Hannah Zeller, MSW passed away unexpectedly on October 29, 2023. Most recently she served as DBSA’s program manager. Hannah created and managed several new educational and wellness resources from 2019-2023. These resources were, and continue to be, seen and used by millions of peers and their families.

When the DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) team came together and shared stories and memories of Hannah, the top comments were that she always wore black outfits, Doc Martins, and gold hoop earrings. This brought a smile to everyone’s face as it painted a familiar visual that we all came to know as Hannah. That inside that painting was a fierce advocate for mental health and justice.

While finishing her last year in her Master of Social Work program, Hannah came to DBSA in an administrative role, working with DBSA’s CEO as a board liaison. But as time went by, it was clear that DBSA needed to address the youth mental health crisis. With funding from the Dauten Family Foundation, Hannah took the role as a program manager, focusing much of her efforts on providing children, youth, young adults, and their families with resources for managing depression and bipolar disorder.

Hannah’s development of the DBSA Wellness Wheel; a revision of the DBSA Wellness Tracker; two seasons of the young adult podcast series, I’m Living Proof; and managing DBSA’s Parent and Caregiver online community were all ways that Hannah reached millions of people affected by mood disorders. But the program that brought the most joy to Hannah’s face was the DBSA Mood Crew.

There were two major pieces of Hannah’s background that helped shape the creation of the Mood Crew. During Hannah’s time in clinical practice, working with children and families, she and her clients enjoyed a game that used emoji faces to show how someone was feeling. This gave children an opportunity to learn how to recognize—and through processing with a trusted adult—learn to navigate emotions.

Taking that model, Hannah worked with the DBSA Program team and members of the DBSA Scientific Advisory Board to identify 10 core emotions that laid the foundation for the the DBSA Mood Crew program. Hannah’s background in children’s theater helped her to create colorful bios for each character and emotion that brought them to life as an ensemble. From there, worksheets, games, and activities created a world for children to learn. Aside from the cute characters and fun activities, Hannah knew that developing a tool for children to learn how to recognize and discuss feelings is a key step toward lifelong mental health. She knew it was the beginning.

Finally, none of these programs would’ve been possible without Hannah’s voice. Her participation in conferences, advisory boards, councils, media interviews, coalitions—were rooted in her own experience and genuine compassion for people living with mental health conditions. In other words, others living with a mental health condition can find their own voice and advocate for themselves because of who Hannah was.

It is fitting and a bit ironic that the expansion of the Mood Crew was to include two new characters: Love and Gratitude; two emotions that can be difficult to express for children and adults alike. Through much sadness, this tribute is an attempt to do exactly that.

See some of Hannah’s most notable programs and initiatives:

  • DBSA Mood Crew is a fun and engaging educational program, designed for ages 4 to 10, which helps adults start positive conversations about feelings with children.
  • DBSA Wellness Wheel is an easy-to-use tool that gives you a complete picture of the progress you’ve already made in your wellness journey.
  • DBSA Wellness Tracker gives peers a practical tool to record daily mood, medication, diet and lifestyle information to support their recovery and wellbeing.
  • I’m Living Proof: A Letter to My Younger Self is a podcast series with stories from real people who have struggled with a mood disorder and still found a way to live the lives they want to lead.