The famous piece of artwork on the corner of Guadalupe and 21st Street in Austin is inspiring a new mission to open up about mental health.
Daniel Johnston, a musician with a lot of influence on Austin’s music culture, painted Jeremiah the Innocent, the iconic “Hi, How Are You” frog.
“The frog has been here for 25 years and I don’t know if we’ve all thought about what it actually does mean,” Courtney Blanton, co-founder of the “Hi, How Are You” Foundation, said.
Johnston struggled with mental illness. Monday, Jan. 22 is his birthday and also the city’s first “Hi, How Are You” Day.
“We want to promote people to talk openly and feel comfortable talking about mental illness,” Blanton said.
Tom Gimbel, general manager of Austin City Limits (ACL), co-founded the “Hi, How Are You” Foundation with Blanton. They hope the organization can provide an outlet where people can talk about and educate one another on mental well-being.
On Monday, the foundation encourages everyone to ask others how they’re doing, as well as share their stories about mental health on social media using the hashtag #HiHowAreYou.
Gimbel says the frog has been Austin’s “unofficial ambassador of friendliness,” which is what “Hi, How Are You” Day aims to embrace.
“Check in with a loved one,” Blanton said. “Check in with a neighbor and really ask instead of saying in passing, ‘hi, how are you?’”
According to Mental Health Texas, one in five adult Texans will experience a mental health concern at some point this year. More than 20 percent of children between the ages of nine to 17 have a diagnosed mental illness.
Angela Mantia says the four words can be a reminder about how strong the human connection is.
“It’s not them we need to change and fix,” she said. “We need to change how we interact with people.”
Mantia’s son, Shepherd, struggled with mental health challenges and committed suicide in 2015, three days before he turned 17.
Shepherd Mantia committed suicide 3 days before his 17th birthday. (Courtesy: Angela Mantia)
“In his suicide letter that he left, he wrote on there that he was really sorry and that it was no one’s fault,” she said.
Mantia says through Shepherd’s journey, she’s learned when trying to help someone around you suffering from a mental illness, the conversation needs to be about them.
“When people ask me what advice do you give people who suffer from a mental illness, I say I don’t have advice for them,” she said. “I don’t know how they feel. I have advice for everybody else around them. And that’s to understand them.”
Mantia now honors Shepherd’s life by helping other families through the bereavement and grieving process.
Too often, we try to hide and shy away from talking about mental health, because of embarrassment or shame, Blanton said. That’s how it used to be for her.
“I used to hide my prescription and Advil bottle because I didn’t want anybody to know,” Blanton said. “I didn’t tell my family. I didn’t tell my friends. I certainly didn’t tell people I worked with.”
But she learned over time, talking to others about mental well-being is what provides comfort. It’s what helps people realize they aren’t alone.
“I want people to talk about mental illness like they talk about cancer,” she said.
Monday night, the foundation will host an event at The Mohawk for “Hi, How Are You” Day. Proceeds will benefit the foundation and the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health services for people in the Austin music industry.