Maintaining Mental Resiliency Throughout the COVID Crisis with Dr. David Henderson

Dr. David Henderson is not only a psychiatrist, but an artist as well. His practice allows him to see the raw nature of the human mind and his art allows him to express his findings with anonymity.
Dr. David Henderson is not only a psychiatrist, but an artist as well. His practice allows him to see the raw nature of the human mind and his art allows him to express his findings with anonymity. Given his skill set, Dr. Henderson has an interesting perspective when it comes to the COVID-19 Crisis. He believes that if this pandemic has done anything, it has highlighted the fragility of the human mind and has forced people to choose between two radical views: maintaining safety versus maintaining control.

Financial instability has taken a toll on mental health by making individuals feel trapped and unmotivated. These damaging thoughts can be mitigated by establishing a firm purpose for the activities in which you partake and fantasizing about redemptive possibilities while always maintaining awareness of worst case scenarios.

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Ryan Morfin:                    Welcome to NON-BETA ALPHA, I’m Ryan Morfin. On today’s episode, we have Dr. David Henderson, artist, psychiatrist, and lecturer, talking to us about mental resiliency during the COVID crisis and how it’s impacted his artwork. This is NON-BETA ALPHA.

                                           Dr. Henderson, thank you for joining us, appreciate you being on the show today.

Dr. David Hende…:         Absolutely, glad to be here.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, I wanted to pick your brain, your one of our Artists in Residence at Wentworth, and wanted to talk a little bit about some of the projects that you’ve been working on since we last got together. And then also, maybe touch on a little bit about the mental health implications of sheltering in place and the pandemic. And then, maybe at the end we could talk a little bit about how organizations and leaders can improve the mental resiliency of their team and themselves. So we appreciate you coming on to talk about these critical issues.

Dr. David Hende…:         Yes, absolutely. It’s been an interesting experience for me. I’m wearing a bunch of different hats right now, so getting to observe the whole COVID-19 situation from a number of different perspectives. It’s been quite fascinating, actually.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, for those of the viewers that haven’t met you yet, you do a lot of really interesting art. Maybe you can talk a little bit about your background professionally, and then a little bit about your art career as well, and talk about some of the projects you’re working on.

Dr. David Hende…:         Sure. I’m a MD by education, I’m a psychiatrist by profession, and I tell folks I’m an artist by compulsion. Art is my outlet to express all of the things that I can’t really express in my professional roles. I’ve been the chief medical officer for a couple different facilities, the most recent of which is with an organization called Addiction Campuses. We have a facility here in Texas, that has 160 beds, and we work with folks that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental health issues in general. So I’ve been overseeing that facility, and that’s my day job.

                                           Then, I also have two other projects related to the art world, one of which is a new solo art exhibition that we have slated for October of this year. Again, everything’s up in the air, we can get into that a little bit, but we’re planning to move forward with this. We’ve had to come up with plan Bs, in the event that we can’t have an actual live event.

                                           Then, I also just launched a film series, called Psyched 31. It’s a series of short films, 31 of them. And the idea is that participants who join would watch one film a day, and then there’s a supplemental journal associated with the series. You watch one film a day for 31 days, and it acts as a mental cleanse. It’s based on my 15 years as a psychiatrist, and also some of my own personal challenges and triumphs that I’ve faced in life. I’m really excited to be able to launch this, because I think it’s going to help a lot of people.

                                           Two years ago when I started the project, I never imagined that we’d be dealing with a worldwide pandemic. And yet, I have a belief that things work out for a reason, and I think a lot of people are struggling mentally and emotionally now, and now is the time to refocus, center yourself, and really develop a mindset that’s going to allow for the toughness that’s necessary to survive a lot of the challenges that we’re facing today.

Ryan Morfin:                    Again, that’s So maybe just take us a little bit deeper into the types of content you explore, so people can go to there and request a login credential?

Dr. David Hende…:         Sure. There’s two ways to access it. One is that when you go to the site,, you can register, and you’ll be immediately registered for the films. Then, we’ll also mail you the supplemental journal, there’s a bunch of prompt questions that help you work your way through the cleanse, and then documenting. I’m a firm believer in documenting your thoughts, so you can work your way through the series.

                                           We deal with all sorts of issues, like betrayal. A lot of people who are in business face situations where they set out to accomplish something with certain people in their life, that they imagine are going to stick with them through the whole process, and a lot of people end up bailing, or even betraying. So how do you deal with that?

                                           We talk about our own faults and failures in the series, and how do you manage and navigate when you set out in a certain direction and you failed yourself. We address the obstacles, the common obstacles that people face in the process of getting to their hopes and dreams, to their goals in life. So a lot of it is based around the psychology of the mind, and what are the challenges starting from the beginning of inception of an idea, all the way to its completion.

                                           One of the things that’s been really hard is when you start project, and in my case when you actually finish a project, no one will ever understand the work, and the stress, and the pain that has gone into producing it. One of the issues that we address in the film is the idea of releasing your work, and the tasks that you’ve done, in terms of building bridges for others to cross, essentially free of charge, the chasm that basically almost took your life.

                                           A lot of folks in business experience that. They’ve built a business, they’ve built a company, it’s their baby, it’s been birthed from within them. And then, people take advantage of that, or they don’t appreciate, or they don’t understand all the blood, sweat, and tears. So how do you deal with that psychologically, mentally, emotionally?

                                           Those are just some examples of the 31 different issues that we address in the series.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, that is some really interesting content for a lot of our viewers, because a lot of them are self-made, and have built their businesses, and their books, and a lot of sacrifices go into a building a business. That time away from family, time away from hobbies, and friends. Yeah, I think that’s fascinating content. Well, we’ll be sure to push that along to a lot of our advisors and friends of the firm. I know you’ve been working on it for a while, so looking forward to jumping in.

                                           How has the Coronavirus changed your outlook on your art? Or, how has it impacted your ability to produce art?

Dr. David Hende…:         Well for me, the production of art is, as I said, it’s a compulsion, and it’s a drive within me. I think it’s something that I would do whether I was making money from it or not. So that’s what I’m seeing with the COVID-19 situation, is that those who have a passion, those that have a drive for something that they truly believe in, this is not going to stop them. They will find a way, whether it’s over, under, or around this whole situation, to success because there’s an inherent drive embedded within them.

