Welcome to the Healthcare CEO podcast. Join us as Daniel Fernandez, healthcare leader and patient experience advocate, leads dynamic one-on-one discussions with healthcare executives, consultants, and other industry experts. Listen in as they share actionable insights and unique perspectives in the day in the life of a healthcare CEO.
*The following has been adapted from our full-length interview, which can be found here.
Meet Johnny Crowder
Along with being the founder and CEO of Cope Notes, Johnny is an abuse survivor, touring musician, comedian, and writer. Amidst his psychology studies at the University of Central Florida and his mental health advocacy through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Johnny found himself touring the world with his metal band, Prison, using the stage as a platform to explore taboo topics like consent, self-harm, and sobriety. With a keen personal understanding of multiple diagnoses ranging from bipolar disorder and OCD to schizophrenia, Johnny is uniquely equipped to provide creative solutions for the pains of mental illness and treatment with levity and wit. He has also been featured on CNN, NBC, Yahoo News, and several other media outlets.
About Cope Notes
Cope Notes is an innovative mobile health platform that uses text messages to improve the mental and emotional wellness of users all over the globe. To date, it has helped over 15,000 people in over 92 countries.
Creating Hope, One Small Step at a Time
Daniel Fernandez (DF): Everyone has a why. So, why did you start Cope Notes?
Johnny Crowder (JC): It was frustration. I wish there was a more noble cause, like saving the world, but to be honest, Cope Notes’ inception was frustration. I felt ripped off and lied to by a lot of the self-help and mental health tools that would say: Watch this one webinar and your life will be different, or read this book or take this vitamin. I was furious because I would try all of these things, and my life would be the same. And I was so frustrated that the mental health industry was boiling down recovery into this overnight, quick fix when I knew in my heart that it takes small, tiny steps over a really long period of time to see change. So I formed Cope Notes to take on those snake oil salesmen in the mental health field and to try to provide a realistic hope to people. You have to understand that this stuff takes time.
Leading from the Heart
DF: That’s a powerful message. With this Covid pandemic, it’s really tested us all. What advice would you give to our audience of CEOs and healthcare executives who are struggling?
JC: I was talking to a good friend of mine recently about how a lot of leaders feel a tremendous amount of responsibility, and I think that’s natural and not inherently negative, but it can become problematic when a leader tries to have this stone face and not show emotion, because in a situation like this, in a very atypical year, what the people you’re leading need to see is that their leader is also a human and is empathizing with them. They don’t need a fearless superhero right now. They need to know that the person steering the ship understands and has a heart and is experiencing some of the same pressures that they are. That’s what’s going to bring a team together, is realizing the suit and tie in the corner office has a wife and kids and has a heart, and is concerned about us.
The Role of Mental Health in an Organization
DF: Do you think mental health will play a more important role in organizations, moving forward? It hasn’t historically been a focal point until now.
JC: I hope to God that it does become more important. I’ve been doing advocacy since 2011, so I’m almost 10 years in the field, and in that time there have been several moments where I’ve thought, This is it – this is the catalyst. Mental health is going to be at the forefront from now on. But a month later there’s a new headline and a new trending hashtag, and mental health gets kicked into the back seat yet again.
My hope for this is that we start thinking about whole health. So, we start thinking about how when you’re mentally stressed out or depressed, your diet suffers, your exercise suffers, your interpersonal relationships suffer. You may start to lean on certain coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy like addiction. For a long time we’ve kept mental and emotional health siloed away from our wellness programming, and what I want to see from this is us recognizing as a culture that your brain is located inside of your body. So if we’re talking about physical health, your brain is part of that conversation.
DF: What are some of the things you’re doing personally to take care of yourself?
JC: Good question! So I was out of treatment for three years before COVID, and actually started going back to therapy at the beginning of COVID, which was a big thing for me because I had this mentality that I was going to be good without therapy forever! But like I said, you can’t approach an unusual year with your usual coping mechanisms. Concerts, social outings with friends and family, basketball — these things are really healing for me, but I can’t do them now. So I’ve had to find new things to rely on, so therapy has helped me a ton. I can’t recommend it enough. I think if you’re a leader you should be in therapy no matter what, given the amount of responsibility you shoulder on a regular basis. The best thing you could do for the people you represent is to take better care of your head and your heart. Another thing I’ve been doing is trying to have a little more childlike curiosity and look into things that aren’t really affecting my career, but are things I’m just curious about — like architecture or cars or something — and trying to feed the part of me that enjoys learning, because it’s made me feel a little less stuck.
How to Land a Ted Talk
DF: You recently gave a TEDx Talk. Tell us a little bit about that. How do you even go about landing one of these talks?
JC: People never believe me when I tell them this but I literally just applied. That’s it! You can apply. You can google TEDx talk applications, and then you can submit your idea. You write a synopsis and title, and you basically write a pitch. It’s not like an angel came down and handed me a gauntlet — I just found a form online and submitted it. It was a bucket list thing for me for a long time, and it was extremely challenging. You have five or six months to write a million drafts of the same exact talk, and then you have to memorize it. You don’t need a doctorate. You don’t need to be a certain age limit. You don’t need to have a certain background. You can literally write an application and apply and do a TED talk. It’s not only for rocket scientists — it’s for you, too.
Trademarking a Business in the Mental Health Industry
DF: You were recently awarded your trademark from the USPTO. I know what a painful process that is since we’ve done this many times for our own clients. What was that process like for you?
JC: It would’ve been easier for me to build a company for five years and then exit and sell it to a huge company and never file for a trademark. It would have been less work! Obviously, everyone has different experiences with the process, but we had a few hiccups. Basically, there was this entity that was camping out on the Cope trademark. They were trying to just trademark the word cope, which they weren’t awarded. And they kept slapping down other applications for the word cope. Finally, I looked up someone from the USPTO, and they sent me some other trademarks this same entity was trying to use. It was this back-and-forth thing for over a year. I made the argument that we are called Cope Notes, and that trademarking the verb, cope, is like trademarking the word wheel in the automotive industry. I don’t know how strong my argument was, but it got kicked back twice, and finally on the third time I had someone at the USPTO go to bat for me, and thank god he did. I have that paper in a folder in a little sleeve, and even when I sell the company I want to make a copy of that trademark and frame it in my house so I always remember how challenging it was and how worth it it was.
Lessons from a Challenging Year: Focusing on Things that Matter
DF: 2020 has been a tough year for everyone. What has this year taught you?
JC: Ha. We don’t have enough time for that list! But I have a message board right outside my door, and I typically write something that I need to think about for the week. Right now it says, “No matter what happens, I will be ok.” I can hear my younger self saying, That’s so cheesy. That’s such nonsense. But 2020 has made me think a lot about mortality. I have asthma, and my immune system is not the strongest, so I’m high risk. I thought, if this was my last year on earth, would I be proud that I spent it writing music and working in mental health and connecting with people? And the answer is yes. And I think we lose sight of how finite life is, and I think we should make more decisions within that scope. If I make this decision, will I be proud if it’s a decision in my last year on the planet? And that’s made me worry less about things that won’t matter after I die, and it’s made me focus quite a bit more on things that will still matter after I die — like other people and our planet and art and projects.
Learn More about How Johnny and Other Healthcare Leaders Are Shaping the Future of Healthcare
Watch the full interview with Johnny Crowder, and be sure to subscribe so that you don’t miss future shows where we interview other industry-leading healthcare CEOs and executives as they look to shape the future of healthcare.
Also, be sure to check out Cope Notes and how they are working to keep people mentally and emotionally healthy during these difficult times.