The Verywell Mind 25 The Thought Leaders, Experts, and Advocates Making a Difference in Mental Health By Team Verywell Mind Published on May 05, 2023 For Mental Health Awareness Month, we are proud to debut the first annual Verywell Mind 25—an inspiring and diverse group of thought leaders, experts, and advocates who are using their platforms to help reduce stigma, serve their communities, and share their stories. In a world full of misinformation, we are shining a light on the individuals enacting positive change in the mental health sphere with radical openness, empathy, and research-backed guidance. As leaders in the mental health space, we've seen firsthand the impact that community has on an individual, even if it's through a virtual lens. We've watched people learn from the lived experiences of others and benefit from the collective impulse to support one another however we can. Every day, we are inspired by the leaps being made to move mental health forward. Join us in celebrating the ongoing contributions of these 25 influencers, educators, and community organizers to the world of mental health. Methodology Finalists were first nominated by members of the Verywell Mind expert review board—which is comprised of over 20 accredited specialists in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and mindfulness—and the Verywell Mind editorial team. Honorees were then voted on by a panel of seven expert judges who used the following criteria to make their choices: quality and accuracy of content and work, mental health credentials and lived experiences, reach, and alignment with Verywell Mind’s core values. The final list of honorees celebrates people who are moving the conversation about mental health forward in a way that is approachable, evidence-based, and inclusive. Dr. Mariel Buqué Psychologist, author, intergenerational trauma expert Photo: Moe Alyasini Dr. Mariel Buqué is a Columbia University-trained psychologist, intergenerational trauma expert, and author of the upcoming book "Break the Cycle," a guide to healing intergenerational trauma that fuses modern psychology with ancient and indigenous healing practices. Buqué is changing the way we view mental health, pulling the focus from the individual and shifting it to families, communities, and society as a whole. My approach can be a bit unconventional. It can tap into layers and dimensions that many of us have not been ready to touch. Her innovative use of treatments like sound bath meditation and breathwork pays homage to those of us who come from cultures with healing modalities that are often overlooked in the Western world. Her approach emphasizes a focus on the body to better understand what we're feeling, and how to feel better. Read More Carson Daly TV host, radio personality, producer Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank In 2018, Carson Daly first opened up about his mental health for a national audience as a host of the TODAY show, sharing his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. Since then, he has remained a central public figure in raising awareness of mental health. Now, he hosts "Mind Matters," a series on the TODAY show dedicated to sharing powerful mental health stories of everyday people and how they cope with issues like homelessness, eating disorders, and treatment inequities facing Black communities. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Healthy Minds, a nonprofit organization which focuses on breaking the barriers that prevent people from getting support and treatment for mental health. Daly has found strength in being vulnerable and asking for help, and is doing everything in his power to destigmatize mental health issues and advocate for anyone who may be struggling. Read More BJ Williams Teacher, creator of 'Can I Be Vulnerable' (CIBV) Photo: Elise Conway While Black Americans aren’t any less likely than others to develop mental illnesses, they are underrepresented as patients and lack the resources to get help for their mental healthcare. That's why advocates like BJ Williams are so essential in achieving equity in mental health. The LA-based schoolteacher started Can I Be Vulnerable?, a multi-layered non-profit that started as a web series offering a safe space for Black men to share their mental health journeys. I want accessing mental health services to be as normal as getting a cup of coffee or going to the gym. Williams' program now includes transportation to mental health professionals for individuals in need in LA and Las Vegas. These initiatives and more are taking steps to help individuals in those communities to overcome two of the biggest hurdles to proper mental healthcare—stigma and access. Read More Dr. Thema Bryant Psychologist, professor, minister, author, president of the APA Photo: Austin Kwomo In 2021, the American Psychological Association issued a public apology for its role in contributing to systemic inequities, racial discrimination, and actions (or inactions) that harmed people of color. Now, Dr. Thema Bryant is leading the organization forward as President of the APA for 2023. My hope is for liberation, flourishing, thriving. It’s important to help people deal with their distress, but that should