Joy Dutch chats 'We're all mental' with Laura Rogoski
Community is a curious concept. It’s a word, it’s a feeling, and most importantly it’s an overarching sense of kinship and support. A quasi-holistic hivemind that allows people to bond over shared experiences, locations, or hobbies. At its core, it could even be defined as ‘friends helping friends’, as Laura Rogoski does with her mental health support network, ‘We Are All Mental.’
As Laura found out the hard way during bouts of serious injury and subsequent recovery, access to healthcare, especially non-physical aspects, can be exhausting, expensive, and at times, nearly impossible to navigate. After being t-boned by a car on her motorcycle, Laura’s mental health began to spiral in a way that directly contrasted with her physical recuperation. Down the line, this was a contributing factor to Laura checking herself into a treatment programme to deal with her issues with alcohol.
“I had this assumption going into recovery, that everyone would have like no teeth and be crazy-looking drug addicts. But it wasn’t like that at all. I started learning what I consider now to be basic, fundamental skills I was never taught in school and had never considered before then. Things like how to ask for help, and how to give help, how to set boundaries, how to take care of myself. And I thought ‘Wow, I wish I had known about some of these skills before’. And I wish that it didn’t cost $3,000 to get help and learn these things. I wanted to share everything with my snowboard community because most people I know would benefit from something like the program I went through.”
“Before my treatment because of all my injuries with the motorcycle crash, I had had people I didn’t know DM’ing me like, “Hey, I just broke my femur, what should I do? I’m devastated”. And I thought, yeah, I do have a lot of experience from all these surgeries and coming back from them, and I want to be able to share that with people. So I thought fuck it, I’m gonna make this mini-magazine. My plan at the time was to make one little magazine. It would be focused on recovering from injuries and highlighting how our mental and physical health is so intertwined.”
Mental health references such a broad spectrum; it encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and doesn’t just include the ‘negative’ facets. The perceived connotations behind the term ‘mental health’ often leave people feeling like it’s something to be ashamed of or hidden, a taboo subject that isn’t for public consumption. Something to be battled in private, behind closed doors, or sat alone in doctor’s waiting rooms.
That’s where We’re All Mental steps in. The name itself looks to subvert the paradigm of what ‘mental’ looks and sounds like. As Laura explained to us:
“It came from a piece of artwork I was making for the first magazine: a crow, sitting on a phone, looking all crazy. I was trying to illustrate the feeling of being exhausted but still trying to connect with someone on the phone. I wrote “We’re all fucking mental” in my chicken scratch next to the drawing and it just kinda stuck.”
“I’ve done a lot of reading on the power of language and language usage. And one of my goals is to reduce the stigma or the negative associations with having a bad day. The root definition of the word ‘mental’ is just having brain power and thought and cognitive ability. So then, ‘we’re all mental,’ to me, just means we all have ups and downs. Like, we all have cognitive functions. And everyone’s emotions are on a rollercoaster or a spectrum of some sort. Acknowledging that if you’re having the worst day ever and you’re feeling absolutely crazy - you’re not alone in that. Other people have experienced that. As humans, we all are going to deal with really good times and really bad times.”
The framework and support network that We Are All Mental offers looks to provide safe places to strengthen feelings of belonging, deepen connections, and normalize talking about our struggles and asking for help. It’s a safety net of friendship that aims to span the globe to try and prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks and spiralling unnoticed.
“I was trying to illustrate the feeling of being exhausted but still trying to connect with someone on the phone. I wrote ‘We’re all fucking mental’ in my chicken scratch next to the drawing and it just kinda stuck”
“The idea that you’re a burden if you ask for help is something that I’ve touched on because it’s just not true. When you ask people for help, you’re allowing them a window to give, and giving is a gift in itself. So you know, if I call someone and say, “Hey, do you have time to talk?” they might have been having a really shitty day. And me reaching out to them and asking them for support might make them feel a little special and a little more useful.”
It’s not just learning how to ask for help, but also how to better offer support for people or notice the warning signs in yourself and others who are struggling. We Are All Mental aims to provide easily accessible resources to anyone and everyone without fear of judgment, regardless of where you are on your own personal journey.
One of the beauties of the Internet is its ability to connect, and while We’re All Mental hosts in-person events, one of their most popular offerings are their twice-weekly Mental Meetups via Zoom. These hour-long calls offer an opportunity to share, vent, talk, laugh or even cry with a group of like-minded people from around the world. They can be done completely anonymously and there’s no expectation to participate, the only thing that is asked of attendees is to respect the privacy of others in the group.
The We Are All Mental ‘Zine was created by Laura and first released in 2021 with 200 copies printed, the demand has since scaled more than 5 times for Volume 2. Now distributed across the US and Canada (with plans to expand), the project is a creative smörgåsbord, filled with relatable articles and stories, easily-digestible advice and workbooks, and engaging artwork from people in the snowboard community. As well as a useful tool in We Are All Mental’s resource arsenal, it’s an imaginative outlet for Laura and the others involved.
“If it feels like I’m reading a textbook, I find it hard to relate to. I had all this information that I wanted to share with people, but I wanted it to be something that people actually wanted to read. It’s one thing to read something and it’s another thing to understand something. So I thought, okay, if I put a bunch of artwork in it and write in the way that I speak, you know, not perfect grammar with some swearing, then maybe people will actually get the feeling and absorb it. With the artwork, they say a picture is worth a thousand words. So I went at it creating artwork specifically trying to capture different things I was feeling.”
Moving forward, Laura’s goal is to scale We Are All Mental, and allow it to grow legs and flourish outside of its current physical capabilities. One way to achieve this is turning We Are All Mental from an LLC into a non-profit organisation. This allows them access to increased avenues of funding, which in turn will lead to more programs being available and a wider ability to connect people with healthcare providers and health insurance. Physical and mental health are so interconnected, and a decline in one can lead to a spiral in the other. In a community like snowboarding where the activity that binds us is inherently risky, injuries are unfortunately common and the comparison of battle scars can be a frequent ice breaker.
It may have started life with snowboarding but this organisation has transcended the sport. If you’d like to get involved or donate to the running of the site and magazine please visit weareallmental.com or hit them up on Instagram @_were_all_mental
There’s no ticket to entry for We Are All Mental, anyone and everyone can be a part of this community. As Laura says, when you break it down we are indeed all mental, and none of us deserves to feel isolated or alone. Whether you’re looking for tips on recovery, a place to make new friends or somewhere you can unload and vent, there’s space for you here.
Warning signs to look out for in yourself and others (PSA: this list is by no means fully exhaustive or should be used as a substitute for professional care):
As a final treat to thank you from reading this article, here's the latest video project "Novella" coming straight from the minds of Laura and Alexis Hernandez-Roland - A short documentary that gives a voice to some unique snowboard enthusiasts!