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Sound Mind: Jewel Talks Mental Health

Guided by an unrelenting pursuit of happiness and mental well-being, singer-songwriter Jewel recently discussed her journey and the steps people can take to find their own happiness in an exclusive interview with Worth.

Jewel Mental Health Photo by Dana Trippe

Our lives have an unofficial soundtrack comprised of the songs that have played a role in our personal journeys. Simply hearing a song has the unique power to trigger memories, good and bad, and transport us back to our past. The right combination of lyrics and melody has an amazing ability to make a huge impact on our lives.

Looking back at my personal soundtrack, I remember when I first heard Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul.” MTV still played music videos and the 100-disc changer in my dorm room was loaded with everything from Pearl Jam’s Ten to Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. It was a time when Jewel, Alanis Morissette and other female singer-songwriters were composing introspective anthems that would resonate with current and future generations.

However, musicians are not only storytellers; they also have a powerful platform to advocate for and influence personal and societal change. It may be through their music itself, like in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” or leveraging their success to take a stand on societal challenges, such as in the case of Jewel’s work with mental health.

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Jewel was a homeless teenager who grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father; she went from living in her van to becoming a multi-platinum pop icon. As an extremely self-aware 18-year-old, she debated taking the right record deal so that it would allow her to put her mental health first. She knew that success, along with the associated pressure, could have a negative impact on her well-being.  

She is now taking the practices that she used to stay grounded to teach children and adults how to cope with their own mental health challenges. Her Never Broken foundation brings mindfulness and emotional intelligence tools to the masses for free.

Jewel has also taken much of what she learned in her career and the music business to help organizations support their employees. While she knew that capitalizing on the momentum of her meteoric rise would be the right thing to do for her business, she opted to take periodic breaks to recharge. Counterintuitive to what we see in most business cases, this approach allowed her to refresh, revive and not burn out. Recognizing that supporting the mental health of employees is not only the responsible thing to do, but that there is also a direct cost to organizations for not doing so, Jewel recently teamed up with SaksWorks to launch a new in-person work culture curriculum called the Whole Human. The program is designed to help people in all areas of their lives, by infusing the most impactful tools and practices of psychology into work environments that intuitively help people find ways to feel better and be better.

Last year, she also became an advisor to One Mind, a leading brain health nonprofit committed to healing the lives of people impacted by brain illness and injury through global, collaborative action. One Mind accelerates collaborative research and advocacy to enable all individuals facing brain health challenges to build healthy, productive lives.

Two decades and 30+ million records later, Jewel is on a mission to raise awareness and provide the tools to manage the mental health issues plaguing society.

Q: In the past, you have said that you have been very intentional about putting your mental well-being over your music career. How has this choice impacted you?

A: I got discovered as a homeless kid when I was 18. I almost didn’t sign the record deal because I was worried about my mental health and my ability to handle such a high-pressure job. I came from an abusive background, moved out on my own at 15 and had suffered from panic attacks and agoraphobia. So, I made a promise to myself that my number one job would be to make [myself] a happy whole human. And that music would be my number two job. That meant I had to have a plan for my happiness the same way I’d have one for my career. It impacted the types of decisions I made—always putting my health first. I took two years off at the height of my career so I could adjust psychologically. No one did anything like that, and it definitely made my label nervous. But I needed that time to adjust, and it caused me to change how I went about my career. Turns out, I didn’t like being as famous as I got, and so I learned to take breaks between each album to kill my momentum—again unheard of! But it made the whole thing more tolerable to me. I am proud that I have kept that promise to myself, and that at 47, I am truly happy. 

Gen Z is working to normalize conversations around mental health. Do you think that the way they are doing this, through social media and the internet, is a productive way to open up this conversation?

I love any way of normalizing the mental health conversation. I love that Gen Z is not willing to sacrifice their emotional health. That’s powerful. 

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As a powerful mental health advocate, do you feel that the stigma surrounding this conversation has begun to abate?

