One of my most satisfying accomplishments lately was participating in a department meeting yesterday where we were able to spend half an hour discussing mental health. I wanted to pause and reflect on the journey to make that happen.
As I have written about before, the last year and a half has been significant in my own mental health journey. As I returned back to to work full-time at the beginning of this summer, following intensive treatment for my OCD, I found myself having many conversations around mental health. At the beginning of September, I sent the following email to my manager and our CIO:
As I have been more open with my mental health struggles, I have had a number of interesting conversations with people in IT about OCD and other mental health challenges. I wanted to suggest to you that we do something of an overview of mental health and related issues for all of IT. It would be great for people to know about some of the more common disorders and challenges, and what they mean, and how to support people who are working with those. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about things like bipolar, or OCD, or even ADD/ADHD.
I’m not trying to tell you what needs to be done, or how to do it, but I wanted to share the suggestion and see what you think. Thanks.
This email prompted a series of meetings, which resulted in my collaborating with our company wellness leader at O.C. Tanner, along with our newly-on-site behavioral therapist. In our September monthly IT meeting, we shared a primer on mental health and gave a teaser for a longer segment we planned the next month. Because I had initiated the conversations, I was invited to come up to the front of the room, but we ran out of time for me to say anything. A couple people commented after the meeting that they appreciated me being up there as the mental health mascot for IT.
As we prepared for the October meeting, we discovered that we had given our therapist the wrong date, and she had a conflict. So our wellness leader and I planned to take a few minutes to share our individual stories around mental health, and again provide a teaser for more to come in November. Ironically, we ran out of time for me to share again, so reprised my role as the IT mental health mascot.
Finally, in our November meeting, everything aligned. We were able to take half of the hour-long meeting with all of IT. I shared a short version of my story with mental health, and the bulk of the time was our behavioral therapist sharing about mental wellness. The content appeared to be extremely well received. You could have heard a pin drop while our therapist was sharing. After the meeting, I received messages from a number of people expressing gratitude for us making this subject more prominent and accessible.
One of the best side effects of this process for me has been the relationships that I have developed by being open. I have become close friends with our wellness leader, as well as our behavior therapist and have enjoyed working closely with them. The kinds of conversations that occur in the context of mental health lead to much deeper connections with people than most topics. So as I talk with people, I become close to them in a remarkably short time.
I have learned that all of us are affected by mental illnesses, whether directly or indirectly. The more we can do to increase awareness and decrease stigma around mental health, the more people will be able to get the help that they need.