The past year has been a stressful time for families. Distance learning has placed more of the teaching burden squarely on the shoulders of working parents, who have struggled to balance Zoom meetings while managing their children’s study time at home. Many have struggled with online learning, which has become a major source of anxiety and depression, especially for teens and young adults.
Born from this brave new world is My Good Brain, a Fremont-based nonprofit providing art kits and instructional videos for school-aged youth to help promote mental and emotional wellness. Says Dr. Danessa Mayo, founder and CEO, “Parents are so stretched these days, and everyone is so overwhelmed. I wanted to create something that is simple and user-friendly so the kids can do it all themselves.”
Each art kit contains art activities and exercises that help kids practice self-soothing and self-coping skills. There is a mindfulness jar that teaches them how to calm their mind down, and gummy bears for mindful eating. Says Mayo, “We tried to focus on the five senses while giving them something that’s fun and engaging. I wanted to teach them really big things like kindness, compassion, and empathy, through art and play.”
Mayo’s background is that of clinical psychologist. She received a BA in Cognitive Sciences from UC Irvine and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Loma Linda University. Her specialty is working with children and young adults who show signs of early psychosis and serious mental illness. Says Mayo, “Symptoms like auditory and visual hallucinations are just starting to bubble up to the surface with these young people. This is the moment when we can make a difference, by teaching them healthy behavioral coping tools that can address their symptoms so it doesn’t turn into something so debilitating that it prevents them from living a full life.”
Before the pandemic, Mayo would see her clients in person at her private practice in Willow Glen. As an artist (she has a Minor in Studio Art), she would often incorporate art into her therapy sessions, promoting self-expression, emotional release, and teaching creative problem-solving skills. “Art and play, this is how you can relate to children. It’s their language. It’s how I approach all my work with teens and young adults. My big dream in life was always to find something where I could bridge my two loves of psychology and art.”
When COVID-19 came along, everything changed. Says Mayo, “When the pandemic hit, everything came to a halt. We were already doing tele-health anyways with the teens and college students, but zooming with younger children didn’t quite work. It was really difficult. We couldn’t really play like we did in person. It was heartbreaking.”
Parents of these young children were left to cope on their own, and Mayo saw a significant drop in their business. With schools closed, Mayo wondered how she could continue to support these young children and their families. “I may not be able to see them and sit with them and work with them, but maybe I can teach them some of the tools they need with an activity they can do wherever they are, on their own time.”
With no previous experience, Mayo set out to form a nonprofit. She gathered a Board of Directors, and raised money through an online auction, selling some of her own paintings. She designed and produced art kits by hand, and created her own video content for the website. In February, 2021, My Good Brain was born.
Mayo is focused on reaching those children who really need help, who suffer from serious mental illness. She has made a few initial deliveries to some local schools that have been met with a warm welcome. Parents can also order an art kit online, and for every purchase My Good Brain will provide a free art kit for a family who can’t afford it. And of course they are always accepting donations.
As My Good Brain grows, Mayo is hoping to reach more people. In the past year she has seen a huge increase in the number of teens and young adults seeking help. She has been so overwhelmed with new patients that she has often had to refer them to colleagues. As students adjust again to in-person learning, Mayo worries about their emotional health. “These kids, they really have no ability to control their environment, and that can be really stressful and hard. What type of social anxiety will they feel after being home for so long?”
With vaccinations comes hope that the world will open up again. Mayo is planning on offering new types of art kits in the future, perhaps with different themes. She also envisions in-person art shows that showcase student work. “It could be a place where they can invite family and friends and be proud of what they have made, “she says. “Who knows…the possibilities are endless!”
My Good Brain
Dr. Danessa Mayo