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.

It’s all just a sinusoidal function

While the most recent time the thought that the world was but a sinusoidal function happened when reading The Online Gig Economy’s ‘Race to the Bottom’ but really it applies to pretty much everything. While that article is about the economics and while I only have enough history knowledge to know about the parallels to the early 1900, I’m sure there are many more throughout history.

At first (around when I was 15) I thought it was actually just a circle. It was quite depressing. Humanity on a grand scale and us as humans just kept playing out our own little circles. Much like in Memento we helped ourselves along the way. Giving ourselves the justifications for our future actions. It was all quite depressing.

A few years later, and perhaps as a defense mechanism, I started seeing things as a sin function. Yes we were in a loop, but it was one that was globally trending upwards.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – A few different folks, usually attributed to Martin Luther King (#)

Is one way I try to see it. While in this case it’s about humanity and helps me “accept” what’s going on in the world. (Just to be clear, I use the Buddhist interpretation of acceptance here, not resignation).

This is another one of those posts that I wish I had an answer. I wish I could close this with a straightforward answer to rally people around. An upbeat message. But I don’t have one. All I have is acceptance of the current reality and the part it plays in the greater picture.

Without a Basic Income, I’d be Living on the Street

I’ve just read the news that the provincial progressive conservative government will be cancelling the basic income pilot.

I recently joined the board of Basic Income Canada Network and will be getting more and more involved in spreading awareness and doing advocacy work for a guaranteed minimum income.

To that end, I wanted to start with an explanation. The story of why I believe so strongly in the basic income movement.

In my late teens / early twenties I struggled with depression and generalized anxiety. I dropped out of university and was trying to start a web development business by freelancing. The cost of my medication was $650 a month. I wasn’t covered under my parent’s insurance since I had gone to university and dropped out. For reference, that was more than my rent. I struggled to pay my rent. I actually paid one month with one of those credit card cheques. It’s not that I didn’t know it was a terrible idea, that the fees were ridiculously high, I just didn’t have any other choice.

One day I was at the downtown bus stop and a man approached me. He was clearly not well, he started talking to me about the medication he had to buy. It was the same anti-depressants I was on. He wasn’t able to afford them, and now, he lived on the street.

I was very fortunate. I had family members, particularly an uncle, who was able to give me money. I got a basic income from my family and I managed to pull thru. Now I’d like to think I’m a good contributor to society, paying taxes, volunteering etc.

The only difference between me and that man on the street was that I had family members with money. That shouldn’t be the determining factor in someone’s life.

A guaranteed minimum income is not a handout, it’s a leg up. It allows folks to keep working without all the benefits disappearing. Right now almost all Canadian welfare programs will stop if you find a part-time job. You want to try driving for Uber? Your benefits are cut, sometimes directly to zero.

A guaranteed minimum income like the one Ontario was piloting has a gradual clawback mechanism which encourages people to keep working. It helps people start a small business by having a safety net. It helps folks stay in school, and helps reduce hospital visits.

That’s why I’m asking you to support a basic income by:

1) Sharing this post or the BICN homepage on your social networks.

2) Reach out personally to one or two people and talk to them about basic income. The personal outreach makes a big difference in convincing others.

3) If you’re in a position to do so, consider donating to BICN. Be it $10, $100 or even $10 000, that money will make a big difference to our ability to reach folks and spread awareness of basic income.

If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments or to email me at stboisvert@gmail.com.