Mental Health in the workplace

I got one of the best compliments Yesterday. Someone I worked with previously is interested in starting discussions around mental health at their new workplace because of how much it helped them when we worked together.

I mentioned a bit of what happened (most of this was not done by me, I was just one small part of the events that happened) and I thought it might be helpful to share here.

It first started with someone saying that during one of the company meetups they would have a 1h thing where people can just come and chat about mental health in a random room. There were a few people who showed up. We decided to create a private slack channel where people could just talk openly about mental health. Word of mouth started spreading, especially among people who were like “Well, it’s not really _that_ bad, I don’t have a diagnosis, etc etc”. We welcomed them all.

I (and I’m sure many others) had follow up conversations with folks who were mentioning going thru rough patches. Since I was quite open about it, often mentioning in the #watercooler channel if I was feeling depressed or anxious and taking a break, lots of folks send me DMs just asking me about it and just wanting to chat. Sometimes it was about them, sometimes about a loved one.

I’d ask them all if they wanted to join and convinced them that even if it “wasn’t that bad” they should join. At another team meetup I did a lunch thing where folks could come and eat lunch one day with others and chat about mental health (or just listen).

It was just to see others who were also working thru things. You didn’t need to talk or anything, you could just listen. I did a bit of an intro of why I think it’s important and some of the things I struggle with, a few other people spoke, some didn’t (but they often would send me a private message saying thanks later).

When I left, it’s one of the things people told me they appreciated the most. To have someone who they saw as senior and a leader talk about this. It made them feel like it was “okay” to feel that way sometimes.

I’ve started doing talks in workplaces about this as well, if you (dear reader) think it could be useful for your workplace, I’m always happy to give a talk. I don’t charge anything but I ask that the organization make a donation to Kids Help Phone. For some organizations, donations aren’t possible so I send an invoice and make the donation myself.

I’ve done this talk in workplaces and at conferences such as Confoo and the feedback has always been very positive:

“6/5 Sensitive topic explained simply and with humour”

“Great personal touch”

“Good energy, interesting perspective and personal anecdotes”

“Very good talk. Honest, straighforward, helpful.”

“Important topic presented in a funny manner”

Confoo 2016 feedback

Stéphane’s candid testimonial on mental health issues was truly engaging. With his great sense of humour and genuine presence, Stéphane puts his audience at ease, making participants receptive and open to tackle what can sometimes be a heavy topic. Having “just a regular guy” come in to share his knowledge of mental health, sprinkled with personal anecdotes, made us feel like we were having a conversion with an old friend. We learned lots of great tips and tricks to prevent or deal and were inspired to talk about mental health more openly.

Great talk, Stéphane, thank you!”

Gabrielle Michaud,
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada / Government of Canada

If you or anyone you know wants to chat about mental health, I’m always happy to listen.
Spoiler alert, I’m not a professional and will probably recommend you talk to someone a bit more qualified.

On Accepting The Good Things in Your Life

I’m struggled with whether or not I should of titled this “On Accepting Privilege” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privilege_(social_inequality) ) But I want to make a distinction between the good things happening in your life which while they may of been influenced by the privilege the groups or classification you belong to are more individually centered. You can read more about the social privileges on the wikipedia link and I hope to have a blog post about it later on.

There have been a lot of good things happening in my life recently. For one I’m content / happy and have been for several weeks in a row now. This may seem like a small thing but for someone who struggles with depression and anxiety this is actually the most important things. Sometimes I catch myself just smiling and being at peace and I wonder if this is how people always feel like. Smiling, because life.

I’ve got a new job, which althought I’ve just started and have tinges of the Imposter syndrome ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imposter_syndrome ) at times ( From what I’ve able to deduce, the type of employee that is targetted, the humble-ish, hard working always striving to be better, never content with the status quo is prone to this type of thinking) I really love. I have been so lucky to meet some wonderful co-workers in San Fransisco this week as well. I’m really excited to start working on team VIP. I really feel like from what I hear the hi-pressure big clients hi-stakes work will be for me. Most people who know me know how much I thrive under the big pressure deadlines and how I love to be the calm in the middle of the storm. (Which often then boggles people when I tell then I have generalized anxiety, they don’t understand how I can do high pressure so well [but that’s for another post])

There are so many good things happening in my life, I have a great stable well paying job.  Something which has not always been the case (I’ve lived with income at or just below the poverty line for a few years). My anxiety and depression is in check. My migraines are more or less in check. And yet when I talked to my Doc, I talked about how I didn’t feel I deserved all this good things, I had trouble accepting them. I had trouble accepting that I shouldn’T have more hardship because if not then life overall wouldn’t be fair. There is so much inequality in the world. I have so many great things going on. Often when I get in a bad place I’ll start talking about how I have running water and that’s not fair. I’ve never really done anything incredibly special to deserve running water anymore than the ~1 billion who still don’t have clean water.

The problem with that type of thinking is that It’s not going to help others get access to clean water or it’s not going to help fix any of the current inequalities by just going around thinking about how much I don’t deserve things and keep obsessing about it. I’m incredibly lucky / blessed and with this should come a responsability not to feel guilty about it all the time but to use everything I’m lucky to have to help. Either those around me such as helping youth with mental health or helping those who try to bring clean water to the 1 billion who don’t have it.

Accepting reality always helps us make better decisions about what to do with it. Struggling against it just wastes time that could be used increasing the happiness in the world. Either in others or in ourselves.