“It’s something I've had to deal with my entire professional career,” says Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich. Rich an accomplished performer is talking about her anxiety disorder. According to the NIH an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
In celebration of National Mental Health Awareness Month, PeaceLove Studios will introduce its first-ever Mental Wellness Speaker Series on Thursday, May 22 from 9AM–3PM. The event, which takes place at The Met and PeaceLove Studios 999 Main Street in Pawtucket], will highlight 11 thought leaders from the wellness space who are helping to create peace of mind in the world.
Learn more and register here. Proceeds will help support the free expressive arts programs that PeaceLove provides to the community through its nonprofit, the PeaceLove Foundation.
One of the main speakers is Rich. If asked to describe any accomplished main stage performer, words like ‘‘extroverted’ or even ‘fearless’ would come to mind. Many would be surprised to learn that Katie Rich who is also a performer for the world-famous Second City improv group has been living with anxiety disorder, and what’s more, it was so debilitating that she was forced to drop out of college.
"When I first experienced what I found out later to be panic attacks during my first year in college, I thought they were due to an allergy or heart disorder,” said Rich, who currently resides in New York for her gig with SNL.
During a trip to the emergency room, Rich unexpectedly learned of her anxiety disorder. Another surprise came shortly thereafter. “When I told my mother about my diagnosis, she revealed something I had not known up to that point: both mother and brother had been living with it, too.”
Mental illness affects one out of every four people in America. Due to stigma, only two-thirds seek the help and support they need.
“Even though we don’t fully understand mental illness, we need to be upfront and talk about it,” says Rich who considers her participation at PeaceLove Studio’s Mental Wellness Speaker Series as an honor and opportunity to do just that.
“I’m going to speak about my personal experiences with anxiety disorder, and how I was able to overcome challenges. I hope that my story will inspire and help others,” said Rich, who expects that the other speakers’ stories will have the same effect on her.
The Northwestern University alumnus refers to her degree as a symbol of her personal recovery.
While Rich considers herself “lucky” to have received support from family, therapists, and colleagues, “looking within” gave her some added strength to persevere. “Even though I accepted the fact that my anxiety disorder was a part of all the things that have made me who I am, I made the decision to not let it define who I am.”
When asked about the message she hopes to deliver through her talk on May 22, Rich stated, "It's hard work to get better, but getting better is so worth it.”
Like Katie Rich, PeaceLove Co-Founder Jeff Sparr has his own story of personal experiences with mental illness. But while Rich overcame challenges from mental illness to pursue art, the opposite could be said of Sparr.
Desperate to regain the control that he had lost to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the father of three decided to try his hand at painting. “It made me feel better, and I figured I could help others,” Sparr stated, matter-of-factly. What followed is history in the making.
Since co-founding PeaceLove Studios with his cousin Matthew Kaplan in 2009, the duo has led a charge to create peace of mind in the community through innovative and evidence-based expressive arts programs. PeaceLove has also been determined to build a positive symbol for mental illness through its line of merchandise sold through its website and at its studio in Pawtucket, RI.
The organization’s reach is over 14,000 people and counting war veterans with PTSD, children, and corporate employees alike have experienced PeaceLove’s workshops. Sparr attributes the promising momentum to PeaceLove’s ability to look beyond its art studio walls.
“We realized that in order to more effectively address the stigma that surrounds mental illness, expanding our reach was essential,” he stated. “And this was possible only through connecting with like-minded organizations and individuals.” Such organizations include Alex and Ani’s Charity by Design, Zappos, and Second City Communications—according to Sparr.
He added that individuals like Katie Rich, along with other speakers at the inaugural Mental Wellness Speaker Series, are critical to spreading PeaceLove’s message of hope and vision.
“The intention behind our Mental Wellness Speaker Series is to showcase the stories and great work of others in the community who are also creating peace of mind,” he added. “It’s as much educational and inspirational, as it is a celebration.”
For more information about PeaceLove Studios, visit peacelovestudios.com.