This episode features a conversation between Adrienne Lawrence, Principal Consultant at Jennifer Brown Consulting, and Chad Moses, Director of Outreach at To Write Love on Her Arms as they discuss the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health, as well as guidance on how to support each other’s mental well-being in professional spaces. In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), TWLOHA is creating conversations that move people from hopelessness to help, encouraging solutions that support people through their darkest moments, and working to help fight for more time—so that healing and recovery can happen. Their campaign launches on August 9, and you can stay in the know by signing up for email updates or by texting “WSPD” to (321) 204-0578.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Chad Moses: During these 18 months, the world was only what I could see and hear and feel. And that got lonely. And if I’m operating out of a sense of anxiety or depression, then my perspective is tinted, it’s skewed, it’s not true. So it’s taken a lot of effort to invite other perspectives and to remind me that this isn’t permanent, to remind me that the efforts I’m putting forth are still worth something, even if they don’t look or feel like they normally do. Even working in the field of mental health, this hasn’t been easy. I know all the answers, but so much of it is about putting these answers into practice. And I believe that practice demands a sense of community.
Doug Foresta: Everyone has a diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Welcome to the Will To Change with Jennifer Brown. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors and entrepreneurs as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. And now here’s your host, Jennifer Brown. Hello, and welcome back to the Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. This episode features a conversation between Adrienne Lawrence, Principal Consultant at Jennifer Brown Consulting, and Chad Moses, Director of Outreach at To Write Love on Her Arms. This episode was recorded as a mindful inclusion event in partnership with To Write Love on Her Arms. And in the episode, Adrienne and Chad discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mental health as well as guidance on how to support each other’s mental wellbeing in professional spaces. And now onto the conversation.
Adrienne Lawrence: I want to welcome in Chad Moses. He’s the Director of Outreach at To Write Love on Her Arms. Chad, thanks so much for joining us today.
Chad Moses: Absolutely. It’s been a long time coming. I’m glad we can finally get this thing on to zoom.com. It’s not really zoom.com, but we are here regardless and really excited to be here.
Adrienne Lawrence: Fantastic. And we are excited to have you, but before we dive into our brief presentation, can you please share with the audience about what your organization does?
Chad Moses: Absolutely. So our organization is called To Write Love on Her Arms and we admit that is a bit of a mouthful, but we are a nonprofit organization that exists to present hope and find help for anyone struggling with things like depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. And we’ve been around for 15 years. And over those 15 years, we’ve even expanded that into more issues, more challenges like anxiety, like post-traumatic stress, like eating disorders and disordered eating. Really anything that you were walking through and you feel like you could use some help navigating that, we’re there to build a better bridge to connect people who are looking for help to that help.
Adrienne Lawrence: That’s excellent having those bridges there, that connection piece, that is very important, especially now with hopefully coming of a global pandemic, we will see. But before we jump into the presentation, I just want to get in another question, sneak it in a bit, because I know I have been dying to know myself, To Write Love on Her Arms, that’s quite the name, as you said, where did that come from?
Chad Moses: It is. And I want to apologize to any branding experts out there. We know that it’s probably not best to have a paragraph as your organizational name. But for us, it began as a story. Like I mentioned, we started 15 years ago, no intention on being nonprofit, but it was really all about trying to help one friend, a real her in her first five days in recovery from drug addiction and finding help with self-injury all through the context of community.
Chad Moses: To Write Love on Her Arms was the name of a literal story about friends coming together to meet some needs in some pretty unpredictable ways, but authentic ways. And we really grew as a response to your response to a story that was originally called To Write Love on Her Arms. And here we are 15 years later realizing that our friend’s story, Renee, the original her, that she sounded a lot like a lot of our friends, a lot of our families, perhaps even a lot of ourselves. So to keep it focused on keeping individuals at the center of our activities, we kept the name. The name kind of chose us. But I guess it’s worked, we’re still kicking after 15 years.
Adrienne Lawrence: Yes. And thank you for all the people you helped and guided along those 15 years because I know it’s very important work and mental health is such an important thing. So thanks for sharing that insight, Chad. And so without further ado, let’s go ahead and explore some of the landscape of what mental health issues have arisen in this new workplace and what we can do to really help elevate and change it. So at this point now, you should be able to see my screen. Fabulous. Mindful inclusion, supporting mental health and then in workplace.
Adrienne Lawrence: So we are here because the reality is that COVID-19, the pandemic, it didn’t just impact our economy or in some instances, our health, our immune system, it also it changed our mental health makeup. And a lot of people aren’t necessarily taking that into account because mental health is generally unseen. But the reality is that research is already showing that at least one in three people have neurological psychiatric issues due to the pandemic. Also, we have to remember too, that COVID itself and how it changes our bodies, that it is causing long-term effects and related consequences to our mental health. These things are extremely important because mental health is key in navigating this world as well as the workplace.
