Imagine if we took care of our mind the way we take care of our bodies, engaging in consistent care the way we might engage in an at-home exercise regimen between classes or sessions at the gym.
“Mental fitness” is the north star of Wondermind, the company c0-founded by Selena Gomez; her mother, producer Mandy Teefey; and Newsette co-founder Daniella Pierson that launches this week with the goal of exploring honest, real-life mental health topics through a triple play of media, production and branded products.
“We want to be the Disney of mental health,” says Pierson.
The three women span three generations (Gen Z, millennial and Gen X) but they readily connected over their own mental health struggles—each has a mental health diagnosis—and their passion for reducing the stigma. They landed on the concept of mental fitness to normalize both the conversations and the ensuing actions they seek to effect.
“Mental health can be incredibly intimidating phrase and a big barrier to entry,” Pierson says. “Mental fitness feels like you’re working out your mind, there’s nothing wrong with you. Our community is for anyone who has any feelings, for everyone. Anyone who feels lonely, scared, sad. The way we’re merchandising all of our content and products is through that lens.”
The company debuted with a content hub and newsletter that’s accessible by signing up on the Wondermind website. The newsletter includes articles, research and actionable tips—created in partnership with licensed therapists, the founders say—as well as in-depth interviews. The first iteration includes “warm-ups” like the mental lift making your bed can provide, plus an extensive interview with Gomez in which she discusses why she left the Internet and social media four years ago, what she does to lift her mood, and her ambitions for Wondermind.
“One of the people that I’ve looked up to my whole life is Princess Diana and, this sounds silly, but what would come out of her was so honest and real, and that’s all I want this to be,” says the music artist, founder of Rare Beauty, star of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building and outspoken advocate for mental health.
“A real, honest, safe, comfortable place—something people can turn to. I hope nothing more than for people to feel what I feel when I think about what we’re doing and when I think about other people and talk to people on our expert committee and people that have the same goal and vision that we do. For someone to say ‘Oh, that’s me.’ That’s one of the best feelings. Honestly, I believe that’s why a lot of people go to AA or NA meetings, like myself. I do, because I find it inspiring and moving. I find it empowering when I can speak or just hear others tell their story. It’s not a scary place.”
The trio has big plans to elevate mental health stories across the entertainment spectrum, including film, television and documentaries. “We are going to try to hit every medium that we can,” says Teefey, who along with Gomez executive-produced the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. “It’s important for the entertainment industry to hold some sort of accountability of how the narrative is expressed.”
First up this summer is a Wondermind podcast that will be less about featured guests and more embedded in the content that’s bubbling up in the Wondermind ecosystem. “We want to make it something that is more conversational and rooted in real stories, and we are going to give actionable tools on the podcast,” she says. A “Dear Wondermind” segment will be a recurring feature.
On screen, films including 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and 1999’s Girl Interrupted “tell a different kind of narrative, about the way mental health was stigmatized at the periods they were shot in,” Teefey notes. “We need to grow with the times.” She quotes the 2013 film Silver Linings Playbookfor which Jennifer Lawrence took home an Oscar, as a gold standard of “effortlessly” weaving the mental health struggles of Robert De Niro’s character into the larger story.
Based on the novel of the same name, 13 Reasons Why chronicles the suicide of a high school student and the ensuing effect it has on her circle of friends. Teefey brought the project to Netflix and is grateful the streaming company “gave us the power to do it. It did take an army, and it was great having all the resources we had to tell the story the best way and as responsible as possible.”
“I was ready for some pushback… and for parents having the hardest time with the project,” she adds. “No one wants to see their kid going through that, and that’s why I think it was so important for me and Selena to do it together—so maybe mothers and fathers and kids would watch together and have the conversation which it opened up.”
Wondermind plans to continue walking down the path of opening minds and conversations. Several projects are already in development; top of mind are stories involving social justice issues that can incorporate story lines about mental health. “If we can find a mental health story line through it without it being preachy, that’s the kind of content we are looking for,” Teefey says.
“There’s still a little bit of a hesitation and a cradling of it and I really don’t feel that is needed,” she adds. “We need to just have these honest conversations, and we are getting there. And as long as Hollywood can get there, the world can get there.”
Echoes Pierson, “Entertainment and mental health go together because that’s where people are watching because it’s good content, and then they are leaving with a message.”
Hollywood & Mind is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors and other culture influencers who are elevating the conversation around mental health.