                                           So that’s my first challenge to those in the business world, because if you don’t know where that drive is coming from, if you don’t have a sense of what’s pushing you forward in life, then you’re going to flounder. The moment you come up, and butt up against a challenge, it’s going to take over, it’s going to destroy you. So the first thing you’ve got to do is figure out what your drive and your passion is.

                                           For me, as a professional, and as a physician, I take in a lot of people’s pain and suffering, and I have to be professional, and I don’t share much about myself in those appointments, in those meetings because the focus is on them. So this outlet of art, and producing the art, for me, is a true release, and I have to do it. I’ve found this way of creating art where I can speak of a message, but do so in somewhat of a hidden, masked kind of way. A lot of the pieces that I paint are very representative of stories that I’ve heard, and the stories that I could never disclose. But, I can put them out there in the art, know that I’ve expressed myself, and the person that’s observing it, the collector, gets a chance to put their own story into it and I can still maintain the anonymity of those stories that really have been the basis of that art. For me, it’s a driving force.

                                           Now, with COVID itself, I have just been fascinated by the reality of the fragility of the human mind. You know, we think of ourselves as such an advanced society, but when a virus like this takes over, we suddenly collapse, mentally and emotionally. In my artwork, even prior to COVID occurring, that was the theme of my work. If you notice in the pieces, there’s a lot of chaos in the lines, the paint is all over the place, but a lot of the characters in the art are wearing formal uniforms from the 17th and 18th Century. So it’s the outward display of formality and decorum that we try to present to the world, juxtapositioned with the internal chaos that we feel, a lot of times when we’re stressed, when we’re overwhelmed.

                                           With COVID, there’s two types of people that have really separated themselves, and drifted to separate poles. One is the group of individuals that are scared to death about safety, or the lack of safety in their lives. The most obvious is the fear of death, the fear of getting sick. So there’s this one group of people that are all about shutting everything down, saving lives, preventing this catastrophe from impacting people’s safety.

                                           The other group of individuals is on the other pole, and those are the individuals that are scared to death of losing control. They see the economy collapsing, and they see the people frantically scrambling to the grocery stores to get all sorts of supplies, and they’re wracking their brains trying to understand. Why are we limiting ourselves? Why am I being limited from being able to run my business, to do my job, and the things that I need to do?

                                           So you’ve got these two polar extremes, which are ultimately, now, warring against each other. I think if we can recognize that dichotomy, and put ourselves somewhere in that spectrum, we can gain a lot of insight about our own character, our own personality style, and what we need to do to stay safe and healthy, mentally and emotionally, during this very difficult time.

Ryan Morfin:                    No, that’s a good spectrum for people to start to think about, their actions as well as how they’re handling the stress of uncertainty.

                                           I love your artwork, we have some in our headquarters building. I tell people it’s where Freud meets Picasso, and I think it’s a great way to remain HIPAA compliant, but also tell some interesting stories through art, and some beautiful pieces. We’ll show some of those while you’re talking, through the rest of this interview.

                                           What’s the name of your website that people can go to, if they want to review your art?

Dr. David Hende…:         Sure. The art website is simply, and you can check out the website. If there’s a particular piece that speaks to someone, they can click on the inquire button, it’ll send me a message and we can set up a time to talk. Yeah, that’s been really exciting, to have the ability to interact with people on platform where a message is conveyed, but done so in a way that’s very sensitive, and still maintaining the confidentiality of my clients.

                                           Of course, obviously what I paint and what I do is also a reflection of me, and my own personal struggles and challenges, which have been many. But, I think the art has given me an opportunity and an outlet to be able to vent all of those things, and also keep me going in other areas of my life professionally. It’s been extremely rewarding.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, we’ll make sure we do a hyperlink and post that on our site so people, if they want to check it out, it’ll be right below the video and they can click through. We’ll make sure we send out a nice update for all the folks who’ve met you in our organization, I think they’d love to stay in touch.

                                           Well, I’d love to check your thoughts on the mental health impact to people. A great quote I heard recently is, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I want to hear about what you’re seeing in the mental health profession, about the impact to humans, we’re social animals. What’s happening out there? No one’s really talking about it, but the negative externalities of these pandemic shelter in place policies.

Dr. David Hende…:         Sure. Well, it’s been an extremely stressful time. What I’ve noticed, both in the professional world and the art world, is that a lot of the businesses that are considered non-essential have suffered tremendously. The entertainment world, the art world, the music industry are suffering drastically because they’re outlets, number one, for being to show and demonstrate what they do has been completely removed, number one. And number two, people aren’t buying art, people aren’t doing as much in terms of entertainment, and the food industry, and all these things. So people are shutting down, and there’s a tremendous fear about whether or not we can survive.

                                           But then, even if you take a step back to some of the essential businesses, there’s a ripple effect throughout. I just read a study recently that even physicians in private practice, their income has dropped by I think it was 60%, and there are many small private practice physicians that are having to close their doors.

                                           So this is impacting everyone, and I think the most challenging thing for people is one, the fear of loss of financial stability. And that lost of financial stability creates a sense of being trapped, of being unable to do the things that they’re passionate about, and ultimately provide for their family. So it goes all the way back to very core issues surrounding life. So when I work with clients, I try to address what are the four major existential crises that people tend to face. And when they come to a crossroad in life, or they face an ultimately challenge, these are the four issues that tend to crop up.

                                           One is a sense of isolation, that is that I’m the only one who’s experiencing this, no one else can understand my circumstances, and therefore no one else can help me through this. There are a lot of small business owners who are in that state of isolation, very fearful that there’s nowhere to turn for help. The truth is that there is, but that fear can overwhelm us and cloud that reality.

                                           Number two, the issue of meaninglessness. What’s the point? I’ve worked so hard to produce X, Y, or Z, and this Coronavirus is going to completely destroy that. What happens is that leads to a state of despair, which then impacts your ability to be creative, maneuverable, navigate around the challenges, and you end up shutting down mentally and emotionally, and you self-sabotage.

