Mental Health Champions: Why & How Sara Olsher Of Mighty and Bright Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

An Interview With Michelle Tennant Nicholson

Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

--

Stop rushing: Prior to cancer I was going a million different directions and rushing from one thing to the next. Saying “no” to things has meant that my days are more relaxed, which is vital to my mental health.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Sara Olsher.

Sara Olsher is the founder and CEO of the family mental health and wellness company Mighty + Bright, and the author of nine picture books for kids coping with divorce, cancer, and change. As a single parent and cancer survivor, Sara creates tools meant to make getting through impossibly hard things as simple and accessible as humanly possible — with the goal of coming out the other side with coping skills that will last a lifetime.

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 a small town in Northern California; I was an only child, and I’m convinced that playing alone in the dirt as a kid is part of why I have such an active imagination. I was pretty badly bullied in middle school, but other than that I had a sheltered childhood — which was very lucky, because it provided a foundation for the many challenges I faced as an adult.

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?

My goal is to make teaching mental wellness skills to kids easy for parents.

Mental health-related ER visits for elementary aged kids have been climbing for years, and the pandemic added fuel to an already burning fire. In 2020, it got so bad that the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a state of emergency. I think many people assumed that the systems in place — like schools and mental health professionals — would take the lead to help.

But what I discovered was that teachers and schools were overloaded, and child therapists had long waiting lists — even for kids who were in serious crisis.

I started wondering if there might be a way to help kids before they got to crisis level, and in my research discovered that scientists had already found the protective factors for preventing mental health crises in kids. Unfortunately there was no structure or instruction about putting this research into practice, which is what I set out to create.

My mission is to make it easy for parents and kids to learn mental health and wellness skills together, de-stigmatizing these conversations, creating a common language in the family, and building resilience in kids.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I first started Mighty and Bright in 2013, when my daughter was three; I was coping with a pretty brutal divorce, and she was showing signs of anxiety. My background was in adult psychology, so I started researching child development, and got us in to see a trauma-informed therapist. I became fascinated with how kids learn and communicate, and created a co-parenting calendar that completely shocked me by how much it helped her anxiety.

Four years later, I was diagnosed with cancer at age 34 and realized that divorce is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human suffering. And when parents are suffering, it’s likely that their kids are too. It’s super hard to help your kids when you’re in survival mode, and I wanted to make that as easy as possible for parents.

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?

It might sound cliche, but it was cancer. It has a way of bringing things into perspective, and I realized that there were a lot of people suffering. I had no reason to wait to help them.

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’ve been truly lucky to make a lot of incredible connections so far; my advisory board is filled with mental health professionals who are incredible at what they do, and help me make my tools even more helpful. I have connections with many Child Life Specialists at children’s hospitals who have taken time out of their extremely busy schedules to help me create books that truly serve children with cancer. It’s been incredible.

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?

I think people believe there’s weakness in showing vulnerability. We care so much about being loved and accepted by those around us, and we worry that we’ll be judged or ostracized for being different or sharing our challenges. My experience, though, has been that sharing our challenges with trusted people makes us feel more connected, not less. It can be very isolating to hide who you are. I am such an advocate for therapy, because a good therapist is a safe person to be real with.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

I feel really strongly that we need to normalize talking about our emotions, and we need to build skills in kids so that they grow up able to cope. None of us gets out of life unscathed, and we need tools to handle the challenges we’ll inevitably face.

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?

1 — Stop rushing: Prior to cancer I was going a million different directions and rushing from one thing to the next. Saying “no” to things has meant that my days are more relaxed, which is vital to my mental health.

2 — Set boundaries and drop the guilt: I refuse to feel guilty for doing what I need to take care of myself. Mental health and physical health are connected, and if I don’t take the time I need, my body will break down. So if I need to take a break and watch Netflix, I do it without guilt.

3 — Pay attention to how people and activities make you feel: I am keenly aware of how my emotions feel in my body, and if being around someone makes me feel anxious, or a specific activity makes me feel sick, I won’t allow it in my life.

4 — Get a therapist: We can ALL use an outside perspective to help us see patterns in our behavior and help us become better versions of ourselves. Finding a good therapist who helps you see these things and make changes is priceless.

5 — Prioritize social contact: We are meant for connection, and I prioritize seeing people outside of my family. If I don’t, I get depressed.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

My customers are actually my biggest inspiration. Talking to parents who are coping with a brain tumor while trying to raise three children, or a newly single mom whose daughter is crying herself to sleep at night? These are the things that inspire me to keep going.

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?

Try not to overthink it. We can talk ourselves out of pretty much anything scary, and putting yourself out there to make a difference can be scary! So just do it. :)

How can our readers follow you online?

I’m on TikTok and Instagram @mightyandbrightco, and my website is mightyandbright.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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.

--

--

Michelle Tennant Nicholson
Authority Magazine

A “Givefluencer,” Chief Creative Officer of Wasabi Publicity, Inc., Creator of WriteTheTrauma.org