Johnny Crowder: Mental Health Advocate Shares Survival Story to Help Others

by | Jan 4, 2021 | Entrepreneurs

In 2019, Omni Public had the opportunity to meet and represent Johnny Crowder of Cope Notes. Crowder is a touring musician, creative writer, and motivational speaker who has founded a mental health resource, which provides daily mental health support and encouragement to subscribers via text message. Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, Crowder is a suicide and abuse survivor who wrestled with mental illness throughout his youth. “I struggled in school and had a difficult time focusing and fitting in. Navigating adolescence is hard enough, but my mental health issues made it so much more challenging for me,” he said.

Crowder was formally diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia during high school, among several other conditions. Initially, he railed against these classifications. Although he didn’t want to accept his new reality, he eventually participated in traditional mental health treatment by seeing multiple clinicians who would help him regulate his life through medication and counseling. However, traditional therapy wasn’t his only method of coping with mental illness. Crowder and friends formed the metal bands Dark Sermon and Prison, which gave Crowder the outlet he needed to write about subjects such as suicide, abuse, mental illness, and addiction. 

Johnny Crowder of Cope Notes

He attended Hillsborough High School, whose International Baccalaureate (IB) program offered psychology courses. “I really wanted to know more about my brain,” he said. His love for psychology and drive to unlock the mysteries of his own mental health led him to the University of Central Florida, where he would major in psychology. It was early in his collegiate pursuits when his band, Dark Sermon, would sign with eOne Music and Nuclear Blast Records. Although he had a demanding touring schedule, Crowder was able to earn an Associates degree in psychology on the road. “By the time I completed my AA, I already knew I didn’t want to be a clinician,” he said. “While I was on tour, I was having real conversations with real people every day. We talked about sobriety, consent, all of it…  I felt like I was finally able to make a difference, and I don’t think these fans would have connected with me like that if I was a doctor. I think they opened up to me because I was a peer—someone just like them.”

The years of touring helped Crowder work through his own mental health issues as he opened up about his life through music. After every show, he had the opportunity to speak to fans who connected with his lyrics and survived similar experiences. Aside from his music, Crowder had never been eager to share his struggles publicly. But after throwing a benefit for a friend who had died by suicide, he realized how many peer advocates speak at schools, churches, and other venues to raise awareness and eliminate stigma. These catalysts inspired Crowder to pursue more formal outreach efforts through peer support, eventually becoming a public speaker and mental health advocate for NAMI, the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to those living with mental illness.

After seven years with NAMI and 10 years of professional treatment, he began to notice several gaps in the mental health field that needed to be filled. “Even after my best therapy sessions, once I walked out of those doors, I would slip right back into my old habits. I needed something to walk with me in my day-to-day life, even when I didn’t feel like working on myself. I started leaving sticky notes around my house to remind me to reframe the way I was thinking,” he said. “This way, I had a reliable system that helped me work on my mental health maintenance every day. I just wanted a supplement to my treatment, so that I could check in with myself on a consistent basis. You know, I wanted to stay in shape.” This is when Cope Notes took root. Frustrated with the inefficiencies and pitfalls of the resources he used throughout his recovery, Crowder was able to apply a decade of clinical treatment, volunteer peer counseling, and public advocacy to the creation of Cope Notes, allowing him to share the strategies that helped him to ultimately help others live happier, healthier lives. 

Cope Notes launched in March of 2018, and it has only gained momentum since then. “We launched our international program at the beginning of 2019, and we already have users in 88 countries,” said Crowder. “This just shows how universal the topics of mental and emotional health really are.” The service has exchanged hundreds of thousands of texts with its users, impacting more than 15,000 lives globally. Cope Notes offers subscriptions for individual users and gift subscriptions for friends and family members, as well as group plans that offer the service at scale as part of a comprehensive wellness plan for schools, businesses, insurance providers, and other organizations. In the years ahead, Crowder plans to use Cope Notes to change culture for the better. He said, “At the end of the day, it’s about getting immediately accessible resources into the hands of as many people as possible. That’s how culture starts to change: Normalizing the conversation and removing those barriers to care.”

Crowder, although busy with Cope Notes and speaking as a thought leader in the mental health arena in cooperation with organizations like TEDx, still regularly writes and performs music with his band, Prison. Sharing his experiences through music, public speaking, and Cope Notes has touched hearts all over the world, but it’s also helped him continue to stay healthy and personally cope with the stresses of everyday life. “I’m sober, I’m happier, I’m safer—it’s euphoric. Finally being able to live a healthy life is a hard-earned victory for me,” he says. “And all I want to do is share it with others.”

Johnny’s product is incredible and continues to help people worldwide. We were able to promote Johnny and Cope Notes through interviews in Tampa, on TV and in print as well as an interview with CNN World where he was profiled in 2020. 

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