We have to overcome the stigma of mental illness – Interview with the founder of Deep Talk W/

Header Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Of course, the discussion about mental health and illness shouldn’t be a taboo anymore! But the stigma surrounding it is a tough one. Still there is a glimmer of hope that comes from movements and safe spaces such as Deep Talk W/.

When you go through the internet you will find a lot of information about mental health these days, many articles that preach that we should talk about what is deep inside of us, that we should share emotions for the sake of our own well-being. Still, it seems as hard as it was ever before to really open up. Even though the discussions about it keep on rising, there might be something holding us back, something that is rooted in our heads as well as in the system. Hello stigma, here you are again. 

As an open-minded society we do have a big responsibility and should try to eliminate prejudices, bad connotations and myths that are connected to mental illness – if it is depression, anxiety or any other form. We simply have to normalize the mental health conversation. Because that is what the conversation should be – perfectly normal. 

Deep Talk w/ is one of those initiatives that gives this topic a safe space. A space where different people come together to learn about certain methods, get inspiration and support from experts but also to discuss, share or just listen. GASH talked to founder Katharina Seifert who runs the community and event series with her partner Lucia Mazzoleni.  

Deep Talk w/ is a community and event series dedicated to mental health. How did you come up with the idea to start a project like this?

In the course of dealing with my own burnout last year, I noticed how little people in our society really talk about mental health. It’s all over the media that mental stress is increasing, especially in younger age groups and that circumstances such as the corona pandemic are worsening it – but unfortunately, there is still only little space in our society to really talk about it. Of course, some are lucky enough to be able to talk to friends or family or even have therapeutic support, but it becomes problematic if these possibilities are not available. Or if you don’t make use of them because you are ashamed to open up to someone. 

With Deep Talk w/ I wanted to create a light version for the examination of mental health. A place with a relaxed atmosphere, where everyone feels welcome, where everyone can take part in the discussion or also just listen. A community that you can join when you feel like getting in touch with experts and like-minded people so that you don’t feel alone when dealing with your issues. 

You mentioned your burnout and that you noticed a lack of communication when it comes to mental health. Have you dealt with the topic before it became this present?

The topic has been present in my everyday life since my youth. However, it took me a long time to open up to my environment aside from therapists and to really give insight into my thoughts and feelings. I was ashamed and saw myself as a burden, I always wanted to be as happy as everyone else and did everything I could to make it look that way on the outside. The effort to deny oneself in front of one’s environment has certainly been a big impulse for my burnout. 

Today I know why I felt like this: Because mental health or mental unhealth is still strongly stigmatized. Therefore, we all try hard not to let it show. I have had to experience myself where this can lead to in the worst case. So I would like to do something to help others recognize it earlier than me and deal with it before it might be too late.

And then Deep Talk w/ was born. Can you explain to us what it is about and what your intentions are?

Deep Talk w/ is a community that makes information and exchange on mental health issues more accessible. Our goal is to empower every person interacting with our platform, but also to contribute to the social destigmatization of mental health. 

Lucia Mazzoleni (left) and Katharina Seifert from Deep Talk w/

As you said, the community aspect plays a big role. Can you dig a little deeper and explain why this is so important?

If we are not doing well, it quickly appears that we are solely responsible for changing this situation. We buy guidebooks, search quietly for psychotherapy tips online, whisper to our friends drunk or discuss our problems in the therapy room. This is basically a good thing – because of course, our mental health is our own responsibility. However, when we compare it to physical health, we also go to fitness studios, take courses, join sports clubs or run in a running group – but why? Because it’s simply more fun with others, because it motivates each individual, you inspire each other, because you feel stronger in the group. For us it makes no sense that it should be different with mental health – after all, it is as much a part of our well-being as our physical well-being. 

Another reason is: If you want to talk to an expert about mental (un)health nowadays – where do you go? If you are lucky, after a long wait, you can get a therapy spot. Or you pay a good hourly rate for a coach. In the worst case, you don’t do either, because you think these options are only for the really hard cases. At Deep Talk w/ we make it possible to get in touch with experts without having to deal with any of the above-mentioned barriers. Through the community, the events not only provide valuable information but also give you a certain feeling: „You are not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of.”

I mean, you kind of already explained it with your answers before. Nevertheless, I would like to ask you in general why we should all talk more about our feelings?

Because it has an enormous impact on our well-being, our everyday life, our relationships, productivity, life expectancy, general health – in short, our quality of life.  

You also mentioned the stigmatization of mental health that is still present in today’s society. What is so dangerous about it?

The stigma ensures that we either don’t care about it at all or it makes the healing process more difficult. If you are sick and at the same time ashamed of being sick, it is much harder to get back on your feet than if you would just deal with your healing. 

Unfortunately, shame is often responsible for not opening up. What advice would you give to people who do not want to get help because of this? 

Use the Internet, google your problems and read studies or blogs of other people affected. There are also great books or podcasts on many topics that can help you approach psychological issues. Or come to one of our sessions in Berlin. 

What can we all possibly contribute to the destigmatization of mental health?

Ask the question „How are you?“ a few more times out of honest interest and also answer it honestly a few more times. I think that would help us to realize that we all struggle from time to time and that not all of us who put on a happy face on the outside, carry it inside as well.

Thank you for the interview!

Deep Talk w/ offers various events – live or online – such as talks and workshops that each focus on a different topic connected to mental health. If you want to know what’s up in the future, check out the website here and subscribe to the newsletter.