Social Icon Interviews: Gabriella Wright
On mental health, sustainability, and the power of listening
As an actor, humanitarian, and mental health advocate, Gabriella Wright @ladygwright is using her platform to help spark the conversation around a topic near and dear to her heart. She has teamed up with a powerhouse of partners to create the Never Alone Movement. As we wrap up September — mental health and suicide prevention month — I couldn’t think of a more lovely person and worthy cause to feature than Gabriella.
In her interview, she shares so many beautiful and vulnerable stories from which I hope we can all take away some valuable reminders. What spoke to me the most was Gabriella’s commitment to share unheard voices; and, even more so, her focus on listening to those same voices. What could our world look like if we were all more present in our listening to one another?
Please get involved however you can in this conversation to support mental health. And thank you, Gabriella, for sharing your story with us. 🧡
Header images by Maeva Delaxcroix; all other noted below.
Q: Tell us about the Never Alone Movement you have co-founded — What inspired you to start it? How did you connect with your other partners on the project?
What do you hope to accomplish with the crowdfunding campaign and how can people contribute?
A: The Never Alone Movement (www.neveralone.love) started by pure synchronicity of life circumstances and encounters.
In the beginning, it was just the making of a film called The Offering co-written and researched by Michel Pascal and myself in order to raise awareness around teenage suicide. We had found out that teen suicide in the United States is the second most common cause of death between the ages of 10 and 34. Being an actress and a mother, it seemed like a necessity to use my art form to contribute to such a matter and create conscious content to move people into a form of ‘active empathy’ towards each other.
That’s how the initial part started. Unfortunately, in the middle of the filming and building of the project, my little sister Paulette Wright passed away by accidental suicide during a manic phase that my family could not foresee despite all of the support and precautions. Grief took over and I was incapable of picking up the subject of suicide for months.
I took time off work to reflect and just ‘be’. One of my ways of ‘being’ was to contribute to a free app called Mind Dive where I conduct interviews and talks with thought leaders of well being. One of the talks happened to be with Dr. Deepak Chopra about telepathy and autism. One conversation lead to another, and we talked about the rise in mental health issues and the nature of reality within the context of the precarious times we live in.
The next steps went very fast: Dr. Chopra heard about my project and agreed to be in our film. He then introduced me to Poonacha Machaiah, his dear friend. Having all been affected by suicide in some way, we all decided to create a grassroots movement on mental well being and suicide prevention coupled with a crowdfunding campaign to complete financing on the film and support a movement lead by the collective.
It all happened so spontaneously and effortlessly. Sometimes we have to accept the unknown. I lost my little sister, and yet with her loss, I have learnt so much about the hidden voices of suffering in our society. Within the journey of our grief there is a collective grief; this is where we are all connected.
Suicide has been a taboo topic for decades, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. The need to be heard and to be connected has truly come. As Rumi said, “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” His words seem to be so present in this context.
We are now in the process of finishing the film to submit to festivals.
We intend to tour the film to universities, high schools and communities to bring active awareness and discussions. We want to be creating communities and bringing solutions together online and offline. It will be a lifelong journey, and every day the movement is evolving. We are calling in all solutions and we want to share these precious human stories to inspire healing and create a shift in the conversation that seems to be so stigmatized. It’s an ongoing effort and crowdfunding is continuous.
Q: We are living in a paradox in that we as a world are the most digitally-connected and able to move freely/travel than ever before, yet loneliness and social isolation are at all time highs.
What do you believe is at the root of our loneliness? In what ways can we all do better at helping connect with others?
A: Our loneliness comes from not knowing the truth. The nature of reality. The meaning of life. I might sound too philosophical for some, but in essence these are questions that remain mostly unanswered for all.
Loneliness comes from not only the physical / emotional separation we think we have from one another, but from the separation we have with our higher selves — in other words, the ‘Universal Self’. It is only observant to say that we live in a constantly fed life of illusions; our digital world is just a highlight of how disconnected we can be. Suicide rates are at their highest worldwide. We are truly in a crisis.
These profound questions need to be addressed. We don't learn the ‘why’ of life or the nature of ‘reality’ at school. This means we must first be able to see the necessity of ‘how do we ask these questions’ and ‘to whom’?
