Adversity: Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001
Advocacy: Became national speaker & trainer for The National Alliance on Mental Illness
“I see change. People grow. It helps me flourish. It helps me see a whole new world. It puts a smile on my face, definitely, and it changes how I feel.”In the summer of 1999, Robert Villanueva was diagnosed with clinical depression. Two years later, at the age of 30, he found himself locked in a psychiatric unit and newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The course of Robert’s life had been severely disrupted with the initial misdiagnoses of depression, which had lead to the loss of his career as a garbageman, the end of his tenure as a head high school wrestling coach, the loss of his home, and the dissolution of his family. Homeless, jobless, and dependent on the charity of others, he was on the brink of suicide. Robert somehow managed to lean on his faith and started on the long road to recovery through education about severe mental illness and through peer support groups. Robert began telling his story on a very small scale, initially speaking in a small church. He began to tap into the healing power of sharing his adversity and helping others. Today Robert is a recognized international speaker focused on reducing the stigma associated with mental illness through education and advocacy training. Robert is a National Trainer of Trainers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Assistant Research Director for Let’s Erase The Stigma (an educational foundation), and a research assistant at The University of California, Berkeley. Robert has inspired countless others by telling his story at local schools, colleges and universities, including Stanford, Temple, Lancaster University at the Spectrum Bipolar Disorder Clinic in England, and the University of London. He has been featured and interviewed nationally and locally, and his story has been published in several periodicals, including Bipolar, Esperanza, and One in Four (published in the United Kingdom). Throughout his journey, Robert has stayed connected with his community and local church.