Podcaster, bestselling author Dr. John Delony talks mental health at HSC
John Delony dropped the baton. The mental health expert, best-selling author and host of the popular podcast “The John Delony Show” on the Ramsey Network recalled an embarrassing moment from his teen years when he was the final runner in a relay race.
As he addressed an auditorium of faculty, staff and students at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, Dr. Delony used those anecdotes to set the stage for his hourlong presentation, “Stories and Bricks.”
His track team from Kingwood High School in Houston was on the verge of winning the state championship when he and another member of the squad botched the handoff of the baton. His team was in the lead but ultimately finished fourth. He said that mistake haunted him for years.
“We live in a culture that defines us by the worst thing that’s ever happened to us,” he said to the crowd.
Those experiences, which he referred to as “lowercase-t traumas,” accumulate like bricks in a bag. Eventually, when enough of those little stories pile up, a person’s bag becomes too heavy to carry. That weight, he said, permeates a person’s sense of self and personality and creates a pathway to depression, anxiety and myriad expressions of emotional turmoil.
“If you don’t do the work to get these bricks out of your backpack, you will be less of a helper in the medical profession,” he said during his talk. “You will not be fully present with your spouse. You will not be fully present with your kids. And, worst of all, if I don’t deal with this, I’m handing this to my son and daughter saying, ‘You have to deal with this.’ That generational trauma moves from person to person and becomes a legacy.”
Dr. Delony expounds upon many of the same ideas in his newly released book, “Own Your Past Change Your Future: A Not-So-Complicated Approach to Relationships, Mental Health and Wellness.” The book is No. 12 on the Wall Street Journal’s Bestseller list.
Delony, whose podcast is ranked No. 9 on iTunes in the mental health category and boasts more than 18 million listeners, started his podcasting “side-gig” after being discovered by an executive at Ramsey Solutions during a speaking engagement.
To promote his newest work, Delony decided to eschew the usual book tour and instead travel lightly throughout a several-month span for speaking engagements and book-signings.
Delony, who holds two doctoral degrees and worked for many years in academia, said speaking in front of the HSC crowd felt like a homecoming.
“These are my people — the faculty and staff and the students,” he said during an interview after the presentation. “This is like coming home and having a family conversation. I can be pretty open with everybody because we all share so many of the same experiences. Coming back and being able to speak at a place like HSC is a gift because that’s where it all started for me. This is where my heart is.”
Despite spending nearly 20 years in higher education, Delony said his new book isn’t an academic work, but rather a bridge between the theories of great intellectuals and the real-world problems so many people face daily.
“It wasn’t until I left higher ed and went into the business world that I realized I’ve been talking past people for 20 years,” he said. “There’s a single mom with two kids who just wants her life to be a little bit different. There’s a trucker who just wants to be a better dad but doesn’t know where to start. How can I make this information way more accessible?
“So, the book in and of itself is not an academic book. It’s me and you sitting across the table having chips and queso together trying to figure it out.”
At the end of his talk, Delony stressed the importance of nurturing relationships and the importance of creating new ones. Feeling lonely, he said, has become an epidemic in the country, and there are very real, dangerous consequences to that lack of connection.
“The biochemistry of loneliness is when our body recognizes that it’s lonely,” he said. “It’s more damaging to us than smoking cigarettes.”
During the post-presentation interview, Delony acknowledged that more people are aware of their mental health. Despite the fact that people understand the need to nurture their well-being, the current culture of constant media, strident discourse and increasing isolation make it difficult to address people’s symptoms in a meaningful way. The existing systems have taken such a toll that people’s collective mental health issues act as an “alarm system,” alerting everyone to those societal ills.
“I think that we have an increasingly disconnected society, an increasingly unsafe society, an increasingly bombarded society with media stuff,” he said. “And so, the mental health issues aren’t the challenge — the mental health issues are just ringing the bell that we’re creating a world that our bodies can’t exist in.”