Democratizing mental health challenges as a shared experience: Jimmy Westerheim, newest Ashoka Fellow in Norway

Jimmy Westerheim
Source: Jimmy Westerheim

New Ashoka fellow in Norway Jimmy Westerheim is shifting understanding of mental health challenges, exposing how they are common struggles of a shared human experience. His organization “The Human Aspect” is paving the way for this shift by opening the discussion of mental wellbeing. Individual experiences are shared through videos that cover a range of mental health challenges, helping minimize the shame of talking about such problems.   


Normalizing mental health challenges as a shared human experience 

Mental health challenges are often stigmatized and misunderstood. Yet, suffering from a mental health challenge can be as common as suffering from a physical ailment with less knowledge of how to manage such a condition. New Ashoka fellow Jimmy Westerheim is addressing this challenge by shifting the way mental health is perceived — normalizing it as a shared human experience that can be actively cared for and better understood.  

Licensed professionals with the knowledge and training to address mental health challenges are outnumbered by the people in need of help with mental health care. For example, the WHO shows how countries would require 40-60% more trained professionals to compensate for this gap. This lack of access or opportunity to speak to a professional risks leaving people feeling isolated and powerless to improve their conditions.  

Jimmy’s approach aims to reverse this problem by first providing individuals with the knowledge and support needed to start addressing their mental health challenges. By opening conversation around mental health challenges on a digital platform, Jimmy’s initiative ‘The Human Aspect’ (THA) normalizes the topic. Stories are shared through people’s lived experiences, speaking to how they are overcoming mental health ailments and creating a shared sense of understanding as people realize how others face similar struggles. 


Blurring borders and connecting over shared experience  

Jimmy’s focus on democratizing mental health struggles as a shared human experience inspired the name and essence of ‘The Human Aspect’. This foundation of THA’s message can be seen in its origins; Jimmy and a friend began by approaching random individuals walking around the streets of Oslo and inviting them to share experiences of challenges they faced. After recording some of these interviews, The Human Aspect was born.  

Blurring the borders of geographical and cultural boundaries, Jimmy’s approach uses a shared interview format that normalizes mental health challenges from people located across 95 countries. This ‘Life Experience Library’ is central to The Human Aspect. What's soon to be 700 recorded interviews expand off three central questions:

  1. ‘What has been your life’s toughest challenge?
  2. How did you handle and move beyond it?
  3. And what have you learned?’

These key questions compile a collection of stories that provide evidence and support for a diversity of mental health challenges. Anxiety, depression, trauma related to conflict, poverty, grief, and addiction are examples of some of the struggles people share in the Life Experience Library. The videos are also edited with a psychologist to help with accuracy, and people are encouraged to engage with others in the online community.  

Jimmy’s perspective portrays mental health challenges as a reflection of a shared human struggle rather than a deficit that only some experience. In other words, his initiative is encouraging others to speak freely about their mental health challenges as normal struggles that people experience in everyday life – spanning across borders, cultures, and generations.  

Jimmy Westerheim passed through Ashoka’s rigorous, highly refined selection process where he demonstrated: a big, pattern-setting new idea that results in social impact; creativity in problem-solving; entrepreneurial qualities; and ethical fiber. 


Making tools for mental wellbeing accessible 

THA is rooted in Jimmy’s own experiences, such as being bullied as a child, transitioning to leadership roles, and his time spent posted to Afghanistan and Greece for a leading medical NGO. He witnessed colleagues experiencing stress and trauma, as they resorted to unhealthy ways of coping instead of discussing the impact these events had on their mental wellbeing.  

Jimmy's initiative targets social media users, and specifically young people, which is important when over 50% of people in Norway (where Jimmy and his initiative are located) that suffer from mental health challenges are under the age of 40.  

THA is increasingly used in schools and therapy offices in addition to being accessible across online platforms. For example, the platform is being implemented into university psychology programs in Norway. It essentially makes human-to-human support possible through a digital format. The videos have a wide reach, considering that approximately 700 interviews have received over 1.2 million views.  

Jimmy’s initiative emphasizes how common mental health challenges are in addition to making resources and support from other humans more accessible.

The Human Aspect is a powerful example of changemaking in action, as it is shifting perspectives on mental health, changing methods of support and influencing current forms of therapy used in institutional contexts. His approach corresponds to the vision of an Everyone a Changemaker world thanks to his influence on others to take ownership of their own stories, transforming what they have learned into tools that help improve their own mental wellbeing and that of anyone else.  

Have a look at the video below to hear from Jimmy on what he is hoping will happen next:  


About Ashoka 

For 40 years, Ashoka has built and nurtured the largest network of leading social entrepreneurs in the world. Now that Jimmy has been selected as fellow, we will embark on a process that involves a tailored timeline of investments and support given to fellows over their lifetime. Some of the support they are receiving includes a tailored stipend for up to three years, if needed, for the fellow to dedicate themselves full time to the advancement of their idea. The support also entails customized engagement opportunities that accelerate their impact, increased visibility, and a global community of peers. 

Ashoka’s network is comprised of 3,800 and growing leading social entrepreneurs in over 90 countries, including Muhammad Yunus (winner of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize), Kailash Satyarthi (2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner and child’s rights activist) and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. As the world’s leading organization of social entrepreneurship, Ashoka is mobilizing a global social innovation community. This network embraces new frameworks to build a world where all citizens are powerful and contribute to change in positive ways. 

Do you know - or are you yourself - someone with a path-breaking new idea who is approaching problem-solving in an entrepreneurial and creative way? Read more about the Ashoka Fellowship and Nominate a Changemaker.