Is It Possible to Close the Gap in Addiction and Mental Health Recovery via Public Relations? Harry Cunnane of Ghost Pepper Co Public Relations Ignites a Movement

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Many people in our nation know someone who is struggling with addiction or mental health challenges. Did you know that approximately 70 million people in the United States are affected by drug use ? It was an honor to speak with Harry Cunnane of Ghost Pepper Co, and why this public relations firm is the leader in the specialized industry of behavioral health advertising. Ghost Pepper Co is on a mission to close the gap on getting information, preventive strategies, and treatment to the everyday person using media strategies. I had the privilege to speak with Harry Cunnane, of Ghost Pepper Co

Meghan Forte: Ghost Pepper Co Public Relations frequently focuses on recovery from substance use disorder and other mental health challenges. You have mentioned that relatable language is important. Can you explain to our readers why getting the language right is crucial for a recovery program? 

Harry Cunnane: I’ll start with the fact that I’m the son of an English Professor. So, my mom always taught at a young age the importance of language. When I was building Ghost Pepper, I had been working in the behavioral healthcare field and working with

organizations in recovery and treatment and doing a lot of advocacy work. What I found was there’s a lot of great organizations out there doing incredible work but a lot of times, their message is not connecting to the right person. When I think about the importance of language, and  I think with recovery and so many other issues, there are stigmas involved. When stigma is involved, we need to be really really careful about how we talk about behavioral health. Whether its substance use disorder, mental health, or another disorder that has a stigma attached. So, in our messaging we are connecting with the right people and also educating the public. Because, what I think we need to do is start to break down more and more of that stigma so that ideally we can work towards eliminating it. 

Meghan Forte: What makes having a team with various backgrounds and a strong public service background beneficial in closing the gap in recovery public relations, in your opinion? 

Harry Cunnane: I like that I have a diverse team of people with different backgrounds. I’ll start with me. So, I am somebody in recovery from substance use disorder, and I have worked in behavioral health so I am almost too much of an insider. So I think when talking about complex issues like this it’s important to have people with different experiences. So while I have lived experience, there’s members on my team who have experienced it as a family member, and there’s others who aren’t directly impacted by substance use disorder. When I think about the language and the messaging we need to make sure it can connect with everyone and that everyone can understand it. When my team gets together, there’s a lot of value in having different perspectives on how a message is received or what is the message that they are looking for? For example, when working with organizations that are providing treatment for instance, I have worked in it for so long, there is a lot I just assume I know. But that doesn’t mean the public knows it. So having checks and balances is important. I think what I like really is a team from the public sector that has done a lot of work in and around the government. The importance is again how do we connect the message to everybody. We don’t want to make this really narrow or based on socioeconomic status, or someone’s particular background. We want to make sure that it connects and really what we want to do is to make sure that it’s a message that can connect to legislatures who can change policy and help really change the future. 

Meghan Forte: Can you share your backstory to your personal connection to recovery? 

Harry Cunnane: I grew up in a very loving home and I was somebody who ( although it was everywhere around me) was really sheltered from substance use. I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I thought it was a moral issue, and it wasn’t going to be me. What ended up happening was, I was in high school and thought I was doing what normal teenagers do. I started experimenting with alcohol and other drugs and quickly found myself addicted to multiple substances. ‘It’s not going to be me; it couldn’t be me,’ and suddenly realizing ‘I’m somebody with a substance use disorder.’ I felt an incredible amount of shame because of it. I thought I was a bad person; I thought that what I was doing was wrong. For these reasons I tried to figure it out on my own, I didn’t want to ask for help, I didn’t want to put that shame on my family or those around me who loved me. I continued to struggle for a few years more instead of asking for help. I tried to keep it to myself and tried to find a way out of it. 

It all kind of came to a head when I was twenty years old and I found out I was going to become a father. I was so excited by this news, but I was also so unprepared to become a father. I had an active substance misuse disorder. I believed again, that I could fix this alone and that having a baby was going to solve my problem. I thought that I would become the person that I wanted to be or that I thought I should be. I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case. My daughter was born in 2011, and for the first year of her life I tried in every way that I could, as hard as I could,  to stop using . Eventually, by her first birthday, my whole family, my mom, my dad, and others all confronted me because they knew that there was a problem. I had been trying for so long to hide it. They held an intervention with me and I agreed to get help. I had never asked for it before because of the shame. I didn’t understand substance use for what it was. I thought it was just that I was doing the wrong thing, I didn’t know that it was a disease. 

So fast forward a little bit, I was able to get long term treatment. I have been in long term recovery since October 30, 2012,  from substance use. About five years into my recovery, my mom was getting into politics and running for congress. We were approached to write a book together. At that point I had still been pretty quiet about my recovery. I wasn’t public about it, and I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t work in this field yet, but I thought back to when I was struggling. I remembered the shame that I had felt. 

This ties back into what I do at Ghost Pepper Co. When I was struggling I couldn’t identify anybody that I knew that was in recovery. I didn’t see any messaging for services for help. Maybe I was blind to it, I didn’t know what was out there. As somebody who was struggling, I couldn’t find hope because I didn‘t hear or see a message of hope, a message of recovery, or a message that help was available. So, a few years ago my mother and I wrote this book together. It is a family memoir because I feel like this is a family disease that impacts everybody. It tells our perspectives of what we went through. It shares the earlier times of my substance use, as I was really starting to experiment. It then goes deeper into my substance misuse and really what was so important was to try to show what recovery could look like. It can look so different to so many different people. We need to highlight all of the different pathways and different stories.

Meghan Forte: In what ways does having a successful public relations firm like Ghost Pepper Co motivate your team as you help the community gain recovery information? 

Harry Cunnane : My why is that I want to change the way that the world talks about substance use, addiction and recovery. It’s a big goal, but that’s why I do what I do. 

Thank you Mr. Harry Cunnane, for sharing your personal story about addiction recovery. Thank you for also providing insight to why your passion is now to help other people succeed in their substance use disorder treatment. Our staff members and writers at Social The Lifestyle, are truly inspired by public relations firms and publicists who want to make the world a better place. Ghost Pepper Co, is a public relations firm that specializes in helping various health, and behavioral health organizations. It has worked with organizations to utilize the power of written word to end the stigma on addiction and mental health challenges. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health challenges, do not be afraid to seek treatment from a mental health professional

Ghost Pepper Co’s Professional Website 

Contact/ Work With Ghost Pepper Co 

Meet The Team 

Ghost Pepper Co’s Instagram Profile 

Harry Cunnane’s LinkedIn Profile 

Literature on Amazon, and Available in Bookstores: Under Our Roof: A Son’s Battle For Recovery, A Mother’s Battle For Her Son,  by Harry Cunnane and Madeleine Dean


You Are Always Loved: A Story Of Hope By Harry Cunnane and Madeleine Dean (Children’s Book) 



Meghan is a content writer. She loves entertainment news and screenwriting. She is a Hallmark Channel fan. In her spare time, she still writes hand written letters to friends and family.

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