or someone you know and love—is affected. It’s important to measure how common mental health conditions are, so we can understand its physical, social and financial impact — and so we can show that no one is alone. These numbers are also powerful tools for raising public awareness, stigma-busting and advocating for better health care. Many people don’t know about the importance of mental health until they are in crisis and need answers. As the Executive Director of NAMI Westside Los Angeles County, I have answered the phone many times to hear a sobbing Mother, Sister, Husband or Friend on the other line reaching out for urgent help feeling like there is nowhere to turn and they are all alone on this journey.

Feeling alone. That all started to change in 2020, when the human race experienced a collective trauma. Ring, ring… it’s COVID-19, a global pandemic calling. Well, no one was prepared to answer that call! But in some capacity, we all had to deal with the unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and our individual communities. This collective trauma exacerbated unprecedented stresses and— if there could be a silver lining, it also shed a new light on the importance of our collective mental health. The shame and stigma associated with mental health was put on hold and then put on speaker phone; the human race was experiencing never before feelings of isolation, anxiety, depression and uncertainty from the pandemic and we were in it together.

A call to action. On December 7, 2021, a 53-page advisory from US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy focused the nation’s attention on the youth mental health crisis. He states, “Our obligation to act is not just medical—it’s moral. I believe that, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an unprecedented opportunity as a country to rebuild in a way that refocuses our identity and common values, puts people first, and strengthens our connections to each other.”

We have an opportunity to be better humans. My colleague and fellow heart leader, Janeane Bernstein is answering the Surgeon General’s call to action with her amazing work in the mental health space and most recently with her new book, “Better Humans.” And YOU are one of them. Kudos to you for reading this book!

You are a traveler on the life path of learning and growth. Prepare to be inspired by the heartfelt authentic stories of the previously untold silent battles with mental health and the voices of youth, our future leaders in this space. Get ready to be informed by what created and fueled the mental health pandemic and learn from the stories and insights of teachers, educators and mental health professionals, often the ones on the front lines of this pandemic. You will have the opportunity to think outside the box, hear from people of ages and backgrounds and walk away with real time resources.

I first met Janeane as a guest on her podcast. She is a wonderful listener and storyteller and creates a safe space for truth to shine. She shares pure vulnerability and golden nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. Janeane’s varied background in education, media, technology, teaching, communications and journalism create an all encompassing eclectic lens for the reader to gain perspective with tangible tools and candid conversations. Reading this book feels like you’re having a cup of coffee with some of your dearest friends, reflecting on what happened and discussing; how can we be better? How can we do better for ourselves and others? These are big questions! And you are a better human for asking them. So happy to have shared a few words with you and have you join Janeane on her journey in finding solutions.

Be well, better humans.