Treat Yo Self! A Story of Emotional Burnout


by Brandon Ha, founder of Break Yo Stigma

Our community is fighting and it’s a beautiful thing to see. From mental health statement selfies on Instagram to semicolon tattoos; more and more people who live with mental illness are sharing their stories on social media. If you check out #MentalHealthAwareness on social media, you’ll see and feel a mixture of emotions: pride, sadness, motivation, and inspiration. People living with mental illness are doing more work than ever to change the perception of mental health. It’s incredible.

As someone who’s lived with bipolar disorder for over a decade, things weren’t always this way. Before social media, the main place you could find support was…well, a support group. So you’d go to a weekly meeting and share your frustrations and build a camaraderie with fellow brothers and sisters sharing your struggles. There were tears and hugs and laughter, and then it was over. You went home and had to wait for next week when you could share again.

The invention of smartphones brought new tools that are at our disposal. Now we can get support whenever we want, wherever we are. People are using social media as an outlet for whatever they’re going through with their mental illnesses. And this new community has been positive and responsive as we realize that so many of us share similar stories and experiences. 

I started Break Yo Stigma in 2012 when I captained my first NAMIWalk team for the SF Bay Area Walk.  Our team raised nearly $2,000, and I wanted to do more. Later that fall, I started Break Yo Stigma. Merging mental health awareness and hip-hop felt so natural to me, but that’s another story altogether.

In the meantime, I also began work as a coordinator at my local NAMI affiliate to do outreach at high schools and was approved for a research grant with Stanford University School of Medicine to work on the teen suicide clusters (CW: suicide) that have tragically affected the Palo Alto community. I was doing anything and everything I could for anyone I could who was struggling with mental illness.

The clinicians and other mental health professionals I was working with continued talking about boundaries, something they learned about in school and had to practice every day with their clients. “Boundaries? I don’t need no boundaries. I can do it, trust me,” I foolishly thought to myself.

But, sure enough, I began to spread myself too thin. I was basically the Mental Health Yes Guy who would do whatever was asked of me to help spread advocacy.

Would you like to speak at our high school? Sure.

We’re doing a documentary, mind being involved? Yup!

Can you talk to my child? Of course!

Will you share my post on your social media? No problem!

I worked constantly, never saying no and never shutting off my phone. It became too much and last August I crashed. I started experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks and knew it was time to step away.

It took some time before I could even log into Instagram. I didn’t know what to do with myself. If I was built to work for mental health, then why was it so hard? What else was there for me to do? So, in the meantime, I took the MCAT to work on my applications for medical school and dabbled in computer programming to see if I could build something useful. But something kept pulling me back. I couldn’t leave this community; it’s helped me as much as I have tried to help it. Now though, I learned an extremely valuable lesson, boundaries are important and necessary. We have to take care of ourselves first and foremost before we even think about taking care of anyone else. The burnout is ever-so-real.

Remember to treat yo self. We deserve it.