HealthCentral Mental Health Social Ambassador & Transforming Stigma Founder
Empathy, understanding, and drumming are three things Mike Veny knows a lot about. Another: Depression. Mike, the founder of Transforming Stigma, an organization that speaks out against the stigma of mental illness, had a rough start in life. As a child, he was discharged three times from psychiatric hospitals, expelled from three schools, attempted suicide, and was medicated in efforts to reduce his emotional instability and behavioral outbursts. He was placed in a special education class and forgotten.
But Mike turned it around after individual attention from caring teachers and encouragement helped him persevere through daily bouts of depression. Drumming provided a way out. He started tapping out beats on his school desk, and today, as a graduate and faculty member at the Long Island High School for the Arts, Mike is a world-class professional studio drummer. But depression is insidious—and in 2011, he experienced a devastating mental health breakdown. Afterward, Mike made the decision to use his drumming and speaking skills to serve others full-time, offering the same things he had found—empathy, encouragement, and a focal point—drumming.
Facilitating drumming circles for children with special needs, Mike teaches young people with emotional and psychological challenges to channel their energy through keeping a rhythmic drumbeat, and at the same time, learn how to listen, focus, create, and succeed.
Today, as one of the foremost thought leaders on the shame surrounding mental health, he uses presentations, social media, and writing, for venues including HealthCentral, to encourage paradigm shifts. Working with HealthCentral, Mike openly shares his experience with depression and work to empower others. His Facebook Live events have garnered thousands of views. Mike knows over time that his message will lead to better legislation, more effective treatment, and less suicide. His TEDx talk, “Mental Illness is An Asset,” is used in college classrooms. His goal: Empowerment through education. “To transform stigma, people need to take an honest look at themselves,” Mike says. “Stigma starts with shame. Shame leads to silence. Silence leads to self-destructive behavior.” The one thing Mike is not: Silent. And that’s a good thing for everyone.