JUF launches Mental Health Initiative

Entrepreneur Andy Dunn talks about his bipolar disorder

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[Book jacket]

In the midst of a manic episode from bipolar disorder, Andy Dunn, the co-founder of the menswear brand Bonobos, thought he was the Messiah, howled at the moon, and assaulted his future wife and mother-in-law.  

Dunn, a Chicagoan, details his experience in his new memoir, Burn Rate: Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind (Penguin Random House LLC). He spoke in August at a JUF event--held at the Bryn Mawr Country Club--titled "Launching a Startup and Losing My Mind: A Conversation on Mental Health, Family, and Entrepreneurship."  The evening included a moderated discussion with clinical psychologist and JUF Young Women's Board member Dr. Andrea Graham. The event also launched the new JUF Mental Health Initiative that supports the growing community need for mental health services. 

"The 2020 Chicago Jewish Population Study, led by JUF, found that our community's greatest single health service need is mental health care," said Dr. Jenna Shapiro, the event co-chair, board member of JUF's Young Leadership Division, and a pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children's Hospital.  

Fueled by the 2022 JUF Annual Campaign, this initiative will invest $2 million to strengthen the mental health service infrastructure and ensure that more community members gain access to support that improves their mental health and well-being. 

During the pandemic, mental health demand in the community skyrocketed.  The mass shooting on July 4th in Highland Park exacerbated the need dramatically. JUF provided emergency relief in both cases. Still, JUF recognizes there's more work to do.   

"While we have a solid infrastructure in place thanks to JUF annual allocations, and we were able to extend our reach through special COVID grant funds, we keep hearing about pressing community mental health needs," said Karen Galin, JUF Associate VP of Planning and Allocations.  "JUF interviewed Jewish providers and other local and national mental health experts to understand what they are seeing and to dream about what mental health resources could look like." 

Dunn applauded JUF's commitment to raising awareness and destigmatizing mental health, which is exactly what he's trying to do by talking and writing about his mental illness.  

"After two decades of secrecy living with severe mental illness, I wanted to both expunge the shame I felt, and hold up a lamp to say: this stuff is hard enough without it being a secret, and we can get through it--but we have to face it head on," he said. 

Dunn began to truly face his own mental illness in 2016 which he calls a year of "hell on earth."  After hitting his future wife and pushing and kicking her mother, he spent a week in New York's Bellevue psychiatric ward. Upon discharge, four NYPD officers handcuffed him and transferred him to the Sixth Precinct where he learned he was facing two felony charges for the incident. The charges were later dropped, Dunn accepted his diagnosis of bipolar disorder which he'd struggled with for more than a decade, and his wife, Manuela, and her mom forgave him.  

"The culture of my wife's family is: we are going to talk about this," he said, recalling his mother-in-law telling him, "Andy, it's just like diabetes.  It's no different than that.  You have to take care of yourself. As long as you take your medication and see your doctor frequently, we're good." 

Dunn encourages others to share their personal mental health story, even in the business world. "If you don't feel comfortable telling someone you're working with, it's a good moment to investigate if you're working with the right people," he cautioned. 

He said that acceptance was not only healing, but also ignited gratitude for how Judaism addresses mental health issues. One year later, he converted to Judaism. He also got married and sold his company to Walmart, a deal that required Dunn to fully reveal his medical records. 

Reflecting on his journey, Dunn said it's incumbent on business leaders to disclose their challenges and create safe space for others to do the same. "If we can rebrand mental health… as something not to be ashamed of, we'll see more investment." 

Above all, Dunn credits the dedication of his family for keeping him alive. "They never let me give up. They stayed on me, checking in every day for nearly two decades, before I found a middle measure of peace." 

Now, he's developing an app dedicated to kindling the human connection which is essential for mental health.   

For more information about the JUF Mental Health Initiative, contact Karen Galin at KarenGalin@juf.org

Julie Mangurten Weinberg is a Northbrook-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in broadcast, print, and digital media.   


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