not be the end of our work. The psychologist, professor, author, and minister is ensuring that the words laid out in the APA's apology are turned into effective action and lasting positive change. Ultimately, these initiatives will seek to help overcome the systemic bias and discrimination within the psychology establishment that have contributed to so much pain throughout our history and limited the access and contributions of people of color to the field of psychology. Read More Selena Gomez Singer, actor, producer, entrepreneur Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic / Getty Images Being in the public eye means having your every move scrutinized and critiqued. For many, this leads to doing everything possible to live in total privacy; for a select group of others, being constantly under a microscope leads them to stand tall and proud about the struggles they face in life. Such is the case with Selena Gomez, who has been forthright about both her mental and physical health struggles for nearly a decade. In 2022, she released a documentary, "My Mind & Me" around her mental health conditions and co-founded a mental fitness organization called Wondermind, While her music career and star acting turn in "Only Murders in the Building" have done plenty to enrich the lives of her fans, that has never been the limit of how she chooses to connect with us. Since the time before conversations around mental health became more common and less stigmatized, Gomez has opted to use her enormous platform to share equally enormous truths. And through Wondermind, she's continuing to improve the discourse around mental health beyond her own story in a way that will continue to benefit the site's growing list of loyal followers. More than just a pet project, Wondermind has already become a major player in the world of online mental health guidance. Read More Dr. Laurie Santos Psychology professor, podcast host, creator of "The Science of Wellbeing" Photo: Mike Marsland and Yale University A professor of psychology and head of Silliman College at Yale University, Dr. Laurie Santos is an expert on cognitive science who has spent decades researching the human mind, uncovering cognitive biases, and figuring out what actually makes people happy. Our society makes things harder by focusing on stuff that we know scientifically doesn’t matter as much for happiness. Dr. Santos's free course, “The Science of Well Being,” breaks down the science of human happiness while offering concrete tools learners can use to improve their overall mental wellness. First launched in 2018, well over four million learners have enrolled in the course. Her podcast, The Happiness Lab, has over 40 million downloads. When it can sometimes feel like happiness is the hardest thing to come by, Dr. Santos is there to let us know that it is not just possible to be happy—it may be easier than we think. Read More Vince Flores Maldonado Founder and CEO of Native Music Coalition Photo: Sonya Salway Faced with a lack of wellness resources while in the midst of his own struggles with addiction, Vincent Flores-Maldonado decided to make a turn in his life that would result in the helping and healing of Native Americans across Southern Arizona. Inspired by his own struggles and journey toward sobriety, Flores-Maldonado created the Native Music Coalition to promote wellness and recovery through tradition, creativity, and staying true to one's roots. As Executive Director of the NMC, Flores-Maldonado’s legacy began in 2014, when he decided that it was time to provide the Native American community in and around Tucson with alternatives to Western Medicine to help with everything from family struggles to community issues and addiction. The NMC is particularly focused on helping kids in the community learn beneficial self-care and communal healing strategies from a young age. NMC prioritizes spirituality, culture, diversity, and togetherness at the center of the organization, and it has expanded to provide a wide range of wellness services from Tucson all the way up to its newest chapter in South Dakota. The organization's support staff includes therapists and experts in addiction, ensuring that its work is grounded in proven, effective strategies. Read More Dr. Sasha Hamdani Psychiatrist, ADHD specialist, and author Photo: Jenny Wheat Dr. Sasha Hamdani started her journey as a social media advocate and educator as a way to combat misinformation during the pandemic. Now, 'thepsychdoctorMD' has amassed over one million followers between her Instagram and TikTok accounts, where she lays out what it's really like to live with ADHD for an audience eager to be better understood. Her videos provide insight into the daily experience of ADHD in a way that is fun, accessible, and above all, informative. We need to have tools from the bottom that if people can't get access to care, they're going to have something that will keep them afloat. Earlier this year, she released her book "Self-Care for People With ADHD" and will be launching Focus Genie, an app to help users manage ADHD. When she's not sharing her experience and knowledge across digital media, her private practice treats individuals struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, in