                                           Number three is the issue of freedom. Now, in the United States, we look at freedom as a right or a privilege, but the truth is that it’s a burden to an existentialist, because the more choices that you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to feel paralyzed in making that decision. Because it’s like, “What do I do, what do I choose? I don’t know.” If you only have two options at your disposal, it’s a little bit easier to decided. But, if you’ve got an infinite number of choices, then you have an infinite amount of responsibility.

                                           Then, once you’ve made a choice, there’s the potential for you to experience buyer’s regret. “Oh man, I’ve made this choice, and now there’s some challenges associated with it. What if I had done X, or Y, or Z, or something else?” You start feeling that regret.

                                           Then, the very last existential crisis is the issue we’ve got … We’ve got isolation, we’ve got meaninglessness, we’ve got freedom. And then, ultimately, death. Now, when I talk about death, I don’t necessarily mean physical death, but I mean some loss of our identity, something that has made us feel of value or significance, and when that is lost we feel this existential angst. A lot of people are losing a lot of things, and many of them are material in nature. Those who psychologically remain strong, and recognize their value and their worth as a person, as a human, will get through this trial and this crisis. It’s those that are seeing everything falling apart around them that get most overwhelmed.

                                           So when I’m talking to business professionals, and I talk to many in my private practice, I do a lot of corporate consulting, these are the four issues that are cropping up. And then, once we’ve identified those over-arching issues, we can start teasing out the specifics of them as they relate to the individual.

Ryan Morfin:                    So Dr., as we’re all watching the news in real time, and watching the way the media is handling this crisis, it’s making a lot of people worried. Whether they take it as a form of psychological warfare, being manipulated by misinformation that’s out there, or this obsessive compulsive nature of just wanting to be focused on the death toll.

                                           Could you talk a little bit about this frenzy, as you call it, and what it’s doing to our country’s mental psyche?

Dr. David Hende…:         Yeah, absolutely. I’ll liken it to a story that I heard, a while back.

                                           The truth is that this isn’t just psychological, this is physiological. A human brain, when it’s starving, starts to shut down it’s higher executive thinking first. So we’ve seen this in situations with shipwrecks, okay? Back in the early 1900s, there was a shipwreck, and there were a group of men that were on this life raft. Or, lifeboat, actually, a wooden boat. As time went on, the more they started to starve, their executive decision making parts of their brain began to shut down, and the deeper, more animalistic parts of the brain started to kick in.

                                           That’s when you see things like cannibalism start to take place, and people start doing things that they never imagined that they would do otherwise. Why? Because the drive to survive is so strong, and you can liken that to what is happening in our country now.We are under a tremendous amount of stress mentally and emotionally, and we are starting to see people’s executive reasoning skills start shutting down, and the fight or flight responses kicking up. People are starting to do things that you never would have imagined they would do.

                                           The problem is that the media becomes like the sharks, circling the boat. They’re just waiting for the blood, and they see it, and they sense it. The media today is not about reporting facts, people need to understand that. Yes, they do report facts, but the media as we see it today is about ratings, and about telling good stories. And man, is Coronavirus a great story to tell. If they can feed off of the emotions that we are experiencing as a society, they keep their ratings up, they keep their focus going for their mission in life. The problem is that we’ve got tons of people sitting in that life raft, slowly but surely deteriorating, as a result of some very real issues and problems, and we’ve got the media feeding into that fear, and creating absolute panic.

                                           [inaudible 00:22:55] pandemic of COVID-19, it’s absolutely something we should take seriously. But more seriously, we need to take this pandemic of fear, and recognize that the true heroes in society are going to be the ones that maintain a resolve that stay focused on the mission of their lives, and they stop letting the frantic nature of everything that’s happening around them rob them of the possibilities and the potential that they can see happen in their lives. So there is a tremendous opportunity to use these circumstances, and create power from these circumstances.

                                           The real question is going to be, who are the heroes that are going to use it for good, and use it for advancing our society, and our mission as a country, and as a nation. That’s what I’m excited to see.

Ryan Morfin:                    No, those are very heavy conversations, and very timely and relevant.

                                           One of the existential issues facing people who were depressed prior to that is that I see an acceleration, whether it’s business model collapsing, or people’s mental health collapsing, there’s a lot of suicides going on right now, astronomical numbers of people calling in for suicide prevention. The question for you is as a business owner, and as a leader in an organization, what can we do not only to keep our mental health resilient, but how do we also coach or build up our team so that they’ve also got a stronger mental toughness?

Dr. David Hende…:         Yeah, I think the one thing that people need to do during times like this is establish a firm foundation for why they’re doing what they’re doing. What I ask business professionals to do is think back, if you’re a business owner, what led you to start your company in the first place. What was the mission, what were you trying to accomplish? And reassess and evaluate that foundation, because if you were staring a business, you faced essentially all the challenges that you’re facing right now, maybe just in a different way, or different circumstances. But, you had a driving foundation that was pushing your forward. So you need to re-establish that, you need to get back to your base, to your roots.

                                           If your goal in life was to make a ton of money, that may not have been a sustainable foundation to begin with. But, if your goal was to produce a product or a service that changed and improved people’s lives in some way, shape, or form, you can still do that today. You may need to scale back a bit, but you can still accomplish that, as you deal with the trials of COVID-19.

                                           Number two, you have to fantasize about the redemptive possibilities that can come from the challenges that you’re facing. That word redemption, it sounds like a religious word but it’s actually an economic word. It’s the idea of taking something that is seemingly valueless and exchanging it for something of tremendous value. If I pull $100 bill out of my pocket and I hand it to you, you can essentially tear it up and throw it away because it’s just a piece of paper, there’s no inherent value in it. But, to exchange it for something of great worth, the government, the overarching powers that be have established a tradable, exchangeable value to that dollar.

                                           You have to do the same for your life, and for the obstacles. The obstacles, in and of themselves, may seem meaningless, and have no value. But, you’ve got to be creative in looking for, and fantasizing about the possible value that could come from this. What is the worst case scenario, and what could be the redemptive value?

                                           So, let’s say worse case scenario, your business goes under, you have to declare bankruptcy. You know how many successful people have had to declare bankruptcy? But, as a result of declaring bankruptcy, maybe it gives you the space and the opportunity to trigger another idea of something that you want to do or pursue, and it actually leads you in another direction, and what you produce as the result of that is 10X better than what you’re doing right now. The people that keep that mindset, and continue to keep believing in the redeem ability of the obstacles that they’re facing, those are the ones that succeed.

