Photo by Pennington

We’ve all been affected by mental illness. There’s no escaping it. 450 million people worldwide are living with mental illness. Whether you’ve experienced it for yourself or you know a loved one who has struggled with it, mental illness is present in many people’s lives. Although in the last few years our society has become more aware of the presence of mental illness, little has been done to reduce the stigma of this disease.

Jessica Villa, Founder of Superbands, is taking this stigma head on. A survivor of depression and suicide attempts, Jessica was tired of feeling alone. In the U.S. 14-24 % of youth and young adults have engaged in self-harm and 20 million men and women have suffered from eating disorders. Jessica wondered why these numbers were climbing, and yet she couldn’t connect with anyone else in her community who was openly struggling with mental illness.

Throughout her depression and anxiety, one of the main things that helped Jessica to cope was the beauty of music. In 2014, Superbands was built on the truth that music has the power to build community. Jessica decided to extend an invitation to other music lovers who are struggling with mental illness in order to share the burden of their struggles. What has ensued is a network of young adults around the world who have decided to share their love for music as a way of building a community of support and encouragement.

In the following interview, Jessica shares her incredible story and her passion for Superbands.

01 | Jessica, tell us a bit about your background, your childhood, and how you got to be where you are today.
I grew up in a very traditional, first-generation Asian family. With my parents having emigrated from the Philippines at a young age to ensure a better life for themselves and their (future) kids, they always emphasized working hard and never giving up. As their first-born child, from an early age, my parents saw a lot of potential in me and constantly pushed me to do better. I became, in a way, obsessed with doing whatever it took to please others, even if it meant sacrificing my own wants and the dreams I had for myself. In fact, I always went to dental school because it’s what I thought was expected of me by those around me—though I always knew that I had a passion to do something else. I had bigger dreams for myself and it wasn’t until I started listening to my own intuition that the life I had only dreamed about, began to unfold into my reality.

After getting my college degree, I found myself feeling lost, unfulfilled. I always thought having that diploma would automatically make me feel a sense of accomplishment, but that truly wasn’t the case—not for me, at least. It was through a heart-to-heart with my siblings, that I was able to realize that I needed to follow my passions in order to find that happiness.  I now work full-time in project management for one of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies, and spend my free time growing my non-profit Superbands… and I couldn’t be happier.

02 | What propelled you to start Superbands?
I moved from a very small, quiet town to a bustling, developing community during my early teenage years. It was also during that time that I was going through my awkward years (thanks puberty!), so I struggled to make friends in this new town. I then had to deal with bullying from my peers, which led to depression and eventually, suicidal ideations. The only thing that helped me cope with all these issues was music. My favorite lyrics and songs gave me that sense of hope, made me believe that there was a reason to get through the bad days to make it to the next good day. My favorite bands and artists indefinitely saved my life.

I was under the impression that I was one of the only people who believed in the power of music to help me get through my own mental illness, but when I moved back home from college, and saw my younger sister’s obsession with bands and music, I had flashbacks of my past. Day after day, I clicked all over the Internet and social media to discover that there were people passionate about the same cause I was, spread out all around the world. I wanted to find a way to unite these people so they don’t have to feel alone like I once did.

03 | What is the mission of Superbands?
The mission of Superbands is to raise global awareness for mental illness in teens and young adults, and to empower those struggling with music. Our goal as a non-profit organization is to remind everyone that they are not alone, and that there is a whole community of music-lovers who are cheering them on.

04 | What is the one thing that is most misunderstood about mental illness?
It isn’t a choice, it isn’t something you can just “snap out of.” It’s easy to judge from an outside perspective, and I think that’s what makes it hardest for people to be able to open up and truly take the first steps to recovery. 

05 | What can family and friends of those who suffer from mental illness do to support them?
As cliché as it sounds, just being there for them and listening can do wonders. From my own personal experience, all I wanted was to have someone to sit down with me, put all judgments aside, and listen (and empathize) with all the things that were weighing down on me. Also I think it’s important to be patient with your loved one(s) because recovery is not a magically fast process.

06 | What is the most fulfilling part of running a nonprofit like this?
I once read a quote that said, “Be the person you needed when you were younger,” and that quote resonates with me everyday. I get messages from people around the world everyday who are of different ages and backgrounds that, thanks to Superbands, feel like they are a part of a greater community who supports and believes in them. I think back to my own teenage years and hope that I can be there—and that Superbands can be there—for anyone feeling lost or hopeless, and remind people to ‘stay strong and keep rockin on’.

07 | What are your goals for Superbands in the next five years?
I’m quite the dreamer, and have always been known to dream big. My hope for Superbands 5 years from now is that the organization is globally-known for its mission, and widely supported. I want to be able to build up a free ‘database’ of resources for youth struggling with their mental health, educational materials about mental illness in teens, and a gallery of people sharing their stories and photos to showcase their journeys and to inspire others. I want to be able to partner with professionals in the music industry, such as bands/artists/producers, to curate exclusive Superbands content and hold exciting giveaways and contests. I want Superbands to change the world, and I know that’s asking for a lot, but hey, we have to start somewhere.

Learn more about Superbands
Connect via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

At Conscious, we feature powerful stories about global initiatives, innovation, community development, social impact and more. You can read more stories like this and connect with a growing community of global leaders when you join.