Fixing The Culture Surrounding Mental Health

mental health
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Hal Hughes is a former MMA fighter who served his province as a police officer for fourteen years and in this episode of the podcast we discuss fixing the culture surrounding mental health.

In the course of his duties, Hal sustained two separate severe traumatic brain injuries 5 years apart. These incidents also led to a diagnosis of PTSD as well as “Officer” Hal fighting addiction.  In addition to being a married father of four and grandpa, Hal is also a member of Mensa and is currently a registered psychotherapist in Ontario, Canada.

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The Incident

Hal was self admittedly “bulletproof”, a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu and looking to go pro in the MMA circuit, dad of four and working in drug enforcement up until he was involved in a bad car accident at work and was diagnosed with a concussion. A few years after that, a “perp” head-butted him and it was lights out. His “mild” traumatic brain injury was so bad that it caused severe PTSD and lead to a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.

Fun times….

The Dark Times

Hal was on sick leave and was put on the rehab bus to addiction town. Anti-psychotics and opiates lead to a near fatal addiction to opiates and a descent into a dark hole where he was finally forced to make a choice, get better or die.

“It was a long way to fall”

Hal uses a great analogy to explain his situation. He was angry and wanted to blame others and the system for his fall. He compares it to misplacing your keys in your house and you decide to start looking outside on your lawn for them instead. Soon enough you’ve got your neighbours helping you look for them outside until your wife comes home and asks, “Where did you drop your keys?”

And you respond…

“They’re inside.”

“So why the fuck are you looking for them out there?” your wife retorts.

The answer to your problems is always found “inside” and this is how Hal got better.

The Bamboo Protocol

One day Hal woke up and he decided, what do I have to do to recover? He figured out he had to put in the work to fix himself. What he was doing wasn’t working. He came to the realization that his brain imbalance wasn’t a neurotransmitter issue since he was on so many drugs, it should’ve been fixed by now. Instead he developed a protocol which was:

Step 1 – he got off the meds

Step 2 – he set up a list of MUSTS for 90 days

Step 3 – he set up a list of 4 principles to live his life by

He likens his recovery to bamboo and the plants decorate Hal’s office for the following reason.

Bamboo is a really hard nut to get to grow, you need to water it just right, not give it too much light and make sure the soil is just right. It’s time consuming and really tedious AND…

In the 5th year it grows 90ft in 6 weeks!

It had to be in the darkness, it had to be in the shit. The darkness and the work is what allows it to grow.

The darkness and the work is what allows it to grow.

Mental Health & Sheepdogs

This is a recurring topic surrounding fixing the culture surrounding mental health and we began the conversation a few months ago with Adam Kinakin on episode 35.

What desperately needs to happen is to develop a comprehensive approach to mental health for the policing and sheepdog professions. This obviously isn’t a problem that can be solved with a silver bullet. It’s multi-factorial and complex. With societal norms and cultural backgrounds shaping the view of what mental health means for every individual, how do police departments and other units address this difficult nut to crack?

As Hal puts it – “How do you make resilient people in a toxic culture?”

He feels we’re on the right track with peer support even though it can be negatively viewed and derided.

I love his quote,

“Build your tribe and love them hard”

But he feels we need to get to root of our culture’s issues surrounding improving mental health and thinks it starts at the elementary school level and teaching our kids how to identify with their emotions and how their brains work.

Ultimately, Hal doesn’t have the answer but he does know that we can all take our lives back since he’s done it.

Go find him at


Train Hard, Fight Easy.

dave morrowDave is a retired infantry officer and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s the creator of the HRD2KILL training program that was built on the principles that got him from not being able to get out of bed to competing in the Crossfit Open, Spartan Races and the Montreal Gaelic Athletics Association. You can find more mobility based exercises in his new book, “The Nimble Warrior”, now available on Apple Books and Amazon or read his new HRD2KILL Blog


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