                                           Now, I can give you a personal example from my own life. While I was filming Psyched 31, I had hired a production company. What the production company had promised me fell far short, they were taking a tremendous amount of time, what the product that they were producing was not up to my standards, and I essentially had to fire them. Well, what ended up happening in that process was it turned into a legal battle, because they were claiming that they had some sort of rights to my intellectual property, so we got tied up in all these legality, and I couldn’t continue to keep filming.

                                           It was during that time that I met the producer for my art shows. He saw my artwork and he said, “We have to do something with this.” So while Psyched 31 was on hold, I did a ton of artwork. I did probably about 50 canvas works in the span of six months. It was that work that allowed me to produce my show, even make the connection with you guys at Wentworth. We put on the show, and the moment the show was over, everything in terms of the legal stuff with Psyched 31 cleared up, and we went back to filming.

                                           Had that not happened, I may never have realized the passion for the art side of things that I now have. That is the kind of stuff that can happen when you face challenges, and you continue to fantasize and dream about the possibilities that can come from those obstacles. That’s what you need to do during COVID-19. Scale back, get to your foundation, understand what it is that you really want to do, and do it in a smaller way. But then, fantasize about the opportunities that maybe can come as you circumvent these different obstacles, and you will survive, you will succeed.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, that’s great advice. We appreciate you sharing some of that insights. Would love to have people check out, and We own some artwork from the good doctor, and hope to buy some more, and hope our advisors check out his websites. And more importantly, check out Psyched 31, I think that’s something that lot of people never really think about is their mental health, and the resiliency. I think in times like this, Dr., I think what you’ve done is you’ve made on-demand content to really help people strengthen their mental resiliency, to thank you for doing that, and it couldn’t be more timely than today.

Dr. David Hende…:         It’s so true, Ryan. Let me just say this, okay? If COVID has done anything, it has done this. It has allowed people to check themselves, mentally and emotionally. We have lived for so long, I think, in a state of complacency, where it comes to taking care of our own mental health.

                                           You know what? Most of the clients that I’m seeing right now, COVID-19 has not phased them. Why? Because they’ve been dealing with stress, and anxiety, and depression long before COVID ever showed up. And they made the decision to get help, and to address their own mental and emotional issues, and they’re starting to look at the rest of society and realize, “I’m not so different than everybody else.”

                                           Everybody is struggling, everybody is dealing with the anxiety and stress of this situation, and it’s forcing people to take care of the one thing that is their ultimate asset in life. It’s not their physical health, it’s not the physical body, it’s the mind. That’s what controls everything, and if you get that in check, you can face pretty much anything in life.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, I think this great pause has forced a lot of people to re-evaluate, self-reflect, and spend more time with things that are really important, their families and their friends. I do think the great pause is going to have some really positive externalities, but yeah, I think people need to realize there’s a light at the end of tunnel, no matter how bad the economic situation gets.

                                           I guess, real quick I’d ask you just two final questions. One is what are some silver linings you’re seeing, about this crisis? And then, two, what books are you reading right now, or what articles have you read, that have really shaped some of your thinking over the last few months?

Dr. David Hende…:         Sure. Well, there’s a lot of silver linings. One is again, like I said, people are taking a step back, re-evaluating their focus. And then, they’re also recognizing they can survive with a lot less than what they imagined. When you face something that basically strips you down to your core, and your recognize you can survive it, it’s an incredible experience.

                                           I had a great uncle who was one of the guys that drove the PT boats up onto the beaches of Normandy, and everybody in his boat was killed, and he survived. Years, years later, my dad was at his birthday party, it was his 75th birthday party. Somebody asked him, “You’ve always been so calm, cool, and collected. Why is that?” He said, “Well, when you face death in life and survived it, you recognize that you can face anything.” So that’s one of the silver linings.

                                           The other silver lining is I’m seeing some business professionals being extremely creative in the way that they’re navigating in the business challenges, and revamping what they’re doing. It’s pretty exciting to see the innovation taking place, so that’s been really fun, to just be on the inside scoop of some of these new things coming down the pipeline in terms of business models.

                                           You know, as far as articles and things that I’ve been reading, I made a commitment to myself that I would try, over this year, to read books that were 30 years or older because they had withstood the test of time. One of the books that I’m reading is a book called Catch 22, and it’s a fascinating book. It’s a commentary on war, but a lot of the meaninglessness of so much of what we do, and so much of what we desire from life. And for me, it’s been a tremendous check for myself, and I’ve enjoyed that process.

                                           I love Dostoevsky, I love Hermann Hesse. I think in terms of some of these challenges of questioning our own existence and purpose for our lives, going back and reading some of these classic authors is absolutely essential. So I would strongly recommend that, to those of you who are watching this podcast, check out some of the oldies in terms of classic literature. You’ll realize we’re not facing anything new in society today, this has all been dealt with.

                                           One book in particular by Albert Camus, is the book called The Plague. You should check it out, it’s all about an entire city that was quarantined. It’s certainly inspiring to read, so check out some of those really, really good resources.

Ryan Morfin:                    Fantastic. We’ll put those on our website so people can check them out. Dr., thank you so much for doing the show. We hope to see you in October at your next showing, and we’ll definitely check out Thank you again.

Dr. David Hende…:         Absolutely.

Ryan Morfin:                    Thank you for watching NON-BETA ALPHA, and before we go please remember to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or our YouTube channel. This is NON-BETA ALPHA, now you know.

Speaker 3:                        All price references and market forecasts correspond to the date of this recording. This podcast should not be copied, distributed, published, or reproduced in whole or in part. The information contained in this podcast does not constitute research or recommendation from NON-BETA ALPA Inc., Wentworth Management Services, LLC, or any of their affiliates to the listener. Neither NON-BETA ALPA Inc., Wentworth Management Services, LLC, nor any of their affiliates make any representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the statements, or any information contained in this podcast, and any liability therefore, including in respect of direct, indirect, or consequential loss or damage is expressly disclaimed.

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Ryan Morfin: Welcome to Non-Beta Alpha. I'm Ryan Morfin. On today's episode, we have Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, talking to us about the supply chain glut in rare earth minerals. This is Non-Beta Alpha.