I think the stigma is starting to subside, especially in younger generations. Sadly, I feel there is a gap between awareness and usable mental health tools that can be scaled and delivered to consumers. We learn dental hygiene, but no mental health hygiene. We are aware anxiety and depression are at all-time highs, but other than talking to a therapist, there are very few tools out there to teach people even the basics, like how to curate their thoughts, or even that not every thought and feeling is a fact, and you can choose which ones you participate in, or how to help people overcome distraction addiction to help them learn to be more present. And then, what to do with that presence isn’t even talked about! Being present won’t change your life; it will, however, put you in a position to change it—sort of like getting a car off of autopilot and putting it in neutral. Once you get in neutral, you have to be taught to drive, ya know?

How do you think “success” or “well-being” is currently defined by our society, and what needs to change?

Success has to include happiness. Happiness is the side effect of choices. Choices are the side effect of neural programming in many cases. So, it’s looking at the urges that prompt our decision making that can help people really change their lives—to make better choices that lead to happiness as a side effect. My concern about the modern wellness movement is that it has the potential to make us more precious and intolerant. Our self-growth practices should make us more resilient, gritty, tolerant and capable of handling adversity. Peace is not the absence of what bothers us, it’s learning to come into harmony with what is. So, it’s not trying to avoid all the things that stress us; it’s learning tools to handle stress better.

You recently partnered with One Mind and joined their advisory board, what are you working on with them?

We are really focused on gathering data and creating data-driven solutions to mental health problems—as well as advocacy and education. 

What does the Whole Human curriculum you are launching entail?

My goal with Whole Human is to help companies invest in their human capital by bringing mental health curriculum into the workplace. Employers are realizing that by solving pain points that their employees may be experiencing outside of work, they will be able to show up to work with more bandwidth, better engagement and loyalty. Our curriculum is designed to help educate people on how to deal with solving for anxiety, create parenting fitness, relationship fitness and other emotional fitness aspects that sadly have been lost in our human training over the decades. Companies lose trillions of dollars a year to mental health leave, and they are motivated by not only that but by also seeing that we all have a duty to help one another thrive. 

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The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a drastic decline in mental health as people have been forced to quarantine, lost loved ones and, generally speaking, been exposed to significant amounts of stress. Do you think that the pandemic has raised awareness about mental health, and if so, what are some of the take-aways that might be helpful?

Since day one of the pandemic, I was worried that loss of life from mental health issues could possibly outnumber loss of life from the actual virus. I definitely think that it has placed a sharp focus on a pandemic of depression and suicidal ideation, as we have seen those numbers skyrocket to unprecedented rates. I hope this is the wake-up call for many to put their happiness first in their lives. And to find ways to reduce anxiety drivers.

What are some of the most helpful practices that you have been working to share with others who might not have access to traditional mental health resources?

The best resource I can offer is my free mental health website jewelneverbroken.com—it has exercises I developed over the last 25 years and use every day with our kids in our mental health foundation for at-risk youth. 

What does “worth beyond wealth” mean to you?

When we can see our value is intrinsic, and not dependent on performance, we sink into a whole new level of relaxation. It’s very hard for us to understand that we are worthy of kindness, rest, love, passion—all of it! Just because we are alive. A lot of times we feel we have to have a hit, make money, be perfect, be skinny, be clever…etc., just to deserve feeling good about ourselves. It’s not true! It’s been my life’s work to understand this intrinsic sense of value—it’s a worthy cause!

If anyone wants to know more about my life and what I have overcome and learned, I’d def recommend my autobiography—I wrote it in hopes that it would be helpful in encouraging people to keep going and fight for their happiness. 

Opening up the “mic” to you, is there anything else you would like to share with the Worth audience?

I guess the only thing I would add is that your life will rise to the level you accept. Don’t settle! We have this short, glorious trip around the sun, so listen to your heart and take the things it tells you seriously. Be brave in making those heart-led decisions—you’re worth it!  

Jewel is the first in a series of Worthy Artists, who we will sit down with to learn how they’re using their success to have a positive impact on society.

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