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Meet Erin Herle and Valéry Brosseau of #SubmitTheStigma in San Fernando Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erin Herle and Valéry Brosseau.

Erin and Valéry, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Erin: A lot of people will say that training jiu jitsu saved their lives. This is true for me and my mental health. Prior to entering my first class, I was suffering from anxiety, depression, and ADHD, but was not properly diagnosed. I had battled against the stigma of being seen as weak or crazy regarding mental health treatment and it wasn’t until I was over a year into jiu jitsu training that I found the confidence to speak to a therapist.

But #SubmitTheStigma was not born purely from my own struggles and recovery through training jiu jitsu. In July 2015, my father took his own life at my childhood home. While my family and I knew he was isolating himself from the world, he did not want help, treatment, or any judgment from us. It’s very difficult to help someone who does not want to help themselves.

Since I was already public about my ordeals, and becoming a public figure as a competitor and media member within the jiu jitsu community, I asked for donations regarding my dad’s death in lieu of flowers. The messages that accompanied the donations, totaling over $6700, were in full support of mental health and shared stories of their own issues and experiences with mental illness and suicide.

Realizing that suicide is a prevalent epidemic all over the world, and knowing first hand how jiu jitsu gave me the confidence, direction, identity, and tools to face my own mental health issues, I knew they would go hand in hand. Starting in 2015, I took a sign onto the podium with me at various jiu jitsu competitions that read: “#SUBMIT THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS.

And from there, my family and I created #SubmitTheStigma as a 501(c)3 non-profit. We later recruited Valéry Brosseau of Toronto, Canada, to manage all social media and to help promote the charity worldwide. We now have over 2500 followers on Instagram and a worldwide team of individuals who both support and represent our mental illness campaign through the jiu jitsu lifestyle.

Val: I am #SubmitTheStigma’s social media manager and Erin’s right-hand woman of sorts. I have volunteered, worked and trained in mental health for over seven years and have a great passion for mental health awareness. I reached out to Erin in January 2016 because her movement and story spoke to me, especially living with mental illness myself. She was supportive, empathetic and open and we easily partnered up. I am grateful and proud of all we’ve accomplished and know there is a lot more to come.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Erin: As the founder of the movement, it only made sense that I would maintain that role as a non-profit business. But I must say when you’re the one in charge it can be difficult to make choices. Having Val constantly pushing me for opportunities and programming and task maintenance has really helped. Without her, I don’t know where this movement would be today. Certainly not as profound as it is.

I’m also an athlete and have put my training as a top priority for a long time. After being a jiu jitsu black belt competitor, traveling the world teaching, training, and competing, I moved to MMA. Like starting over completely, I am an amateur and having to build my name all over again to gain traction towards becoming a professional fighter. So just making sure that I give #SubmitTheStigma the attention it needs can be difficult in the midst of training camps and fighting. Again, Val is my blessing here.

Val: The BJJ community has embraced #SubmitTheStigma from the beginning and we have garnered a powerful following and built a community of support and openness. It has been a bit more difficult to hone in on what we want to offer the community beyond opportunities for awareness. However, we currently have big plans in motion for new offerings and to extend #SubmitTheStigma’s reach.

For me, in my position, running the Instagram account has shown a few struggles. It has been a bit difficult to balance offering support and setting boundaries as many people will direct message the account for emotional support. Though this is essentially what I do in my career, it can be difficult to provide such support constantly. I am still learning balance and boundaries setting skills.

Please tell us about #SubmitTheStigma.
Erin: I think first and foremost, I don’t see #SubmitTheStigma as a business or company as much as I see it as a movement. It started as a campaign to give awareness to those in the jiu jitsu community who struggle from mental illness. Especially coming from the competition scene, the training is hard and transformative. Mental wellness becomes much more important when there’s a win or loss on the line.

Above all, the goal is to normalize mental health as we do our physical health. It’s an easy campaign to make because athletes and martial artists all understand the mental aspect of training jiu jitsu. It’s commonly referred to as human chess, so being technical and strategic is more important than pure strength. But having a strong body helps, just as having a healthy mind. There aren’t many movements like this in the martial arts realm and I hope to continue setting the standard for mental health awareness in the martial arts community.

Val: At the core of it, we value truth, vulnerability and courage. I am especially proud of the Instagram community I have built, which features personal stories of BJJ, mental health and recovery from people with the same values. The support each person featured receives in the comments is unbelievable. It is also such an accomplishment that Erin took this hashtag and fledgling movement and grew it into a successful non-profit. I am also very proud and excited about our upcoming plans, which include mental health for BJJ training program that will be available to coaches and professors. I developed this training in the same way I develop mental health workshops for my personal business and I believe it will be an incredibly valuable offering to the community. It will help BJJ be a more inclusive, supportive and informed sport when it comes to mental health.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Erin: Right from the beginning, my mom Karen, and sister Morgan were supportive. Having dealt with a trauma in my dad’s suicide, it was important to not only talk about it but to work together towards good.

We had our first event/seminar in San Diego, CA in March 2016 where a representative from National Alliance on Mental Illness, San Diego came to speak and educate about mental health/illness. And then we had six amazing jiu jitsu instructors teach techniques to 100 people on the mat: Caio Terra, Romulo Barral, Gianni Grippo, Kristina Barlaan, Clark Gracie, and Abraham Marte.

Charlie Liu of Digitsu, a leading source for jiu jitsu instructionals, donated money, produced merchandise and marketing videos for #SubmitTheStigma, and gave me business/life advice from the very beginning and to this day.

And I also want to credit all those who have shared the hashtag, donated, sewn a patch on their gi, etc. You keep me going.

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