Ryan MorfinPini, Welcome to the show. Thank you for coming on today.

Pini AlthausThank you for having me, Ryan. Good to be here.

Ryan Morfin: So you're an investor and a miner in rare earth minerals. Can you share with our listener base, what are rare earth minerals? Why are they important and why is there a geopolitical race going on globally?

Pini AlthausYeah, I mean, rare earths are an extremely ubiquitous part of all advanced manufacturing or technology manufacturing today's day and age. Several years ago, I had not heard too much about rare earths myself. I was not that familiar with it and being involved in this sector, in this company, for the past few years has given me an education of course. And I mean, I was sad to hear that 50% of all imports into the United States contain are earth elements and it runs the gamut from consumer electronic devices that we use every day. Our cell phones, our laptops, most communication devices, medical equipment. So there's a tie with COVID, which we can touch on at your discretion. Electric vehicles, defense equipment. So pretty much anything or everything high tech today has a rare earth element or critical minerals contained within them.

Ryan MorfinAnd what are some of the names of some of the more important rare earth? I know there's lithium for batteries, but what else is considered in this category, critical?

Pini Althaus: Yeah, so lithium is a separate category to battery material. The rare earths are 17 rare earths. The four, let's call it, key rare earths that we're focused on at our company, the four rare earths that go into the permanent magnets. And these are the magnets that are found, there are a number of them in your back of your cell phone or an iPad. But if you look at an F35 striker jet, you've got about a ton of rare earth magnets in those. And we've got two heavy rare earths and two light rare earths is part of the permanent magnets. You've got dysprosium, ytterbium are the heavies, and then you've got neodymium, praseodymium as the two light rare earths. So those would be key rare earths that are the focus.

Ryan MorfinAnd you use these in, I guess, in military applications as well, but historically, where has the United States sourced the rare earth for supply chain?

Pini AlthausYeah. And that's the shocking part. We've been securing those materials from China. So China controls the rare earth sector and has done so for the past 30 years or so. And it was a significant misstep on the part of the United States, allowing China to have this control. And actually this wasn't a question of China coming in and doing anything nefarious as far as stealing IP or anything. The US government made a conscious decision about 30 years ago to allow China to come to the United States and acquire the processing capabilities for rare earths. So just as part of some background, you've got the rare earth materials containing various mining projects, but once you extract them, you have to then process them and they go through certain phases before they get to the magnet phase. And China, the thought process was let China do the mining, let China do the processing.

Pini AlthausWe don't need to do that here. And we'll buy the materials from China cheaply and the premier of China at the time, Deng Xiaoping made the comment, he said, "The Middle East has oil. China has rare earths." And unfortunately we weren't smart enough to understand what he was saying. And the Chinese understood that the future of manufacturing is going to revolve around control of the rare earth and critical mineral supply chain. So if you think about it today, Ryan, we cannot build... Forget about consumer electronics and medical equipment. We cannot build the equipment that the US Pentagon or the US armed forces require, whether it's F35 fighter jet, Tomahawk cruise missile, communications equipment, without going to China and obtaining those materials. And it's obvious to all that this should be extremely alarming. We've seen China use this as a weapon, if you will, as far as how it interacts with other countries back in 2010, when there was a dispute between China and Japan on the East China Sea.

Pini AlthausSo China cut off rare earth exports from Japan for 40 days. Japan obviously being a significant user of rare earth elements for their high-tech manufacturing sector, that was stopped after 40 days. But in fact, it was President Obama that first made the United States aware of this, formed a division within the Department of Defense to handle this issue, but not much has happened. And we continue to be relying on China for these materials. And what has been made about trade war with China and whether the trade war is really the impetus for China withholding rare earth exports. And that is a huge misnomer. Whilst China had been talking or implying that they would cut off rare earth exports, the truth of the matter is that China, under it's made in China, 2025 mandate, its belt and road initiatives and others. And you seem to control the critical minerals and rare earth supply chain so that it can continue its dominance as a manufacturer or a global supplier of these materials and finished products.

Pini Althaus: It's the backbone of its economy. And in fact, China has become a net importer of rare earths from different countries like Miramar and others. So with that, they are decreasing the exports to countries like the United States, Japan and others.

Ryan Morfin: And was it ever a risk that the Chinese were going to turn off the exports of rare earth to the US during the trade war? How close were we to that? And was that ever some saber rattling that went down during trade negotiations?

Pini AlthausYeah, I think it was saber rattling. I think it would be paramount to an act of war. I can't say with any authority that that would not happen, but it would be probably, aside from war itself, it would be one of the most significant acts of war cutting the United States off from the ability to procure rare earths. But that being said, I mean, if you look at, as an analogy, the oil and gas sector and the reliance of the United States had for many, many years on OPEC countries to supply us with the oil. And we had embargoes and we had price manipulation by OPEC. This is far more significant given the ubiquity of where these rare earths go. And yes, we're always under the threat that China can cut off exports under the guise of a trade war or for any other nefarious reasons.

Pini AlthausBut I think even more importantly, to just as the natural run of the course of things with regards to their business and their desire to maintain themselves as the global leader in manufacturing and exporting of goods, China is in a position now where it actually requires these materials for their own domestic consumption and can legitimately cut off rare earth exports by stating that they need it for manufacturing and that would actually be somewhat correct. So we're in an extremely dangerous position here with this reliance on China. And it wouldn't just be China. If it was another country, it would be similar issues, not to the same extent, but reliance on one country for these materials is dangerous.

Ryan Morfin: And it's been mentioned in the past that in 2010, China flooded the market to really kill all the competitors in the rare earth mining industry. Where was the World Trade Organization during this period? And how did that play out and how does that set the chess board for China to run the tables?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. So the WTO stepped in when China cut off rare earth exports from Japan, I think it lasted for about 40 days because the US and Japan protested the WTO, and they stepped in and China resumed exports. While I'm not an expert on these trade matters, one thing that I am aware of is that one of the reasons why China had to resume the export of rare earths was it did not legitimately need all the rare earths for domestic consumption. So therefore it was a nefarious act, if you will, to cut off rare earth exports. Now that has changed, which means China have to cut off rare earth exports today, they have a legitimate case to say that they require these materials. There's a shortage of these materials and they require them for their own domestic purposes. It is the backbone of their economy and there's very little we could do about this today, which is why it's becoming an even more urgent issue.