What can we do? Create open communication avenues, both with an online community and in person. Share our journey with one another, developing the tools of listening. If we are able to develop these qualities as a social responsibility to be ‘present’ in the deeper listening for each other, we will feel less lonely and understand how entwined and entangled we actually are. Separation does not exist in consciousness. The more we are able to experience this, we will not feel mind isolation. Being on a path of self-introspection and self-discovering only brings you closer to inner peace and the feeling of ‘home’ no matter where you are — with or without anyone or anything.
This is a mindset that we must spread the conversation about, and bring tools of awareness to easily access it.
Q: We just finished the Global Climate Strike last week, and you are a Sustainable Humanity advocate. What is your vision for a sustainable future? How do you practice being sustainable in your daily life?
A: Yes, Yes and Yes! I was brought up by exceptional parents who have been on the sustainable path since I was born. Growing up, we lived across from a health food store in London and ate mostly vegetarian and organic food. We have always been aware of our footprint on earth. My mother being a marine biologist and father an artist, our education has always been the preservation of our planet and kindness towards one another.
I feel the real issue over the years has been the over-advertising of consumption — giving the feeling that we ‘need’ more than we have. This tells us to buy more whether it is food, clothes, or plastic toys. The advertising is so intense these days with constant pop-ups every time we go online.
For me, being sustainable means I don't buy any plastic covered vegetables when I shop, for example. No plastic water bottles either, we have a filter instead. I also donate my clothes and refuse to buy fast fashion. What’s great about Los Angeles and Paris is that they have great vintage shopping! I just believe in the art of fashion. Good pieces last longer. I also buy ethical brands that have a light carbon footprint. Sustainability really is a way of living, but it’s hard when everything is also positioned in a ‘consumer’ mindset.
A sustainable future is a way of living and being. It’s a holistic system; you have to create an ecosystem that you not only feel at peace in, but can inspire others to do so too. When you do this, you realize you are at peace in your own being and do not need more than you have.
I admire our youth — they are the future of our species — and we have to give them a place to blossom and to become leaders of this world in need of healing on all levels.
I spoke earlier about mental health and it is all connected: the mind, the body, and the soul are one. Our earth here is the extension of our body.
Q: What topics or causes are you most passionate about sharing right now - something that could really help the world if everyone did it/ got on board?
Suicide prevention and mental health. If we realize that having a ‘mental’ hygiene is the basis of our reality, and that we can seek help and share the inner questions, we can become stronger as a community. We would have more compassion. We’d have a healthier relationship with ourselves and the environment, and would learn how to co-exist as human beings. Inner and outer conflicts would diminish. #neveralonemovement
Sustainable humanity. Truly question the mindset we are now in and the depletion of the earth we are living ‘on’. Instead, focus on how to contribute and live sustainably with one another, enhancing each other’s actions for maximum impact. Climate action is a pressing issue, and acknowledge that it is not a just a topic of conversation, it demands a direct action. All initiatives need to work together to create an impact. Less ego, more transparency. #wearehumanity
End violence against women and girls. I believe that it is truly time to reinstate women as the nurturers and community leaders they always were.
I am lucky that I get to be a storyteller for the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and Girls, as well as for UN Women, the entity for gender equality and empowerment of women. I have seen and heard so many stories of violence that sometimes to tell their stories to an audience breaks my voice. And yet, there are many breakthroughs happening; women in developing countries and nations are breaking free from patriarchal systems of physical and mental abuse. We need to support their voices and tell their stories, but also allow space for healing both the men and the women. We need to heal the source of where it started and restart the conversation. #hearmetoo
Q: You’ve also done a lot of other humanitarian work, traveling to India, Burma, Cambodia and more.
What are some examples of universal love and unity that you’ve witnessed in your travels around the world? How can we help the world focus on these aspects rather than our differences?
A: I wouldn’t know how to start! There are so many stories. Being a humanitarian is definitely a journey of compassion that can only be fed and nourished by the incredible heroes that you meet along the way. Every person you meet has a better written script than any film could ever make!!!! It’s the script of invincible compassion of life!