addition to ADHD Read More Jewel Musician, co-founder of Innerworld Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage As a singer-songwriter, author, and actress, Jewel has been in our national consciousness for nearly 30 years. And while we may not have been aware of it, she has been thinking and talking about mental health that entire time. Now, she's looking to help others as they navigate their own mental health journeys. She co-founded Innerworld, a metaverse platform for individuals to seek mental health help in a group setting using techniques based on proven strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy. Innerworld represents a major step forward in a world where more and more people are seeking help for mental health but don't always have access to the right tools or resources. The more responsibility you can take to be proactive and empower yourself to discover what does and does not work for you, the better your outcomes will be. Acutely aware of the shortage of therapists that contributes to the under-treatment of mental health issues in the U.S., Jewel has helped create a platform that will teach individuals to develop the kind of self-care practices that can benefit everyone on a daily basis. Read More Dr. Joy Harden Bradford Therapist, speaker, podcast host, author Photo: Carol Lee Rose Dr. Joy wears many hats. She’s a psychologist, speaker, media personality, soon-to-be debut author, and the founder and host of “Therapy for Black Girls,” an award-winning podcast and online resource. As an individual with a personal and professional dedication to helping Black women navigate relationships and heal from heartbreak, Dr. Joy combines the two to jumpstart conversations about relationship issues within the Black community. It’s a good thing for us to recognize that we’ve been running ourselves into the ground and not really taking good care of ourselves in the interest of taking care of so many other people. And while she knows self-care is critical, Dr. Joy also works to ensure that we don't forget the strength that can be found through the love and support of others. That support for group healing will take center stage in her upcoming book "Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community." Read More Brené Brown Public speaker, author, and researcher on human connection Photo: Maile Wilson For the last two decades, Brené Brown has been on a mission to foster deep human connection. A professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, she’s dedicated much of her research to topics such as vulnerability, empathy, love, and courage. After 15 years of research, she says she was sure about one thing in particular: that human connection is why we are here. It's the very glue that gives us purpose in our day-to-day lives. Her work has culminated in a series of New York Times bestseller books—which have been translated into over 30 languages—and you can catch her as the host of two award-winning podcasts: Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead. Brown is also an internationally acclaimed public speaker, who’s served as a keynote at South by Southwest (SXSW), the United Nations, and TEDx. To this day, her TEDxHouston talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the most viewed in the world with over 60 million views and counting. Through her candor, humor, and storytelling, Brown is able to break down complicated topics in a way that resonates with people who’ve felt lost, hopeless, unsure, and unheard. Her work has let people know—in a reassuring way—that they still have room to grow. Read More Tammy Baldwin, United States Senator (D-WI) Congressional mental health advocate Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images While the pandemic saw drastic increases in depression and other mental health issues throughout the U.S., it also showed us the strength that can be found when we come together for a united cause. Over the last couple years, Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin spearheaded such a cause, championing the creation of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The bipartisan legislation sought to make 988 as reliable and helpful for those in need as 911 has been for so many years. The Lifeline has a network of over 200 crisis centers, staffed 24/7 by trained counselors. We need to do everything we can to help those in mental health crises and prevent suicide, and that means improving the tools and resources they have when they are suffering. Shortly after launch of the new number, the Department of Health and Human Services reported a 45% increase in calls over the previous year, an early signal of its usefulness and importance. Originally launched in 2005 at the still-live 1-800-273-8255, the Lifeline has received over 23 million calls to date. While not a substitute for ongoing mental healthcare, the Lifeline provides a critical intervention to help individuals who feel they have nowhere to turn. Read More Megan Stowe Vice President of Brand & Content at the Trevor Project Photo: Tyler Wirken Humble in nature, Megan Stowe's gentle demeanor belies the importance—as well as the gravity—of the work she is performing