Ryan Morfin:

And the US government started stockpiling some of these after that incident. Can you talk a little bit about what DOD and DOE has done to start making sure that there's not a critical supply shortage going forward, and is it enough?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, again, there is a national defense stock pile, and there are materials still that the United States needs to procure in order to shore up its stockpile. There are magnets, the finished magnet products as well, the United States government needs to stockpile. Again, there's a limited amount that the United States government has. It requires approval from Congress, whether it's in the NDAA or other approvals from Congress, to allocate monies for the national defense stock pile of these materials. That being said, there's no endless supply of these materials. And unfortunately, the apparatus, the way it's set up right now with the US government, it's going to continue to require having a secure supply chain of those materials for many, many years to come. So it's not a question of stockpiling for 10 or 20 years, and then this complacency and saying, we'll kick the can down the road. But keep in mind as well, Ryan, that US government accounts for low single digits of overall rare earth imports into the United States.

Pini Althaus:

We're talking about defense contractors, we're talking about the manufacturing sector. The direct impact this has on the economy, jobs, the automotive sector, and others is significant. So it's not just limited to the United States government. If you look at over the past couple of weeks, the sanctions that China have put on Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, et cetera. I mean, the question is where are they going to get those materials? And if we go beyond that, you need rare earths for the 5G network. Now that Huawei has been banned from installing the network, not only in the US but other countries, we have to have the ability to get a secure supply of these materials as well. Which currently, again, trying to control the hundred percent. So it runs across the board, both for government, defense and manufacturing in this country.

Ryan Morfin:

Well, and so help me paint a picture for our audience. Does China have all the mines for rare earth, or they're the only ones who started mining it? Or are their mines globally dispersed and nobody's been doing the actual infrastructure to do the mining?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. So finding rare earth projects or rare earth elements is not the difficult part. It's finding them in significant quantities that makes a project economically viable. And part of that consideration are the environmental rigors that companies in the West have to adhere to. And China, even by their own admission, have had a complete disregard for mining these materials and even for processing these materials. And in fact, just the last week or so, the BBC did an expose on this, 60 Minutes has done an expose on this. But the Chinese have not denied this and have talked about cleaning up their act, but it has an effect on the bottom line for what the costs of mining and processing are if you have no environmental standards to adhere to. So China have exploited those rare earth projects they have, primarily in inner Mongolia, and have brought a number of projects online and quite quickly, and in a significant way, with a complete disregard for the environment.

Pini Althaus:

So it was seen as an environmental no-no in the West for many years. Now, what's happened over the past few years is you're starting to see rare earth projects in different parts of the world sprout up. You've got the Mountain World project in Australia owned by Linus, which is a producer of Nd and Pr, neodymium and praseodymium. So two of the light rare earths. They may have some heavy rare earths coming online at some point in time. And you've got Arafura, which is another company in Australia that we're working with to assist them with their processing so they don't have to send the materials to China for processing. But really these are a drop in the bucket for what the requirements are for the United States. And certainly what the requirements are for allied countries, the EU, et cetera. So there is a race, if you will, worldwide to start bringing projects online. The Chinese are very active in trying to secure assets outside of China.

Pini Althaus:

So in Africa. They have ownership of a project in Greenland. So there is somewhat of a race. The Australian government has stepped in and has started limiting the ability for China to own, or have ownership in, or off takes for the Australian rare earth projects. And that's part of the strategic Alliance between Australia and the US. Canada, similar thing as well. There are a number of projects that are looking to come alive, but these projects are, for the most part, will take many, many years to come online. We have to expedite the process. We have to assist with a [inaudible 00:14:41] supply chain and the domestic rare earth sector, because previously investors have been scared off by things like China flooding the market, which is not a possibility at this point in time, given that China can't actually afford to flood the market. They are already very heavily subsidizing their mine to magnet supply chain there.

Pini Althaus:

This is more now a case of being able to get production from non-Chinese sources so that the United States and allies have a viable, secure supply chain of these materials. And it's a concern worldwide. We speak to governments all over the world, and we're all facing the same issue. Some more than others, especially countries like Japan, that don't have their own rare earth projects there and are reliant on Australia where they've made some investments there. And in the United States, they've made an investment recently in Africa. So there is this race, if you will. And I think we've got a five-year window here to at least stand up a few projects worldwide. Otherwise we've lost this race and we will be dependent on China for many, many years to come. And Ryan, it's a bit of a hypocrisy. If you look at it where you've got materials going through clean, green energy applications, like electric vehicles, wind turbines, et cetera.

Pini Althaus:

That we're sourcing these materials from China, where they've, again by their own admission, has been complete environmental devastation to water bodies around these mines and processing facilities, to the communities. People have been getting sick around these projects yet we're putting these materials into our electric vehicles or wind turbines. It makes no sense at all. And people are starting to wake up to this. And that's why the sector is starting to see a lot of support come out of Congress and bi-partisan support. And in fact, it's one of the only bi-partisan issues right now in Washington. And it's good to see that some things decided to move in the right direction.

Ryan Morfin:

And is there a special process? You talk about the expense, is it really difficult to mine these? You have to go through a special chemical process to extract and clean and purify. Is it a lot harder than, say, gold or silver or some of the other, we'll call, more traditional elements?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. It's all about the processing to some extent. So if you look at MP Materials in California, which used to be Molycorp before they went through their bankruptcy. They are a miner of Cerium and Lanthanum, which are two of the light rare earths, the lower valued light rare earths. Given that they do not currently have processing technology, they are sending those materials to China for processing where China is tariffing those heavily. Linus is also, they're doing their processing work in Malaysia and elsewhere. So it's really about the processing at this stage. One of the things that we've done, after we put out our PDA last year with our upgraded resource, which now includes a significant amount of lithium. We make a decision that, based on the test work that we had done around our processing methodology, that we were not going to send our materials to China. That it's paramount for us to do this work in the United States and in a collaborative effort as well.

