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Even as a child, Awstin Gregg was intrigued by mental health. In elementary and middle school, he joined peer counseling groups to help classmates navigate difficult times. Whether it was losing a parent, dealing with divorce or integrating into a new school, Gregg was there to listen and empathize with his peers.
“I found it intrinsically rewarding to help others,” Gregg said. “It was like my soul was being filled. Whenever I felt that, I wanted to pursue that over and over. I felt the draw to mental health.”
Right out of high school, Gregg started working at a psychiatric hospital. In seven years, he went from mental health technician to CEO. After receiving an MBA from Texas Woman’s, Gregg founded his own company, Connections Wellness Group, a behavioral health services provider.
In December 2022, Gregg received the Outstanding Healthcare Executive award by D CEO, a publication that covers local businesses and business people in Dallas. D CEO also named him one of Dallas’ 500 most powerful business leaders.
Gregg and his company were recognized along with some of the largest and best-known hospitals and healthcare companies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Entities such as Texas Health Resources, Baylor Scott & White Health and Children’s Health.
“To be named out of some of the most esteemed business leaders in DFW for what we are doing in mental health, that was a big accomplishment,” Gregg said. “Certainly personally, but for our organization as a whole.”
Gregg also pointed out that by receiving this award and many others, it also shows that society is now talking more about mental health and the growing need for mental health services.
“You take our mental health quite literally everywhere you go, every single second of every day,” Gregg said. “So, why not focus on something that we are so close to? I think as more people talk about it in that way, it goes from this thing that lives silently in these shadows to something more front and center, and we can celebrate having healthy mental health.”
For there is a need, especially among young people.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. More than one in three high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009.
Gregg says his company treats a lot of adolescents, and he credits young individuals with reducing the stigma of mental health.
“The younger generation is much more open to talking about mental health, and they are actively seeking treatment for it and they are improving upon it and they experience life-long benefits of having that,” Gregg said. “When we are adolescents, we are trying to identify our own identities, and that can be quite a stressful time. You throw in the mix high school, middle school and the stressors of academic pieces and social settings. That can be stressful.”
As the demand for support grew, Gregg grew his business. What started as an idea evolved into an enterprise that Gregg feels blessed to have. Gregg and his wife used their own savings to start with a single office in Denton, which grew to an additional 11 locations in the surrounding area. He credits his education, including the MBA from TWU, for giving him the knowledge to take that leap of faith.
One of the unique aspects of Gregg’s company is having all the specialities under one roof. At other providers, the psychologist might be in Dallas and the therapist in Fort Worth.
“We have found that when all those individuals are on the same team, we can communicate in ways that perhaps are not possible when their specialties are in separate organizations,” Gregg said.
Looking ahead, Gregg is hoping to extend his company’s outreach. He dreams of a day when he is out of a job because he is living in a community with strong mental health. Unfortunately, as the stigma continues to subside, he feels the need will become more pronounced.
“Every time I see another death in the community or just the thought of people needlessly suffering with something that is absolutely treatable. That really keeps me up at night.”