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Subscribing to mental health support
“We are truly focused on being a mental health company that offers a subscription box, not just a subscription box company that happens to be mental health related."
Note: This article includes sensitive mental health content.
Julia Broglie is not afraid of public speaking. But when the 28-year-old got on stage at the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit she was extremely nervous.
She had five minutes to talk about her company, BroglieBox, to a room full of investors, start-up founders, and celebrities. But hers wasn’t a typical origin story (as far as start-ups go, that is). It was, after all, a tragic experience that had led Broglie to launch her mental health-focused subscription service. “With a start-up, I think it’s important to have a solid ‘why’, and you have to come back to it all the time,” she says. “For me, it’s very easy, because of the tragedy that my family went through.”
In April 2014, Julia received a text message from her older brother, Justin. As soon as she saw it, she knew it would be the last one that Justin would send her. He was saying goodbye. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Justin had moved back in with his parents in Pittsburgh three months prior. Julia, a year out of the University of Delaware, was also living at home. Later that day, Justin, aged 24, died by suicide.
The traumatic circumstances of her brother’s death left Julia—who had also struggled with depression and anxiety—with acute PTSD. “I was not able to even process my grief because I was in so much shock and trauma,” she recently told Supermaker. And though medication and an established relationship with a therapist helped her a great deal, as she got better she knew she wanted to do more.
In November 2017, Mary Broglie, Justin’s mother, posted on Justin’s Facebook wall, as she often does. Usually, it’s a birthday wish or a memory she wants to share with her son. But this time it was an update: “Justin, Julia started the BroglieBox.”
Mary was referring to the mental wellness-focused subscription box service his sister launched in his memory. A chemical engineer by training, Julia’s experience working in the cosmetics and skincare industry came in handy. At the time, the contract manufacturing company she worked for helped brands launch their products and gain exposure through subscription boxes, and Julia’s role was akin to that of a matchmaker. In 2017, she brought that ethos to BroglieBox. “I’m not a trained mental health professional, but it’s my job to connect the experts and their products to the people that need them,” she explains.
But Julia was also wary of leading people into thinking that consumerism is the best cure for mental health struggles. “I wanted it to be very thoughtful and very curated so that people could really give each product the time it needs,” she shares. “That’s why we decided on quarterly subscriptions.” Priced at $65, each BroglieBox comes with between six and seven items in categories like aromatherapy, massage, physical fitness and sleep, but the value of the products is at least over $200.
On social media, Julia is honest about her own struggles with mental health, but admits that she wasn’t always so ready to be vulnerable. While Justin advocated for mindfulness and spoke openly about his depression in an effort to destigmatize it, Julia felt embarrassed about opening up. But these feelings changed with Justin’s death, and her parents played an integral role in that transition. “We were not gonna hide the fact that it was a suicide,” says Julia, remembering the days right after Justin’s passing. “We all separately came to the conclusion that being honest is important.”
Mary Broglie, in Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with her daughter, overhears our conversation and swings by to share her own memories. Justin’s death propelled her to become a mental health warrior; she’s a volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and a facilitator for a suicide bereavement support group. She remembers how Justin had planned to do the AFSP’s Out of Darkness walk with a friend in June 2014 to raise awareness about the suicides that had happened on Penn’s campus. He had asked Mary if she wanted to join. “I said, ‘I don’t think I could do the 24 miles’,'' she recalls. But by June, two months after his death, Mary was there, walking in her son’s memory.
The Broglie family’s motivation stems from their desire to help anyone who might be feeling the way Justin did before his death. In June 2018, Mary posted a message on his Facebook wall: “I am sorry Justin, I wish I could have helped more.”
“Nothing I do is going to bring him back,” says Julia. “But I could potentially help someone else who might be dealing with what Justin was experiencing.” That’s why BroglieBox’s plan for 2020 includes a strong emphasis on community-building and providing resources to subscribers. “We are truly focused on being a mental health company that offers a subscription box, not just a subscription box company that happens to be mental health related. One way we are working to do that is by building out our community offerings.” says Julia.
To get the word out, Julia and her co-founder and boyfriend, musician Dustin Belt, exhibit at many wellness and health conferences. They’re currently working with therapists on customized subscription boxes for clients. “I’m very risk-averse, and Dustin was an integral part of giving me the confidence to launch,” admits Julia. And coming from an industry which is no stranger to mental health struggles, Dustin could easily get behind the mission of BroglieBox.
For someone running a mental health-focused company, Julia recognises the importance of maintaining her own wellbeing, which is why using the products in BroglieBox is very important to her. You might find her relaxing with a weighted eye mask or making notes in her gratitude journal. But she’s very clear that her service is not a replacement for professional and medical attention. “Because I use all of these mental wellness products, some people may assume that I’m against medication, which is not the case at all—everyone has different needs,” she says. In a moving social media post from July, Julia talks openly about taking medication for anxiety and depression, and that while she’s keen to taper off, she’s also incredibly grateful for them. “[When Justin died], I couldn’t even develop coping skills because I was so far past that. And medication really helped me get back to a level where I could work on developing other healthy habits.”
A month after Justin died, Julia and her parents came to Penn, where they met many of his friends and former classmates. They smiled through their grief and urged everyone in the room to think about how they wanted to preserve Justin’s memory. Despite her cheerful demeanor, Julia remembers the waves of grief, shock, and trauma. Today, those moments still arise, but BroglieBox is her way of preserving Justin’s legacy. “I promised in his eulogy that I would do my best to continue what he was trying to do,” she says.