As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Kevin Bourke.
Kevin’s unparalleled experience of over 20 years as a sales and marketing executive and strategic planner has led to the creation and growth of numerous iconic Jamaican brands worldwide. He has left an indelible mark with brands like Appleton Estate Rum, Chris Blackwell’s Rum, and Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records, as well as Fiction & International TMRWTDAY Wellness Festival, and now as the Chief Marketing and Branding Officer at Rose Hill, he is channeling his purpose towards the psilocybin space, determined to make a positive impact on the mental health crisis facing us, with an unwavering commitment to this mission. Kevin sits on the Jamaica Psilocybin Mushroom Industry Technical Committee (JPMITC) Bureau of Standards JAMAICA.
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 was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to Canada at a young age when the times in Jamaica were politically volatile. I gained all my education in Canada and was blessed enough to be accepted into a prestigious boarding school named Ridley College and then furthered my education at Dalhousie University studying Business which focused on Developing Nations. I was always focused on bringing my learnings back to beloved Jamaica to make an impactful change to this island.
You are currently leading an initiative that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit more specifically about what you are trying to address?
As a Jamaican leader in the global psilocybin space, I am passionately committed to promoting mental wellness and healing the world from the ongoing mental health crisis. Our initiative at Rose Hill is multifaceted — focusing on education, research, and advocacy to address the pressing mental health challenges faced by individuals in Jamaica and beyond. Founded in Jamaica in 2015, Rose Hill is a premium cultivator and supplier of psilocybin products and biomass for research partners and brands anchored by core values of compassion, respect, and innovation. My colleagues Charles Lazarus, Domenic Suppa and I have overtime developed three lines of business in order to improve the industry, which include our corporate / science and research, PATOO — our CPG consumer brand and the first legal psilocybin brand on the planet, and ONE Retreats — our experiential psilocybin retreat. Our goal is to raise awareness and educate the public about the potential benefits of psilocybin, a naturally occurring compound found in certain species of mushrooms.
To further support our cause, I am actively involved in funding and conducting research on psilocybin-assisted therapy as part of my role at Rose Hill. Collaborating with renowned scientists, clinicians, and experts in the field, Rose Hill is exploring the efficacy and safety of psilocybin in therapeutic settings. Our research aims to generate robust evidence that can guide policymakers, healthcare professionals, and regulatory bodies in considering the integration of psilocybin into mainstream mental health treatments.
Through workshops, seminars, and public campaigns, I aim to dispel the misconceptions surrounding psychedelics and highlight their therapeutic potential in treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. By providing accurate information and engaging in open conversations, we can reduce the stigma associated with these substances and facilitate informed decisions about mental health treatments.
In addition to education and research, my initiative emphasizes advocacy for the standardization and a responsible framework for psilocybin. By engaging with policymakers, legislators, and influential stakeholders, we aim to reshape the global legal landscape surrounding psychedelic substances. Our objective is to create an environment that supports scientific research, ensures safety, and provides access to effective mental health treatments for those in need. We believe that a compassionate and evidence-based approach is crucial in addressing the mental health crisis and offering hope to individuals who have exhausted conventional treatment options.
While my primary focus is on Jamaica, I recognize the global nature of the mental health crisis. Therefore, I actively collaborate with international organizations, like-minded leaders, and grassroots initiatives around the world. By sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices, we can foster a global movement for mental wellness and advocate for equitable access to psilocybin-assisted therapy.
Ultimately, my initiative aims to transform the way we approach mental health by integrating innovative and evidence-based treatments. By harnessing the potential of psilocybin, we hope to provide a holistic approach to healing that addresses not only the symptoms but also the underlying causes of mental health conditions. Together, we can build a world where mental wellness is prioritized, stigma is eradicated, and individuals can access the care they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Every day, I notice the mental health state of Jamaica, which reveals a landscape marked by significant challenges particularly for the poor and marginalized populations. The struggle for basic necessities, limited access to quality healthcare, and social inequalities have created a breeding ground for mental health issues.
For the poor, daily life often involves grappling with poverty, unemployment, and inadequate living conditions. The constant stress of not knowing where the next meal will come from, living in substandard housing, and witnessing the cycle of violence in their communities takes a toll on their mental well-being. The lack of economic opportunities and social support exacerbates feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.
Marginalized communities, such as those affected by systemic racism, discrimination, and unequal distribution of resources, bear the brunt of these mental health challenges. They face a myriad of additional stressors, including social exclusion, limited educational opportunities, and a higher likelihood of experiencing violence and trauma. These circumstances contribute to heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, creating a vicious cycle that is difficult to break free from.
The healthcare system in Jamaica, while striving to address mental health needs, often faces resource constraints and inadequate infrastructure. Mental health services are limited, particularly in rural areas, leaving many individuals without access to professional help. The stigma surrounding mental health further compounds the issue, as it discourages individuals from seeking support and contributes to a culture of silence and shame.
In this context, it becomes clear that the mental health crisis in Jamaica is not merely an individual struggle but a reflection of systemic issues. Poverty, social inequality, and marginalization have a profound impact on the mental well-being of the Jamaican people, particularly those who are already vulnerable.
Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that tackles both the social determinants of mental health and the provision of accessible and quality mental health services. It necessitates initiatives that empower communities, promote education and awareness, and advocate for policies that address systemic inequalities. Only by addressing the root causes of mental health disparities and creating an environment that fosters resilience and support can we begin to heal the mental health strife faced by the poor and marginalized in Jamaica.
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?
