Mental Health Champions: How Michael Jann of ‘Bug Therapy’ Is Helping To Promote Mental Wellness
Don’t be afraid. Therapy is awesome. It’s not someone telling you what to do. It’s someone helping you understand what you’re doing — and why. And offering insights on how to have a better life. What’s the downside in that?
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Michel Jann.
Michael Jann is an Emmy-nominated late-night comedy writer for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”. He is the co-writer/Executive Producer of the film, “Bug Therapy”. Mike lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and screenwriting partner Michele Jourdan. Michele’s “the funny one”; Mike’s “the pretty one”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in the chaos of a seven-children family in Fairfield, CT. My parents passed away fifteen years ago, and I’m still trying to get their attention.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
My wife and I are comedy writers, who have made a short-animated film called “Bug Therapy”, with an all-star cast including Meghan Trainor, Dr. Phil, Jay Leno, Sterling K. Brown, and Tom Green. We hope to make people laugh, and fight the stigma of mental illness.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My wife and I are both big fans of therapy/therapists. I’m ADHD and have suffered from anxiety. And, on top of that, a bizarre twist of fate, as we started making “Bug Therapy”, my 27-year-old son Max suffered a severe mental breakdown, was hospitalized and placed in a psych ward, and a series of mental-health facilities. He’s recovered, now. But, that experience — and how helpful NAMI’s 24-hour hotline was to me at 3 am one night — has left me grateful beyond words, and wanting to give something back.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My wife and I had a funny idea for a film: It’s a story about a Mosquito who faints at the sight of blood. (Psychological problem: phobia.) And, her name is Citronella. (She can’t get a break.) We were pitching this around Hollywood, had meetings at all the top animation studios, and every studio exec said the same thing: “That’s hilarious — what else have you got?” My wife finally asked me, “Why don’t we just make it ourselves?” Raise some money, and make a short version. Then, we came up with the idea of Citronella trying to get up the courage to enter group therapy for the first time. And the title, “Bug Therapy”. Suddenly, everything clicked. The funding poured in. The A-list cast joined. It just caught fire.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I think my most interesting discovery was how passionate many people are about fighting the stigma. From our friends who invested, to the star talent jumping on board, to our amazing animation studio in India (88 Pictures). People of all kinds, of all ages, from all places seem to care. Everyone has a story — about themselves or a loved one — about mental health, and how important it is to encourage people to accept help there.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
That’s a funny question. I teach screenwriting, and mentor young writers. I’m always telling them, “You can do it!” But, to hear those words, directed at me, from my wife, Michele, “You can do this! WE can do this!” was life changing. It’s like… “Oh, my God! What if she’s right??” I also have friends, Mark Litman and Scott Tomlinson, who opened their checkbooks early. Then, my sister Lisa threw an impromptu fundraiser in her backyard, and raised $20,000! There are life moments you will never forget. Encouragement is magic.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
It’s scary to admit there’s something wrong “upstairs”. The rest of our bodies, we have no shame: We’ll happily walk into a party on crutches. Discuss our diseases, our tumors — no problem. But, to admit there’s something not working “upstairs”? People are embarrassed. Ashamed. And that’s a shame. Therapy can help so much. Maybe meds can help you? You only have one life! Be bold! Ask for help!
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
- Don’t be afraid. Therapy is awesome. It’s not someone telling you what to do. It’s someone helping you understand what you’re doing — and why. And offering insights on how to have a better life. What’s the downside in that?
- Society? How about teaching mental health half as much as we teach algebra? (Sorry, mathematicians!) But mental-health literacy might really help kids. How about teaching them: Your mood is literally programmable: Exercise = endorphins = better mood. Meditation = calm = better perspective. I didn’t know this until recently!
- The government: Maybe make it easier to find a therapist, and get started. Make it free, make it easy: Dare people to ask for help!
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- I meditate every morning. Not touching your cell-phone or lap-top for 20 minutes works miracles — try it!
- I exercise — a lot. (Thank you, Peloton!) Seriously: your mood is programmable! Literally programmable. You can change how you feel in minutes, via the wonder drug: sweat!
- Make gratitude lists. It might be an Oprah thing. I do it. It works! It’s hard to be miserable after listing five things you’re grateful for.
- Don’t eat junk-food! It’s called junk for a reason. You are what you eat.
- Doing something for someone else is magical. It’s world changing. Not for them — for you.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Favorite books? “The Power Of Now” (Eckhart Tolle); “How To Fail At Almost Everything, And Still Win Big” (Scott Adams); “The Architecture Of Happiness (Alain De Botton), “The Wise Heart” (Jack Kornfield).
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I had the good fortune of being a comedy writer for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, for over twenty years, and got to see, first hand, every day, how happy people are when you make them laugh. It’s a magic moment: realizing you made someone’s day better. It’s the best. People watch Bug Therapy, and laugh — and they’re more open minded about therapy. It’s a double win!
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!