Last month at Mental Health America’s Clifford Beers Awards Dinner — the event where individuals who’ve made a significant contribution in the area of brain health advocacy are honored — Brandon Staglin received a congressional citation of recognition. It was a poignant moment as leaders from all corners of the mental health movement stood to honor and thank him. As the Communications Director for One Mind Institute and a board member of One Mind, Brandon is a leading voice in advocating for brain research and brain health awareness. What makes this honor particularly remarkable is that Brandon lives with schizophrenia — while few people receive Congressional honors, even fewer people with mental illness do. It’s in this disparity that Brandon serves as a model of what’s possible. We need more people with lived experience contributing to the dialogue and taking their place as visible leaders of this movement. As Brandon himself has said, “with good treatment, people with mental health issues can […] be a productive part of the community.”
Like the majority of those who have schizophrenia, Brandon began experiencing symptoms as a young adult (average age of onset in males is late teens to early 20s; for females it’s slightly older, late 20s to early 30s) and he experienced his first psychotic break the summer after his freshman year at Dartmouth. Luckily, Brandon had access to good treatment and support; nevertheless, immediately after his diagnosis, he had difficulty accepting this new health challenge. As he shared in a blog post, “At first, I could not accept that I had a mental illness. I had a life plan, to be an astronautical engineer!” His high-stress engineering job after graduation led to his second psychotic break, and, ultimately, his decision to make the life changes that would support his brain health going forward.
With that acceptance, Brandon began working to build public awareness of brain disorders and encourage those with mental health challenges to seek help and pursue treatment. He joined his family in their business and philanthropic endeavors, including the founding of One Mind — which is focused on funding mental health research and awareness — in 1994. Their first fundraising initiative was a small music festival in Napa Valley, which has since become the annual Music Festival for Brain Health — an event that includes a scientific symposium and musical performances by socially-minded artists, and which raises millions of dollars for this cause.
Brandon’s work combines supporting cutting-edge scientific research aimed at finding cures with advocating for improvements in the way we perceive and treat those with brain disorders. It’s Brandon’s own lived experience with mental health challenges that makes him such an effective advocate. As he said in a video for Mental Health Channel, “I always wanted to help people in some way and this is the best way I can do it based on my personal experience.”
Brandon’s dedication to the cause was particularly clear when we spoke to him after he received his award. With the gratitude and the humility of someone who truly feels called to serve he said the following: “I have been nearly overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for the amazing recognitions bestowed on me by Mental Health America and the U.S Congress. My advocacy, to accelerate neuroscience and to improve access to early care, means so much to me, and to have my work honored by these two pillars of our nation’s leadership brought home to me how much people appreciate what I do. The privilege of addressing the Mental Health America conference at the Clifford W. Beers Award ceremony, and the surprise that followed, of former Representative Patrick Kennedy and Representative Mike Thompson’s presenting me with Representative Joseph Kennedy III’s citation, felt gratifying beyond words. Now, more than ever, I feel I owe the brain health community my best work.”
Those are not just words. Brandon and his colleagues at One Mind are continuously working toward improving the lives of those with disorders of the brain. Recently, Brandon has led the launch of new initiatives like Strong 365 and One Mind Care Connect, aimed at connecting individuals to the resources and services they need. Most of all, Brandon not only preaches but also practices our Flawless principle of complete acceptance of our differences. By embracing his own mental health challenges, Brandon has become an inspiring force for positive change; a shining light not in spite of, but because of his experiences.
This year, Brandon’s organization One Mind Institute is hosting the 23rd Music Festival for Brain Health on Saturday, September 16th in Napa Valley, California. Come join us!