Manifesting has been a part of my life for the past 7 years. I am a true believer in using the gifts you have received to help others. I like to think of it as always planting karmic seeds that will start to grow and eventually harvest positivity. We have to take care of one another and most importantly this planet, or ‘Pacha Momma.’
The ‘aha Moment’ constantly occurs when I see our planet literally suffering — the pollution, the mistreatment of resources, the waste, the mental strife the common person is under. CHANGE IS NEEDED!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The psychedelic space is always so interesting as it is so dynamic and has so many different perspectives as it grows and swells into the mainstream. The most interesting and profound event was Rose Hill’s ONE Psilocybin Retreat we hosted in West End Negril, Jamaica in June of 2023. We have been trusted to host Military Veterans, and this experience has humbled me and reconfirmed my commitment to this work and medicine.
As a trained facilitator, I shared a space with these brave men that have been deeply scared by war time experiences, and the progress and results that this work achieves is truly remarkable. This ancient medicine is so special and what it unlocks within one’s consciousness and provides the tools for massive changes in mindset for these men moving forward in life. Generations have turned to psilocybin and other mushroom variations for their immense potential to heal, and ONE is our commitment to offer access to much-needed medicine.
Having supplied various retreats since 2018, Rose Hill has set the highest standards for psychedelic-assisted wellness programs in Jamaica and across the globe. Sessions with ONE Retreats are overseen by trained psilocybin therapists and medical professionals who ensure the safety and confidence of each guest. We are looking forward to the next ONE Retreat scheduled for October 2023.
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?
I always looked up to my grandfather, Edgar Stewart. He was a super humble man and was the Advertising Maverick of Jamaica. He helped shape the Independence of this island and sat on the board that decided on the National Flag, Anthem, Bird, Fruit, Tree, etc. He shared many inspirational moments and lessons with me.
Another example would be Chris Blackwell — the founder of Island Records, bringing the music of Bob Marley, U2, etc., to the world. I had the pleasure of working beside Blackwell for four years before venturing out on my own as an entrepreneur and those years shaped me and gave me the confidence needed to create outside of societal standards and achieve success. He taught me the most important of lessons: one being you do not have to conform to the norm to be successful, and to never give up your unique identity — be YOU!
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?
There are several reasons why a stigma towards mental health still exists in many societies. The main factor is the lack of understanding and knowledge surrounding mental health and the specific conditions. Misconceptions & stereotypes perpetuate the idea that mental illness is a sign of weakness or a character flaw, rather than a legitimate medical condition. Fear and discomfort also play a role, as mental health issues can be invisible and unfamiliar to many people.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Governments have a crucial role to play in improving the state of this crisis. First, they can invest in public education campaigns that raise awareness and promote mental health literacy. By publishing accurate information, governments can help debunk myths and reduce stigma. They can also allocate resources to expand access to mental health services, ensuring that affordable and quality care is available to all. Implementing policies that prioritize mental health in healthcare systems and integrating mental health into primary care settings can also make a significant difference.
Additionally, governments can lead by example and prioritize mental health within their own institutions, promoting workplace wellness initiatives and supporting employees’ mental well-being. Overall, a comprehensive approach that combines education, access to care, and policy changes can contribute to dismantling the stigma surrounding mental health and improving the state of this crisis.
At PATOO, PATOO, which productizes our produced psilocybin biomass, we speak with consumers who are interested in pursuing plant medicine as a form of mental health treatment and when asking these individuals about what their goals are with our products, a lot of them mention that SSRI’s previously haven’t worked for them or that they want to get off of them and find a more natural way to improve their mental health. This is why our goal with PATOO is to provide consumers with lab-tested, naturally derived wellness product options at accessible price points. Our mission is to further lift the stigma associated with psychedelics and create the much-needed legitimacy this industry needs. We have expanded our product line to include honey, capsules, chocolate bars, and gummies, giving consumers several different options to find what form of this incredible medicine resonates with them the most.
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own well-being and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
These are five strategies I use to promote my own well-being and mental wellness:
- Plant Medicine
I am constantly meditating and doing mindful tasks such as journaling. The world has so much outside noise and information overload is a major problem. We are a product of our thoughts and all the surrounding negative and poisonous information that is relentlessly fed to us will destroy our peace and affect our behaviors. It is necessary to be aware of this and combat it by clearing our minds and allowing emotions to pass through us. When we keep this energy inside of us, our minds and bodies will inevitably become sick.
When an individual or group partakes in a wellness retreat to improve their wellbeing or mental wellness, two of the most important aspects within that journey are set and setting. Participants are typically nestled in nature, as they are at Rose Hill’s ONE retreats, which allows participants to have a closer connection to their surroundings and Mother Earth, enhancing their experience. This allows them to gain more cognizance and become part of something bigger — which plays a major role in their healing journeys.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I read books and articles on plant medicine all the while that show different perspectives outside of mainstream thinking. Joe Rogan is a champion of alternative and provocative thinking. Michael Pollen also has led this path of the 3rd wave of the psychedelic renaissance.
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 would tell them to concentrate on themselves and to focus on mindful practices. Find communities that are promoting innovative change and preservation of this planet. The key attribute to happiness is finding a career that is rooted in purpose.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you for your interest in supporting our mission. Together, we can make a positive impact on the lives of individuals struggling with mental health challenges and create a more compassionate and empathetic society.
About the Interviewer: Inspired by the father of PR, Edward Bernays (who was also Sigmund Freud’s nephew), Michelle Tennant Nicholson researches marketing, mental injury, and what it takes for optimal human development. An award-winning writer and publicist, she’s seen PR transition from typewriters to Twitter. Michelle co-founded WasabiPublicity.com.