'You Have To Take Care Of Yourself First': Milwaukee Businessman Talks About Mental Health Struggles
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed each July since 2008. Formally known as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it honors the late American author, journalist and teacher Bebe Moore Campbell. Her work centered on bringing awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States.
In honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Beny Perez-Reyes. The Milwaukee native is the principal owner of Clover Phoenix Capital, which helps fund businesses in the Milwaukee area. He's also a suicide survivor.
Perez-Reyes says it's important for everybody to be vigilant about their mental health.
"You have to have a barometer of where your mental health is at. And I think instead of it being something taboo, right, we ought to be able to have conversations, normalized conversations about mental health, and it can take on different ways, right? Whether that be seeing a professional or just having a good friend that you're able to bounce ideas off and seek good advice," says Perez-Reyes.
Perez-Reyes is a son of Puerto Rican parents who emigrated to the mainland in the late '60s and early '70s. His parents, both educators, imprinted upon Perez-Reyes the importance of education and hard work ethic. After attending a college-prep high school, Perez-Reyes graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and eventually would become the principal owner of Clover Pheonix Capital.
But Perez-Reyes says the journey to where he is now was long and filled peaks and valleys.
"I would ebb in and out of depression, anxiety. That comes to a head in September of 2019 — I'm navigating working a job with helping another business as well as starting my own. It got down to making a decision that I no longer wanted to be around, I was going through something and it just became so taxing," he says.
In September 2019, Perez-Reyes attempted to take his own life. He survived and says a faith-based spirituality has been tremendous in his healing process.
"I don't even consider myself the same person. Once I felt that change. It was almost as if I was looking at my life from a helicopter and looking down upon it and saying, 'Ah, that's how all these dots were connected. That's what led to all of this.' And taking responsibility and onus behind those decisions," he says.
"You're not defined by the choices that you've made in the past ... What awaits you is something much more beautiful than what you're going through now."
To people who might be in a dark place or who do struggle with suicidal thoughts, Perez-Reyes has a message:
"You know the parts of yourself that you believe to be true, you have a name, you're not called by the mistakes that you make. You're not defined by the choices that you've made in the past. The start to any journey begins with a single step and that you can make that choice today, today if you so choose. What awaits you is something much more beautiful than what you're going through now. But you're not alone," he says.
He finished by adding, "it has to be about you first. You have to take care of yourself first."
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call 211.