Mental Health Month

Jay Leno Opens Up About His Dyslexia, Noting That 'With Every Disadvantage, There Is An Advantage'

"You tend to focus like a laser beam."

May is Mental Health Month. Throughout the month we will bring you stories about mental health and the importance of breaking surrounding stigmas, as well as highlighting those who live with related conditions and are advocating awareness.

Throughout the month of May, Child Mind Institute — a non-profit which aims to help families and kids living with mental health conditions — has been raising awareness about mental health issues with its My Younger Self campaign.

For the campaign, the organization partnered with 31 celebrities and released a new video each day of the month featuring one prominent figure offering advice to their younger self about "growing up with a mental health or learning disorder."

Emma Stone opened the campaign and over the last four weeks celebrities like Michael Phelps, Jesse Eisenberg, Lena Dunham, Howie Mandel, and Carrie Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, have contributed videos.

In the final video of the series posted May 31, comedian and host Jay Leno recounts what it was like growing up with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is "a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling." Characteristics can include challenges with verbal professing speed, phonological awareness, and verbal memory. It is estimated that one in 10 people have dyslexia, which equates to over 40 million American adults, yet only about 2 million realize they are dyslexic. That is because it's a "hidden" condition that does not present itself in a way that others clearly do. This often stops people from seeking help and, consequently, reaching their full potential.

In his video, Leno explains how when he was a kid, the "cure" for dyslexia was a slap in the face and being told to "smarten up." 

He elaborates how his mom's advice on how he would have to work twice as hard as the rest of the kids to get something became a concept that he applied to all aspects of life, and it helped him succeed. As he spent more time and worked harder, Leno says that this helped him.

"I not only got to equal the other kids, I got to do better because I was more focused on the subject."

It was through this that he realized the benefits of dyslexia.

"The great thing about being dyslexic is you tend to focus like a laser beam," he explains. "Whether it's playing a video game, or whether it's being a filmmaker, or whether it's wanting to be a comedian, you tend to put all of your efforts into that direction."

As he summarized, "With every disadvantage, there is an advantage, and that is your advantage. When we find something, we can do it well."

There are more than 17 million children in the U.S.A. alone who have had, or are living with, mental illness. Taboos associated with mental health can deter them from speaking up and/or seeking help. Dyslexia in particular is often misunderstood or left undiagnosed and Child Mind Institute's videos will hopefully help change that.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with mental health issues, there are a number of resources available to provide support. Check them out here.

Cover image via Dan Holm I Shutterstock

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