Dear Manager: Mental Health @ Work

On May 14, 2019, Britta spoke on a panel to discuss mental health in modern workplaces— including the unique pressures of the creative industry, and the rising rates of emotional and psychological disorders. The talk was part of the Dear Manager campaign from Made of Millions organization, and Britta was one of an impressive group.

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All of the panelists introduced themselves by opening up about their own mental health challenges—from anxiety disorders, to OCD, to depression. As someone who knows Britta well, and knows her to be honest about such subjects, it was still incredibly powerful to hear her speak so honestly in front of a crowd. This gesture of visibility is one step towards normalizing a topic that is highly stigmatized, despite awareness and education efforts worldwide.

For me, there were a few main takeaways:

>>>Change often happens from the bottom up. While organizations and executive leadership can be slow to change, managers have power (and a responsibility) to support their direct reports—by creating space for honesty, adjusting work styles/habits/processes accordingly. This is a key message of the Dear Manager Campaign.

Britta agreed with that idea, and noted that sometimes a small change can make a big difference (like adjusting work hours or time offsite). But, she also added that some managers are realistically going to be more supportive than others, and peers can be allies to one another—employee to employee, manager to manager, executive to executive.

>>> Often, there are national and corporate resources available, but people don’t take advantage, largely due to stigma and fear of judgement.

After the talk, Britta and I reflected on this further. Mental Health is the main reason we advocate for Wellness Programs in the workplace. There’s a reason ‘wellness’ is trending—and an understanding that it encompasses all kinds of health (physical health, mental health, emotional health, relationship health, spiritual health, etc.) Practices like meditation, yoga, breath work, become more mainstreamed and accessible, and can be an entry point into important mental self care.

>> Unlike some other factors that put people at risk or disadvantage (race, gender, many physical disabilities), mental health is often invisible and potentially less discussed. The panelists discussed how invisibility can contribute to stigma.

This conversation was thought-provoking. I’ve been reflecting on privilege and intersectionality since we began developing our own Sexual Harassment Training Program. In the early stages, we found it impossible (and irresponsible) to teach about gender discrimination without also addressing other protected classes like race, religion, ethnicity, disability, age (there are over 20 protected classes in NYC). We quickly expanded it to Workplace Harassment, and made it a goal to make the mandatory content as relatable as possible. While Mental Disability is a protected class under civil rights laws, many who endure emotional disorders wouldn’t consider themselves disabled, even if they suffer from lack of accommodation or bias. I hope we can find ways to create space and raise awareness, formally and informally, in our practice.

Thank you so much to Aaron Harvey, Made of Millions, the co-hosts, and panelists for including us in this event.

Resources:
madeofmillions.com
intrusivethoughts.org 

Articles:
HOW TO 'COME OUT' AS AN EMPLOYEE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS - AdAge May 16, 2019
4A’s AND MADE OF MILLIONS CALL ON AGENCY EMPLOYEES TO START CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH - Adweek May 3, 2019

Download:
BEAUTIFUL BRAINS - A mental health manual for the modern workplace.
Beautiful Brains is a six-step program that helps modern businesses implement progressive mental health policies. It covers everything from stigmatizing language and employee accommodations, to confidentiality plans and cultural initiatives.