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Hollywood Producer Joel Relampagos Shares How He’s Fighting Mental Health Stigma

Photo: Courtesy of Jon Wong

Over the last year, there have been over 6,600 hate incidents against the Asian Pacific Islander community in the U.S., which has led to racial trauma among this group.

At the same time, this community is three times less likely to ask for mental health help compared to white Americans, says Joel Relampagos, TV executive producer for the SpringHill Company, a studio cofounded by LeBron James, and former executive producer of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and student debt show “Going From Broke.” Through his advocacy work, Relampagos, who is Filipino-American and part of the LGBTQ+ community, wants to change that.

“It’s, yes, a tradition for the API community to keep their heads down, not saying anything, not talking about emotions, but now is really our time to break that cycle,” Relampagos said.

Overcoming shame

To accelerate this movement, Relampagos hosts the student mental health show “Breaking the Stigma,” which is released through Chegg, an education technology platform, and he founded Change Your Algorithm, a program that offers free weekly mental health classes led by mental health experts. 

For Relampagos, the mission is even more important because mental health issues also plague the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately.

“When you’re heterosexual, you just feel like you’re like most people,” Relampagos said. “But when you’re gay lesbian, bisexual, whatever it is, you already feel so different. And that does something to you, especially since the developmental stages of childhood are ages 0 to 8, and you’re starting to create those beliefs.“As someone who’s gay, I felt like I should be very shameful of:

  • My race, being an immigrant moving to the U.S., specifically Southern California.
  • My sexuality, growing up gay in a strict Catholic Filipino home.”

“There was a lot of shame instilled upon me from myself. So mental health is such an important, vital role when it comes to living a life of wellness.”

Fighting stigma

In telling his own story, Relampagos hopes to push back against common stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“My advice to those that are struggling with mental health is I want them to know that you are not alone,” he said. “Despite the fact that there are hundreds, millions of people out there that struggle with anxiety, depression, not everyone talks about it and not everyone talks about it because of that fear.

So I want people to know that when you do speak from a place of vulnerability and ask for help, help will come the same way that help came for me.”

Relampagos shared that he faced anxiety, depression, and addiction so severe that at one point, he drank two bottles of wine each night. Although he was a successful producer in Hollywood, his colleagues had no clue.

“It wasn’t until I dropped that judgment and ego that I started to ask for help. And I said, you know what? I’m going to ask for help. Otherwise, I’m not going to be alive anymore,” he said. “And once I asked for help, help came — and that was help in the form of my family being supportive and my friends being supportive, and I got to work with amazing therapists that really showed me how mental health is everything.”

Inspiring conversation

Change Your Algorithm has thousands of members globally and is opening to Italy and Canada next. The program continues to try to reach students with the aim of starting conversations around mental health — a timely mission, as some health experts predict the next pandemic will be one that affects just that.

“My advice for students that are, you know, struggling with their mental health is to be able to openly talk about it.

“The same way that when people go to the gym, they go to the gym to feel better, get stronger, lose weight — whatever it is — that same mentality has to happen to our mind. There has to be a mental version for gym,” Relampagos said. “And so the only way to take care of our minds is to speak openly about what we’re going through.”

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