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Advocate/Consumer/Author Interview

Please introduce yourself. What is your name and what kind of background do you have in reference to mental health advocacy?

My name is Joseph Munisteri. My background in Mental Health advocacy is through personal experience. I am one of the founding members and the current vice chair of an organization called Youth Power! Which is a network of youth spanning multiple systems in NYS, including mental health, Developmental disabilities, education, juvenile justice, etc. More info on Youth Power! Can be found at I also have an associate's degree in Human services and social work and work as a direct support professional for people with developmental disabilities.

Were you given a diagnosis, if any?

I have multiple diagnoses, thus leaving me in the cross systems category. Due to this, I found and still sometimes find treatment difficult to find, as I will get bounced between the two systems due to multiple diagnoses (mental health and developmental disability). We definitely need more training when it comes to cross systems treatment.

Have you noticed a stigma on those with mental health disorders?

I have dealt with stigma most of my life. It is part of what led me to choose the field of work I chose. Stigma comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms, unfortunately. There really isn't any one stigma that I've noticed that stands out. Stigma is a stigma to me no matter the form it may take.

Do you believe things need to change in terms of mental health awareness or treatment?

I definitely believe things need to change in terms of mental health awareness and treatment, it's part of why I started becoming an advocate for myself and others, as well as choosing my field of work. I would also say that the changes should really be cross systems and target other systems as well such as addiction, juvenile justice, and developmental disabilities. As often times these run parallel to mental health. The good news is that I have definitely seen changes starting, but we are still a long way from where we need to be.

What would you tell someone who is going through the stigma of a mental health disorder?

What I would tell people who are going through stigma right now, be strong, be yourself, speak up, reach out to your peers, you’d be surprised how many of your peers are going through similar issues. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, we all fall down from time to time, but that doesn’t mean we need to get up on our own. If you were to get physically sick you’d ask for that help, so don’t be afraid to ask for that help for mental health. The more we ask for that help, the more likely that we will see our mental health become a higher priority for those around us.

You created a book. What is it called? What is it about? And how does it relate to mental health?

Yes, I created a book! Its entitled: “Butterflies in Space”. It is a short story and related poems. It has a general theme of butterflies, I chose that theme because Butterflies have a significant meaning to almost everyone. What really inspired the story for me though was hearing my peers talk about survival stories of times when they self-harmed and how an initiative called the butterfly project helped them. For those who are unfamiliar with the butterfly project, people who self-injure are taught to use a sharpie and draw a butterfly on themselves where they feel like self-injuring. They came self-injure until it fades naturally if they do, they kill the butterfly. The success stories I've heard have been super powerful. I was also going through some really tough times while I was writing it, such as coping with burnout at work (something we need to take much more seriously) and dealing with a psychologically abusive relationship. I found writing and art really helped me through those times. As well as having some good friends to talk to when I needed help. I'd love it though if when readers read the book they allowed the butterflies to be symbolic to them, butterflies have so many meanings and representations such as cancer, rebirth, death, life etc. So I really think that it’s important that when reading the book you allow yourself to interpret it in a way that has meaning to you. Also, it's worth noting that each butterfly in the story and cover of the book is representative of a poem and someone in the universe's perspective.

Finally, where can we find you and your work on the internet? And what do you want people to know about mental health?

You can find my book on at the moment. It's a book called “Butterflies in Space”. What I would leave people knowing or better yet asking about mental health, it's this, why don’t we treat mental health like it were our physical health. To say some people don’t deal with mental health would be a lie, we all battle with our mental health, but what makes the difference is how we perceive it and how we cope, and sometimes we are not taught or even forget how to cope. So I think it’s important that we look at mental health as if it were our physical health. Our brain is a physical organ after all.

Thank you for your time Joseph and for helping us break the stigma of mental health disorders! Check out his book on Amazon!

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