with The Trevor Project, a nonprofit founded 25 years ago to prevent suicide within the LGBTQIA+ youth community. As Vice President of Brand & Content, Stowe is helping the organization continue its mission to move the national conversation around mental health forward through relatable and personal content. I can tell you firsthand, that [after] working with these young people, this generation, the younger generation, they are going to create change. These young people are incredible. Earlier this year, Stowe directed "Learn With Love," a documentary film about three transgender youths and their relationships. She is driven not only to help young LGBTQ people, but to educate older adults about what the kids in their lives may be going through. Stowe knows the difficulty of changing hearts and minds, but is focused on stories like this that will drive people to take action and think differently—even if it's just one small step at a time. Read More Craig Grossi Author, PTSD survivor, veterans mental health advocate Photo: Nora Parkington As a Marine and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Craig Grossi is no stranger to stress, trauma, and hopelessness. But that's also where he was introduced to the idea of "stubborn positivity" from Fred, the hungry dog that he would later adopt. Fred would go on to inspire Grossi to speak across the country to veterans, prison inmates, and others who are struggling with mental health to help them get out of their toxic space and find ways to positively impact the world. His stories and work as a mental health advocate have resulted in two inspirational books to date, Craig and Fred and Second Chances: A Marine, His Dog, and Finding Redemption. Life is so short and precious, it’s worth focusing on the things that bring you joy. Finding the reasons to wag your tail is the way that I’ve made sense of it. Grossi may not think of himself as a mental health professional but he has chosen a niche where mental health plays a huge role. Stubborn positivity, whether he’s writing about it in books or speaking about it to audiences, has a real impact on our mental health and how we deal with the world. It isn’t about being positive no matter what. It’s about leaning into challenges and wagging your tail, which can make the difference between blocking the world out and inviting the world in. Read More Nedra Glover Tawwab Licensed clinical social worker, relationship therapist, speaker, author Photo: Denise Benson Nedra Glover Tawwab recognizes that people want help but aren't always ready to reach out to a therapist yet. To help those in need, the relationship therapist, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author created an Instagram page to share tips, techniques, and advice about relationships and mental health to a following that has ballooned to over 1.8 million people. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tawwab is especially renowned within the mental health community for her radical yet simple philosophy of helping others cultivate harmonious relationships with boundary-setting. A lot of boundaries that we're missing are the boundaries that we need with ourselves. Her latest book provides a roadmap for unapologetically creating those healthy boundaries. When she's not writing, joining your favorite mental health podcast, or brightening your social media with helpful advice, she's busy as the founder and owner of her group therapy practice, Kaleidoscope Counseling. Read More Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble Psychologist, researcher, founder of the AAKOMA Project Photo: Clark Bailey Photography Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble is the founder of the AAKOMA Project, a nonprofit organization that works to raise mental health awareness and make mental health resources available for kids in underserved communities. Dr. Alfiee wants to raise awareness of mental health issues in communities of color and in diverse groups, empower people to have the resources that they need, and change the mental health system by bringing more diverse people to the forefront of the movement. Our mission is to ensure that every child, inclusive of all points of diversity, feels the freedom [to live] authentically and unapologetically. Dr. Alfiee hosts the mental health podcast "Couched in Color" and is the Chief Mental Wellness Officer for the Mental Wealth Alliance, a non-profit started by Charlamagne tha God focused on training new generations of culturally responsive therapists. Her work is making a difference, giving young people with mental health struggles a voice they didn't know they had. Read More Rosalia Rivera Child sexual abuse prevention specialist, founder of CONSENTparenting™ Photo: AboutCONSENT Rosalia Rivera is a change-maker whose mission works to shift our cultural understanding of consent. Rivera’s purpose of redefining consent for the public is rooted in her own unique experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse and a member of a family system that was impacted by sexual abuse. My biggest hope is that we get to a place in [our] culture that being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is not shameful. Through her organization (CONSENTparenting™), podcast (AboutCONSENT™), and clothing line (CONSENTwear™), the advocate, educator, and speaker provides a blueprint for building a culture of informed consent in all aspects of the family system. Her teaching focuses on consent as an ongoing discussion that applies in every facet of life beginning from childhood, to ensure that consent, bodily autonomy, and the idea of setting boundaries are instilled from a young age. Read More Christopher LeMark Founder of "Coffee, Hip-Hop and Mental Health" Photo: Lauren Herrmann Growing up in the Southside of Chicago, where many Black individuals struggle with hardship, Christopher LeMark experienced little hope of ever being the successful man he is today. Discovering a love for music, especially hip hop, at a young age offered him solace. This passion inspired a career as a Christian rap artist. Although hip hop offered some comfort to his life, he realized he needed to give therapy a try to truly unpack his childhood trauma. LeMark founded Coffee Hip Hop & Mental Health, a cafe that serves coffee creations and holds group therapy sessions with the mission for the Black community to receive accessible mental health care free of financial burden. CHHMH partners with a selection of therapists wwiilling to make a difference in the lives of Chicago residents who are not necessarily granted the financial opportunity to obtain therapy sessions on their own. Cost continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing individuals who are interested in treatment, but don't have the means or know where to get started. CHHMH is not just a cafe, but a foundation that aims to uplift Chicago’s Black community by normalizing the view of therapy, decreasing stigma, and encouraging an ongoing commitment to daily mental health care. Read More Dr. Becky Kennedy Clinical Psychologist, author, podcast host, parenting expert Photo: Melanie Dunea During Becky Kennedy's early days of coaching parents, she realized the conventional methods that involved rewards, punishments, and time-outs weren’t just ineffective; they were terrible for the child and parent’s wellbeing. She wanted to develop a new and better method that incorporated mindfulness, emotional regulation, attachment, and internal family systems theory. Hence, Good Inside was born to “help families heal — bringing out the good inside everyone.” With more than a dozen on Kennedy's team, Good Inside is on a mission to redefine what it means to be a parent, help families improve their parenting approach, and solve problems in the home with simple, actionable, and effective strategies. She’s also reaching millions through her weekly podcast—called "Good Inside With Dr. Becky"—that made Apple Podcasts' “Best Shows of 2021” list. From bedtime battles and the emotional lives of teenagers to tantrums, she touches on a variety of real parenting challenges that help her listeners feel validated and empowered to use real impactful ways to overcome those problems. Dr. Becky is in the trenches with fellow millennial parents. She doesn’t just offer advice; she actively practices what she preaches with her own kids. She’s helping parents feel less lost, less alone, more equipped, and more confident in the parenting journey and, in turn, shaping healthier and more resilient future generations to come. Read More Erica Woodland Licensed clinical social worker, therapist, founder of NQTTCN Photo: Margarita Corporan Erica Woodland is the founder of the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN), a network of practitioners, organizers, and activists providing culturally responsive mental health services to queer and trans people of color. The organization also functions as a national resource that provides training, education, and support to mental health professionals who work with queer and trans people of color. At a time when the rights of queer and trans individuals are increasingly threatened, Woodland's work as a leading voice in the movement for LGBTQ+ mental health advocacy is more important than ever. The goal is not only to provide culturally responsive care, but to help build a safe, affirming, and equitable world in which individuals in these at-risk communities can overcome our history of systemic oppression, survive, and thrive. Their work serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of intersectional advocacy and the need for culturally competent mental health services for all. Read More Rod Thill Content creator and TikTok mental health influencer Emma McIntyre / Getty Images Rod Thill is something of a TikTok sensation, thanks to his videos that find the sweet spot between humor, vulnerability, and the all-too-common experience of millennial anxiety. It’s become a cliche to describe the last few years as ‘unprecedented times,’ but that doesn’t make it any less true. And Thill, known on TikTok simply as Rod and @justme.rod on Instagram, has been there for his 1.6 million followers throughout. His videos have amassed almost 100 million likes altogether. Through his videos and his WorkDaze newsletter, Thill shines a light on issues like men's mental health, inclusivity in the workplace, burnout, along with other issues that have only grown