Pini Althaus:

We've been asked by some of our investors, "Well, why would you be looking to help other projects with their processing?" And the answer is simple. There's no one project or one company that's going to put China out of business or make a dent, or somehow be able to take care of the overall demand worldwide for rare earths and critical minerals. And it's very important for us to have processing capability in the West. So that was the impetus for us opening up our own rare earth and critical minerals processing facility earlier this year, which we did in Wheatridge, Colorado. And in fact, we've made some significant progress on the method that we're using for this. And we're starting to collaborate with Australian companies, Canadian companies. We're currently talking to a group over in Europe as well, because this has to be a collaborative effort.

Ryan Morfin:

How does Europe solve for these problems? Do they have this better under control than the US?

Pini Althaus:

No, they're in a far worse position than we are. The EU commission recently put out a report, I think, a couple of months ago that the requirement for rare earths is going to increase tenfold within a short period of time. Lithium 18 times. They don't really have rare earth projects. Again, there are the Greenland projects, which people have heard in the news recently. Those need to further development work so they don't have rare earth projects ready to come online there. There are a couple of lithium projects that are spread around Europe, but for the most part, Europe is in an even more precarious position. If you look at Germany with the auto manufacturers, you look at the big companies like ThyssenKrupp and others, all these countries and companies are looking for alternatives to China, because we've already seen in the news about China withholding or reducing exports of some of these rare earths that are required for these industries.

Ryan Morfin:

And you mentioned earlier the regulatory posture of the US makes it difficult to mine. Is it becoming a more bi-partisan issue that we need to maybe relax some regulation around the mining exercise, to incentivize private sector to come in and start producing this? Or is the Republican party versus the Democratic party on two separate pages of music?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. Good question, Ryan. I mean traditionally the Republican party is obviously being more pro-mining and in favor of less regulation when it comes to these things. With regards to our project, we're on Texas state land. So we don't trigger federal environmental permitting at this point in time. And obviously Texas being Texas, a mining state and oil and gas state, things are a lot easier in Texas than they are on projects on federal land where the Bureau of Land Management controls the environmental process around that. But the thing is here, and I don't want to step into what other companies are doing, et cetera, but we do need to be reasonable about allowing projects to come online if they're adhering to environmental standards that are acceptable worldwide. And what we do know, is that China is destroying the environment and cities and water bodies around their mines and processing facilities.

Pini Althaus:

We have standards here in the United States, and I think what we need to do is make it easier for companies to mine, while at the same time protecting the environment. And there are ways to do that. And we're definitely seeing buy-in from Congress, from both sides, with regards to looking how we can stand up a secure supply chain. And, obviously under the Obama administration, they had very strict regulations when it comes to mining. And that's changed under the Trump administration. Hopefully what we start to see is some normal middle ground that'll allow other projects to come online.

Ryan Morfin:

And typically in these rare earth mines, is it amalgamation of different minerals that are all consolidated together and you have to separate them out? Or do you ever find pure play, Europium, I can't even pronounce some of these. Gadolinium, Cerium. I mean, are they all mixed together and you've got to filter and sift them through, or are they pure play mines?

Pini Althaus:

No, they're generally they have a mix. So they're polymetallic projects. They have a number of different materials. Some projects, you more to what we call the light rare earths like MP in California or Linus in Australia. Our project is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum. We have a very high concentration of heavy rare earths. That being said, we do have to go through a process of separating these materials. But the case of our project where we've got 30 materials. We're not going to produce 30 materials. We're not going to market 30 materials. So what we're doing is we're focusing on the key materials that are marketable, that we need for permanent magnets, lithium as well, and working on the separation and the optimization of those materials in particular. But we're all faced with the same processing challenges and that is something that can't be set.

Pini Althaus:

There's no easy way to do this. There are different technologies that have been used in different parts of the world. So predominantly there's a process called solvent extraction, but it's big, it's bulky, it's not benign. It's a bespoke solution for one particular project. So it doesn't work for feedstock from other projects. What we've done is we're using a processing technology that's actually been around since the 1940s. It was part of the Manhattan Project. It's called continuous ion exchange. In fact, the Chinese use it to increase the purities from 99.99 to four nines, five nines, and even six nines. So for some applications you require higher purity levels. It's a far easier processing method to scale up and to take feedstock from other projects. In fact, we've demonstrated for the Department of Energy that we can take coal waste from Pennsylvania and do high purity separation of rare earths using our processing methods. So it's not a step that can be skipped unless one needs to send it to China for processing, which is not going to help us with our objectives here.

Ryan Morfin:

How many other, we'll call it, going concerns on any other businesses that are doing this, that are trying to, I guess, start the development of these mines. Are you guys one of a few or are you one of many? And is it an international or just a US game? Who's leading the charge at going after this?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, well, I'd say the Australians are leading it outside of China right now. You've got some really good projects in Australia. Again, more skewed toward the light rare earths. There's one more heavy rare earth project in Australia, which is not yet producing. The United States, you've got MP Materials, you've got Ucore in Alaska, you've got the Bear Lodge project in Wyoming, which is also another light rare earth project. So as far as a heavy rare earth project that looks like it will come online in the near term, that would be our project. In Canada there are a couple of projects there as well, and again, more skewed toward the light rare earths. But we really need to get as many of these projects online as possible. Because again, I don't see it as competition. We all have a problem doing supply agreements or offtake agreements for our materials.

Pini Althaus:

In fact, one of the things that we're going to have to consider is looking at potentially scaling up our production, based on the demand that we're already starting to see. And I think other companies would find that as well. So it's all about the economics of the project. You have projects that were economically viable back in 2012 or rare earth prices with 35% or so higher than they are today, and are not necessarily viable today. So that's the challenge as well, economically viable projects. And we've got to get as many of them online as possible. It takes many, many years. I mean, our project has had over $70 million put into it to get to where we are today, and we're close to getting to the production scenario. It all revolves around processing at this point in time.

Pini Althaus:

We'd be very happy to see another couple of projects come online, because this is extremely important for national security and for the economy as well. I mean, if you think about it, Ryan, if you've got a billion dollars of rare earth materials, that translates into a trillion dollars or I should say trillions of dollars of finished product. So you've got a magnet in your phone there that's worth a couple of dollars and the cell phone's a thousand dollars. And electric vehicles and defense applications even more.