In Burma for example, with our charity (www.associationpasdb.org) we were able to help a group of 14 young girls who are deaf or have hearing difficulties to use their voice. Thanks to a passionate, loving, and strong headmaster at school who observed them closely, she was able to distinguish that these poor young girls were being abused by friends and family members when they returned home during the summer vacation break. We were able to fund a summer program and board these girls for two months to allow their unheard voices be heard and healed by intense dedication. The beauty comes from extreme vulnerability transforming into strength. I was even initiated into Burmese sign language. Thanks to the love and deep listening of this headmaster, she was able to read the signs and act upon her intuition to save these young girls. She also got the police involved and that was quite a first in the city of Yangon. These examples of love can change the world: with actions of love, you can save a life without knowing. By just being there witnessing and enhancing a voice.
Another Story is in India- this story triggered the start of my whole humanitarian work. I went on a pilgrimage in between a press tour for a film in 2004. I had five days to spare and decided to visit the holy place of Bodh Gaya, the seat of Buddhism, where Buddha got enlightened under the Bodi tree. Little did I know, it was the poorest state in India and I was warned it was also unsafe and dangerous for a young woman. As we drove past the rural communities for five hours from Patna to Gaya, I was overwhelmed by the poverty — there were no structures, just people in huts and children running around picking up plastic and rags.
One night I was walking back from the Stupa (place of meditation and worship) to the hotel, and all of a sudden I saw some strange shapes on the horizon coming straight towards me, almost looking like a pack of wild dogs. It was getting dark and it was difficult to distinguish. As they approached, I had no place to go so I just stopped and waited. To my surprise and despair, these shapes were not street dogs but deformed children who could not walk straight due to deformities from polio. They came begging and tugging at my clothes and all I could do was hold back my tears. I just could not believe that these children were living on the streets with no parent or caring to be seen. I went to get some food and fed them daily over the next days until I left.
From this experience I had 2 important realizations: the first is that the personal pursuit of well being and spirituality doesn't really mean anything if you do not engage in the collective well being and have active compassion. And secondly, from that point onwards, I decided that wherever I was to work as an actor whatever location in the world - I would engage in humanitarian activity and give back. It started with these street children. I am so thankful to them for that awakening.
Q: What are your favorite ways to quiet your mind and connect within?
A: I am a fervent meditator. I have been studying Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism for almost 20 years now, more than half of my life. The practice of mediation has not only saved my life and preserved my sanity, but it has also given me a new life and freedom. To quiet the mind is a door to ultimate freedom. Freedom to experience the infinite consciousness that is, in essence, everything that we ‘are’. As we quiet the mind, we experience an expanding of reality. With this expansion comes a process of deep healing, without you even being aware of it. Stress, worries, trauma just slowly lift and leave your mind; they do not direct your thoughts or your ways of being anymore. You become free of any ties to an identity that you think you are.
What I love about meditation is that it truly allows your inner expression to live. In silence there is infinite potential; our potential.
I meditate every day and more on the weekends. There is not one day where I don’t engage with silence. Silence is not boring; it’s a highly creative state of abundance, and as an artist it allows me to cultivate a deep listening.
Q: Your son is a teenager now. If you could speak to teenagers everywhere, what is the #1 message you would give them?
A: “Always be kind. Understand why and where people are coming from.” I say this because there is a lot of teenage bullying. It’s more complicated than we think. Trauma is often created at these ages — a hurtful word can shift these growing teenagers into wounded adults trying to heal during their whole adult life. It’s hard because now children and teenagers have to constantly prove themselves with the new values of likes and social media… Their societal structures have changed and their perception of reality has too. Be kind and speak up. Don’t hide.
I have constant check-ins with my son hoping to understand the silence between words. Being a parent in today’s world is a challenging role. As a parent, we should always value the friendship with our children and value their voice.
Q: What is the one question you wish people would ask you more often?
A: “How do you see your life?”
I would say… As a complete mystery that keeps unfolding.
The more I learn, the less I know.
I feel safe in the knowing that I don't know.
I yearn for the experience of ultimate freedom, and I think this is the journey I am trying to live.
Q: What does being a Social Icon mean to you?
A: It means to always be mindful and aware of our hidden voices — to hear the words behind the silence and the cries behind closed doors of our minds and thoughts. Without sounding dramatic, it demands us to always be in a state of deep caring and listening for everyone. It’s a way of living; be mindful and human, showing that strength comes from vulnerability.
A Social Icon is to be actively engaged in the responsibility of being human and connected with one another. It’s not just leading by example but ‘being’ by example.