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.

Talking about Mental Health

I did a talk on Mental Health for a government department recently and a few days before someone asked me “Why do you talk about mental health? It’s an important topic to talk about sure, but why you?”. The root of the question being what qualifies me to talk about mental health. It’s a good question, I don’t have a degree in psychology. I haven’t practiced counseling. I haven’t even lived any traumatic experiences, I’m just a regular person who had a relatively run of the mill experience with mental health over the course of his life.

And I replied saying that was exactly why I was talking about it. Because it’s so common and I’m not special or different. I remember before comparing my depression and anxiety to others who spoke about mental health. Roméo Dallaire, for example, talks about his depression and PTSD. And well when I read that, I was like, well, obviously he’s going to be depressed, that’s some really messed up stuff. I don’t have any of that, what right do I have to be depressed? I should be able to just appreciate life. What’s wrong with me?

Often when we talk about mental health, it’s in the abstract. Bell’s Mental Health campaign rolls around and we all post about how we support mental health and we should talk about it. I think it’s a great start, but we don’t often talk about the details and the real life implications of mental health. How ridiculous it can feel to be depressed. How much despair there can be. How painful it is. How mundane it can be and feel.

So that’s why I talk about mental health. Because I want to help normalize just plain old run of the mill mental health problems.

If you want to learn more in a humorous way, I encourage you to read:
which is where the image at the top of this post comes from 🙂