Popular speaker and author Brett Ullman is no stranger to emotional and mental health issues. His newest book, Reset, is a collection of stories from individuals who have found hope, redemption, and healing in their journeys through mental and physical health issues, including Ullman’s own experience of breakdown. Today, he joins us on the blog to discuss Reset, mental health, and the Church.
WAP: Emotional pain and mental health issues are topics you have often focused on. What first drew you to these topics? Has your take on mental health changed over the years?
It was around 12 years ago; I was speaking predominantly on media when I began to have weekly conversations with students and leaders around the topic of self-injury: people saying they were struggling and did not know where to turn, and many youth workers looking for resources and help on these topics. I created a talk called Your Story: the Wounding Embrace and I spoke for almost a decade on this topic. It was in 2012 that this conversation changed for me. I had just finished a program called the Arrow Leadership Program and was finishing my masters degree at Wheaton Graduate School in Chicago. I was doing all this while speaking 250 times a year as well as being married with two children. When I graduated I began a journey that I would have never expected—I had a full breakdown. I had about 5 months of chaos before my actual breakdown happened in July 2012 and that kept me at home for around 9 months dealing with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. The irony is that I was speaking on these very same issues. I think my take on mental health changed going through this journey. We as a Christian community are of many minds on this topic of mental health. I found that some attitudes, support and ideas were very hurtful, discouraging and some I would go as far as calling religious abuse.
WAP: Reset seems to have had a great response since you launched it. What makes Reset unique, and why do you think so many people are drawn to it?
It’s hard to keep a breakdown a secret when you are in the public eye being a full time speaker. After cancelling a hundred speaking dates, word got around of my breakdown and health struggles and I ended up posting many of my thoughts and struggles on all forms of social media. What really shocked me was something I have heard a few times a week since my breakdown. It is people who say to me “You got 5 minutes?” and proceed to explain their own struggles. I found a massive number of people within their own church walls that felt completely alone and had nowhere to turn.
I think what makes Reset unique is that is brutally honest about my own journey, and the other people who shared their journeys in the book were similarly honest and truthful. I think people are drawn to it because it is not only my journey but also the readers’. Many people have written me and said that the book put into words what they have been struggling with. It has given some people a voice when they felt that they did not have one; a voice to talk about these struggles with their family, friends and leaders.
WAP: In Reset, you talk about your search for anti-anxiety strategies and how ineffective a lot of the popular techniques were for you. What happens when these methods fail? Do you have any advice for people in a similar situation?
I actually was (and have) been searching for answers not only to deal with anxiety but depression and panic as well. What was the hardest for me was that everyone seemed to have a different path to take towards healing. If I had 10 conversations with people I might actually have 10 completely different things people asked me to try (prayer, change in diet, sleep, medicine, acupuncture, relation techniques, reading scripture and the list went on and on). While at home I wrote this book called Reset but I also completely blew up and recreated my talk on self-injury to be a new talk on mental health called The Walking Wounded.
Your question of what happens when the roads to healing that people offered failed was usually great discouragement, frustration and increased isolation. So what words of advice would I have to people who are in a similar situation? I would say that we as the Church MUST create a process where we can help people heal in the way that THEY need to heal and not how WE think or believe that they should heal. I looked through thousands of emails and stories that I have at home from people who have found some sort of healing in their journeys and I found that there were three main areas their healing came from and certain people who are sort of the “gate keepers” or people we need to talk to in each of those areas:
1. Body (Family doctor)
2. Mind (Counsellor / Psychologist)
3. Soul (God, Pastor)
Often introduced as an expert on media influences, Brett Ullman travels North America speaking to adolescents, leaders and their parents on topics including sexuality, substance abuse, self-injury and mental health. Driven by a desire to discuss, explore and share the Christian reality of living in a media-saturated world, Brett’s seminars engage and challenge attendees through high-impact, technology-driven presentations. Participants are inspired to reflect on what we know, what we believe and how our Ancient Faith ought to serve as the lens through which we view and engage modern culture.
Learn more about Brett on his website: brettullman.com/