Challenging Perceptions of Mental Health 

A water color painting of a head. The right side is a rainbow of colors and the left is blues and greens.


By Sara Veltkamp


I bought a book a few years ago called But What IWe’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. This book has had an outsized impact on my lifeespecially since I haven’t even read it. In fact, I don’t know what it’s about or what spurred me to buy it in the first place 


Simply seeing the binding of this book on my shelf has stopped me from fuming at a perceived slight, because what if I was wrong about that person’s intentions? It has stopped me, at least a few times, from getting on my high horse when critical of others’ behaviors and politics, and it has helped me to question stigmasocial attitudes, and the way our society tends to think about groups of peopleBecause, across human history, we’ve been wrong about a lot. And we will continue to be.  


During the current pandemic, I’d like to ask this question about mental health: What if we’re wrong?  


It is tempting, based on what our culture believes about the fragility of people with mental health conditions, to see these people as being most at-risk of mental collapse during this pandemic. That belief may be correct in some cases—many are struggling—but so are many people who have never experienced mental health challenges. The difference is that people who have been here before may have built up the mental muscle and daily practices to manage these conditions. People who manage mental health conditions are not more fragile than others; in many ways, they’re stronger. 


In mid-April, Minerva Strategies partnered with The Stability Network to do a campaign around managing mental health during COVID-19. The campaign is centered around the idea that people who have faced these challenges in the past are in a better position to deal with them today. They have helpful strategies and insights that can help otherconfront the anxiety, depression, and other challenging mental health threats we are all experiencing now 


We collaborated with several Stability Network members—called Stability Leaders—to share their stories and strategies, hold an online panel, and conduct media outreach to share the effective and often hard-won strategies these Leaders have developed over the course of their recovery.  


The project was eye-opening. I know from previous work with The Stability Network that their Leaders are incredible people who are leaps and bounds ahead of the average person in recognizing the necessity of effective self-careBut I still expected to hear more struggle, more challenges, and more pessimism about the world. I did hear stories of how challenging this pandemic has been and the havoc it has wreaked on their lives, but the stories don’t stop there. They grow into Leaders’ abilities to find joy in everyday situations, dig deep emotionally and face tough feelings as they come up, and feel compassion—so much compassionfor themselves and others during this challenging time. 


To a person, every story ended with optimism for the future. The Leaders we spoke with hoped to see people continue to connect in authentic ways, spend more time with their families, and wave at their neighbors. They also hoped more people would start to understand the importance of mental health and how it feels to live with persistent anxiety—not because they want to see people suffer, but because the more people who experience mental health challenges, the more normalized talking about these challenges will be, and the less alone we will all feel


What they also want is for the world to look at mental health challenges and think: What if we’re wrong 

About The Author

Sara Veltkamp

Sara Veltkamp

Vice President

Sara lives in Chicago, Illinois and is Minerva's vice president. She takes a lead role in all aspects of Minerva Strategies’ smart communication strategies and implementation. She loves a challenge and is obsessed with learning new things, from how to use new platforms and tools for storytelling to languages like Amharic, French, or Farsi to mastering a difficult yoga pose. She applies this energy and curiosity to all clients’ communication challenges. Learn more about Sara.