in importance in recent times. Whether's he's joking about the frustrations of trying to send the right email, or highlighting the stress and anxiety you’re likely to feel during a typical workday, Thill is a leading voice at the intersection of work and mental health, and is a positive model for the rising tide of mental health influencers who have arrived on our social feeds in recent years. As we continue to navigate our complicated post-pandemic realities, voices like his will be needed to make us laugh, inspire us, and maintain perspective. Read More Matthew W. Johnson, PhD Professor, Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research Photo: Johns Hopkins Medicine Decades after what many would consider their heyday, psychedelics are having a moment. As a result of an ever-growing body of medical research, evidence suggests that substances like psilocybin could be beneficial for a number of mental health conditions including depression, addiction, and PTSD. Matthew Johnson PhD, professor and one of the founders at Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research, is at the forefront of this renaissance. We are all susceptible to deteriorating and falling into unhealthy mental traps. We need not just preventative care, but maintenance and strengthening of our mental health. The first academic center in the United States solely dedicated to psychedelic research, the institution’s founding added legitimacy to studying these promising treatments. Through his work, he hopes to provide psychiatrists, psychologists, and others in the mental health field with another tool to help people, and to help educate the public on some of the misconceptions about the psychedelic field. Read More Yolo Akili Robinson Writer, healing justice worker, founder of BEAM Photo: Yolo Akili Robinson Yolo Akili Robinson (he/him/his) is a non-binary mental health and wellness activist for Black and marginalized communities with little access to mental health services. He's also an award-winning author, and regular keynote speaker across the country. My biggest hope with all of our programs is to continue to build and resource Black communities. Too many of our leaders are not imaginative or bold enough to help us reimagine care systems that grow us beyond pathology. As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit mental health organization BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective), he has focused his career on providing educational wellness programs and training in CDC behavioral health. BEAM centers on Black communities and supports self-care and growth while providing access to resources that promote wellness and healing strategies for the mind and body. Read More Jon Kabat-Zinn Professor, author, researcher Leonardo Cendamo / Getty Images Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn was among the first researchers to recognize the medical potential of meditation and yoga, and is the man we have to thank for the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) framework that many mental health professionals still incorporate into treatment plans today. His pioneering work began in 1979 with his creation of the eight-week MBSR program that involved intensive mindfulness training, including meditation, body scanning, and basic yoga postures. The goal was to teach patients how to use these techniques to cope with depression, anxiety, pain, or just the general stresses that we all face in life. Now, it's hard to imagine a self-care routine that doesn't involve mindfulness and/or meditation in some shape or form. To this day, Kabat-Zinn continues to bring mindfulness to an ever-growing audience through his MasterClass courses geared toward demystifying mindfulness and giving everyday people the tools to make meditation work for them. Read More Paige Bellenbaum Founding Director of The Motherhood Center Photo: The Motherhood Center Paige Bellenbaum is the founding director of The Motherhood Center in New York City, which offers virtual and in-person treatment for people experiencing postpartum mood disorders. The center offers support groups for parents struggling with the transition to parenthood, outpatient treatment with social workers and psychologists that specialize in perinatal mental health, as well as treatment from reproductive psychiatrists who prescribed medication. Mental health has a generational impact, and being able to provide interventions at this very vulnerable and incredibly important phase, is so important. It's life saving, and it's life changing. Bellenbaum's work is inspired by her own personal experience with severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her first child—an experience that almost ended her life. That's why she fights for more funding, and for more changes to health insurance so that more services are covered. As she says, perinatal mental health issues are treatable, but only if treatment options are readily available. Read More Nominate Your Favorite Inspiring Figure Nominations for the 2024 Verywell Mind 25 are open! If you know someone who is making a positive difference in the world of mental health, submit their name here for them to be considered for next year's honors.