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Can We Find the Courage of the Heart, to Prioritize Mental Health?

October 10, 2018

By Madeleine Dopico, UMA Chief Operating Officer

As a child, I wouldn’t sleep with the window open. I could be sweating, but I would lie and say I was cold. The truth was, that I was too afraid of someone climbing through and attacking me, but I never told anyone that.

“It’s so hot in here. You’re crazy,” my mom would say. Maybe she was right.

By middle school, I heard whispers of my family calling people, “mentally ill”. Was I next?

We watched “A Beautiful Mind” in health class, and I wrote down “paranoia”, as one of the signs of schizophrenia. I remember thinking, “Poor John Nash. Maybe in a couple of years, I’ll lose my mind too.”

In high school however, I was more afraid of getting caught out past curfew, than still worrying about my house going up in flames. But one night, I woke up to the sound of several helicopters, and panicked. I called my very first boyfriend at 2 AM, and told him that post 9/11, I was scared there would be an attack.

I confessed that I’d had random, secret moments of paranoia since childhood, then thought he would never speak to me again. But he did.

By college, it never seemed to be an issue. I don’t know if it’s because I grew out of it, or because I had someone to talk to about it. All I knew was that monsters and murderers in my closet felt way less scary than the sorority girls down the hall.

I cried, homesick, every day of my freshman year, but refused to see a therapist. I had proven to beat the “crazy”, and I regrettably thought that any therapy appointment would be backsliding.

After choosing to major in Health and Societies at the University of Pennsylvania, my tears turned to the kind of statistics I’d see in class:

I was fascinated by just how much human psychology influences the way we organize, create systems, and live healthy, fulfilling lives (or don’t). I wrote extensive research papers with titles like, “Reducing Maternal and Child Mortality Rates in Uganda Through Preventative Mental Health Resources for Women,” but couldn’t face the importance of working on my own mental health until I was 26 years old.

Now, I am the COO here at UMA Health, an online mental health and coaching marketplace startup called. I love seeing a therapist, and wish I had done it sooner. My job description makes me less paranoid that people will call me “crazy” for speaking so publicly about my mental health, but I wish that were not an issue.

Focusing on mental health is not just for new mothers in Uganda, or young kids with paranoia. Being honest with a professional, or even with ourselves, and each other, can reduce our stress levels and improve our confidence and personal security. Isn’t that something anyone, anywhere can benefit from?

For anyone that feels mentally healthy, there is always room for improvement. For anyone that does not, there is nothing wrong with getting help, and I admire all with the bravery to do so.

As the real John Nash, a Nobel prize winning mathematician said, “The only thing greater than the power of the mind, is the courage of the heart.”


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