Ryan Morfin:

Yeah, everyone has one of these iPhones now, and there's tremendous amounts of rare earth on the circuit boards here. And I think people take it for granted that that supply chain is not secure right now. So one question for you, there's talk of this maybe medium term to longterm, but there's talk about mining in space. Do you think that's a feasible option in the longterm, medium term? What are your thoughts on that?

Pini Althaus:

No, that's just ridiculous. I mean, we're trying to find ways to make mining on earth economically viable. I think the cost of going up to space would be more than what our capex will be bringing our entire project into production. I mean, we've got about a 350 to $400 million capex to bring 130 year mine life into production. I'm not an aerospace expert, but I think sending a rocket, building a rocket ship and sending it up, I think maybe on the fuel alone, you could bring a couple of projects into production. So unless we have a fortunate situation or an asteroid lands on earth, and fortunate if it lands somewhere where we don't care, I don't see how that happens. And if it's big enough, it's a problem as well. It's nonsense. And even, options aside of the deep sea mining for rare earths, I mean, you've got all sorts of environmental issues around that as well. I think we need to look at projects that we can bring online, that can be done so in an economic way, that can be done so in an environmentally responsible way.

Pini Althaus:

I mean, one of the things that we've done at our project is we've got in excess of 60% of the materials that have come out around top, will have a clean green energy applicability to them. So we're using the benign processing method. We're going to be using renewable energy on site. In fact, we will likely be putting a solar farm on site as well. We've talked to a couple of companies that have approached us about that, and we'll be a net producer of power for the surrounding area. So there are ways to do it which don't affect the environment. Obviously if there's a project that's situated on a sensitive area, that's a unique situation for that specific project. We've seen it with the Pebble project, which is not a rare earth project. The Pebble project in Alaska where their environmental concerns is we've been recognized by both Republicans and Democrats, but we have to be reasonable about the projects that don't have environmental concerns.

Ryan Morfin:

So Pini, in season two, we ask all of our guests a series of six questions. They're usually, yes, no questions, but trying to take a survey of our conversations. And if you want to add a little context to the yes or no, feel free, but here goes the first question. If there was a COVID vaccine available today, would you take it?

Pini Althaus:


Ryan Morfin:

Who do you think is going to win the election?

Pini Althaus:

Which election?

Ryan Morfin:

The US election.

Pini Althaus:

Well, I think it looks like Joe Biden's going to win it, but I think what happens, if we go past January six from my understanding is that the house will vote on it and it's one vote per state. But I don't know if I see it getting there at this point in time. I really don't have a crystal ball.

Ryan Morfin:

Third question. What type of economic recovery are we in? What type of shape is it taking? A V-shape, W, U, L?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, I think 2021 is going to be challenging. I think we've been, and rightly so. I mean, we've had no choice as of almost every other country. We've been printing money for the past year because of COVID. And I think we've got to brace ourselves that, at some point in time, the chickens come home to roost. It was a necessary step. People needed it on an individual level. Businesses needed it as well, but I think we've got to do whatever we can to stimulate the economy, give people confidence to go out and work again, employ people. So I think we've got to watch ourselves, especially in 2021. And I have some concerns, but long-term, I think the approach in the United States is a healthy one.

Ryan Morfin:

During lockdown this summer and quarantine, was there anything in particular that you accomplished that you're particularly proud of?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. A great amount of family time, which, if you would've asked me a few years ago if I could sit at home and be at home for six months, I would have told you absolutely not. I wouldn't be able to do it for six days, but it has... I'm sure it's done this with a lot of families as well. It's brought families together. We had a baby actually last year on Thanksgiving. So I was doing a lot of travel at the time and thought I wouldn't get to see my daughter in her first year or couple of years too often. And being home with her every day is actually been just the most amazing experience. So thankful at least for some silver lining in COVID.

Ryan Morfin:

Are there any silver linings that you see in the economy going into 2021?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, I think we've gone through an absolute beating and it looks like we've got the ability to come out of it. And I think that's a testament to how strong the economy was built up in the years preceding COVID. So overall I remain an optimist. I mean, we are a country built on opportunity and going out and making it happen. And we're not a socialist country sitting and waiting for people to send us paychecks or wealth distribution or anything like that. I think the American dream still lives on. I think if you go out and you're willing to work and put your head to it and heart in it, I think we do have the ability to climb out of it. So if we look at what the economy is doing over the past few weeks, it looks like it's starting to rebound. And to me, that's assuring because it could go completely one way as well.

Ryan Morfin:

And the last question is, is there anything that you're watching, or listening to, or reading today that has been impactful on your thinking that you'd like to share with our audience?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, that's a good question. I think it's been more personal stories. The news, I sort of take that in context or with more than a grain of salt. In some cases stay off the news channels for a number of days at a time, it became quite repetitive. But I think on the personal side, talking to friends, my family's all back home in Australia, they've just come out of 110 day lockdown, which we can't relate to that. It's been very trying on them and seeing the fortitude that they've had to come out of that and stay intact. I think the mental health issues that will come out of COVID are going to have a far longer effect than the economic issues. I think we're going to have to focus on mental health issues in this country for a long time to come.

Pini Althaus:

The impact on kids has been significant with regards to lockdown or remote schooling, et cetera. But to see people come through it. I think it's a testament to people in general and to the country and other countries as well, to see got that fortitude and survival instinct to try to get through whatever adversity we can. So hearing the personal stories, the challenges that people have gone through, I think it's made me a lot more aware of things that I have to be thankful for and where we can help out other people as well. I think we have to be united going forward because there are things...

Pini Althaus:

I think one of the things that COVID has shown us is we can get into this complacency and life goes on and we go one day to the next. And all of a sudden we get hit by something that affects everybody equally. I mean, COVID, whilst there were groups of people, whether it was the elderly or people with underlying health conditions, that got hit the worst. I mean, we all got hit in some form or another. So really, this should be something that unites us, not divides us.

Ryan Morfin:

Well, Pini, I appreciate you coming on today to talk to us a little bit about the supply chain crimp on rare earth and we'll definitely keep an eye on it and would love to have you back in the future.

Pini Althaus:

Thank you, Ryan. Thanks for having me.

Ryan Morfin:

Absolutely. Thank you. Bye-bye. Thanks for watching Non-Beta Alpha. And before we go, please remember to like, and subscribe on Apple podcasts and our YouTube channel. This is Non-Beta Alpha, and now you know.


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