For years Sean Smedley kept quiet—about his abusive childhood home life, about his father’s mental health issues and drinking, about his own substance abuse. Now he knows firsthand the power of opening up and letting the stigma go. 

Smedley, who is 53, grew up in public housing in New Haven. His parents divorced when he was young and he only saw his father periodically until his early death. “When he ended his journey, I never had the option to see him again.” Smedley says. “I didn’t realize how much that bothered me until later in life.”

Smedley eventually began having his own substance abuse and mental health issues. He did some therapy and continued to function in his career in account management. “It was the secret in the closet that I was an addict or dealing with a mental health issue,” he says. 

Twenty-one months clean and sober when we talk, Smedley now recognizes the value of speaking openly about addiction and mental health. “It was so freeing when I took the filter off for both mental health and addiction,” he says. “I want people to know the more secrets we have, the more we have to hide. The more we saturate in the stigma, the less we can heal. The more we can bust that stigma door open, [the more] we can have more honest conversations.”

Part of Smedley’s journey has involved changing up his career. His account management job meant a fourth quarter of “chaos” every year. “I’m right-aligning my life from a career perspective.” Today he is a wellbeing program manager at the same company instead. “It was important to separate from what I was doing as part of my recovery.”

Smedley is also focusing more of his attention on helping others find their path. In addition to being on the Mental Health Connecticut Board of Directors and Chair of MHC’s Development Committee, Smedley has started Limitless Inspiration and is a certified purpose coach, and hopes to add life coaching to his certification later this year. In the meantime, he is preaching the value of being open and sharing his experiences in short videos and inspirational posts. 

“When we remove the stigma, we free ourselves,” Smedley says. “I used to live two very different lives—one inside of home and one outside.” The stress of that duality took a mental health toll (he tried to complete suicide twice). “Now I live the same life on both sides of the door,” he says. “It’s only because I was able to have the courage to say I will no longer let this or the stigma confine or define me.”

He hopes others learn to take off their filters, too. “If you’re struggling, reach out to someone. Seek professional help. Let your bubble or circle know exactly who you are,” he says. 

It’s a behavior that Smedley believes has a ripple effect. “Once you free yourself, you unlock the doors for someone who may not realize they’re caged sometimes,” he says. “When we become free, it ripples to free other people.”

Looking for resources or support in CT but don’t know where to start? Contact MHC’s free Information & Referral line: https://www.mhconn.org/education/information.