Adrienne Lawrence: And so we need to talk about these things, to put them on the forefront so that we can be cognizant of what the signs look like, also what the tools look like for addressing them and staying on top of it, because once again, mental health is so importantly, just it’s pivotal to our wellbeing. So let’s talk a little bit about what the impact of look like when it comes to COVID-19 and the pandemic, these unseen consequences. So isolation, a lot of us have been in quarantine for the safety of others to hopefully allow this pandemic to pass so we can get over it.
Adrienne Lawrence: But one of the consequences of prolonged social isolation, it can cause social withdrawal. That’s very real where people, hey, maybe they get used to staying inside, maybe they start feeling comfortable and their mind has adapted to the thought of being excluded, not necessarily being a part of that communal socialization group. You can say to some extent it’s made a lot of people move more introverted, and we want to be aware of those things because this aspect of isolation can also bring emotional disturbance, irritability, insomnia, depression, PTSD symptoms. These aspects of quarantine, they’re real and they can lead to real impacts on your life, including long-term effects, where you might end up suffering from anxiety, anger, depression, PTSD, stress symptoms, alcohol abuse, substance abuse.
Adrienne Lawrence: The fact is that being isolated and away from people for long periods of time is potentially problematic because as human beings, we tend to be more social creatures, that human interaction, that connection, that provides us with so many things that we can’t necessarily see or sometimes conceptualize, but we know that they’re beneficial. And as a result of being away from people for long periods of time, we can end up suffering and having mental health consequences hit us a little harder. It can often show up in our behavior, such as avoiding crowds, excessive hand washing, maybe always wearing a mask, never taking one off, all of these things that impact how we interact with the world can be a product of isolation. I know I have had that experience myself, where I didn’t like large crowds to begin with, but I like them even less now as I’ve been used to being alone, being in my apartment here with my wonderful cat.
Adrienne Lawrence: And so getting out there in the world and returning to life where we are surrounded by people, maybe in offices, workplaces, or just in general regions, that could be something that is very difficult for many. And we want to remain considerate of that and cognizant of it. We also want to look at what are the direct effects of the virus itself. Many of us, including myself, have come down with COVID at some point over the last year and a half. And individuals with severe respiratory or critical illness from having COVID, what research is showing is that they’re having persistent psychiatric impairment, anxiety, depression, PTSD, post-traumatic stress, those fears that fight or flight mode or freeze, those things can become a part of your body as a result of having the COVID virus if you had it severely.
Adrienne Lawrence: There are also neurocognitive impairment, that’s impaired attention, concentration, memory, mental processing. The way your brain is wired can effectively change as a result of COVID itself. And having that virus in your system is so much more than just having a cough or having respiratory issues that maybe you think you’ve beaten and gotten out of. No, rather it can have long-term consequences. And even individuals who suffered COVID and they had maybe lighter symptoms, still the psychological impact of stigma. There’s been harassment, embarrassment, this thought of feeling like a pariah that people shouldn’t be around you and maybe being treated as such, that can impact our mental health. Individuals who have been stigmatized by having the COVID virus, they can experience emotional disturbance, anxiety, depression. These things are very common. And what we want to do is remain aware of that because there could be people we interact with in the workplace or even ourselves who may be different in some ways. And we have to bear in mind that this could definitely be a product of having had the virus.
Adrienne Lawrence: We also want to be aware of the fact that, hey, the pandemic has brought us an economic recession of some sort. Also, there have been considerable social inequities. And these have a significant impact on our mental health. As we have been essentially fighting this pandemic with having social justice movements play out in the forefront, also we’ve been exposed to a lot of traumatic events and stress in media and news, where we have seen a lot of the social inequities play out, whether its racial injustice or gender injustice. But we know that these things are problematic. And so in the backdrop of the isolation dealing with the health issues for COVID, we also have to realize that in our own lives, things like an economic recession that can increase psychological distress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disorder, suicidal behavior. These things are real, and they are compounding the stress on our bodies and our minds.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, a lot of people lost their jobs, they have pushed out of the workplace, the fear of where am I going to get my next paycheck, so to speak or about living circumstances. We know that there is a housing crisis coming up in terms of renters. Those added stressors, they can be a major risk factor for suicide. And we’ve actually seen the numbers go up during the pandemic. So we want to be aware of these things. We also know that people have suffered firsthand a loss when exposed to trauma, individuals have lost a loved one. Frontline workers, they have witnessed high death volume. These things will change you, that’s impactful. Those are stressors that they can’t necessarily be captured by one individual in terms of fully understanding, but they will have an impact on that individual behavior on how they see the world and interact with trauma.
Adrienne Lawrence: Again, exposure to traumatic events and stress. A lot of people found January 6th to be extremely traumatic. A lot of people also found the 2020 presidential election and all the things surrounding that to be very traumatic, hooked on cable news, trying to wonder what’s next, what’s going to happen, not only where am I going to get the information I need to find out about my health, but what about this vaccine? All sorts of concerns that have added a level and a layer of trauma that none of us have seen, this has all been unprecedented and so have the stressors and the psychological impact. We’ve seen an increase in acute stress, distress disorder, PTSD, secondary traumatic stress.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, there are people suffering from what they call compassion fatigue, having to encounter and to be compassionate and empathetic, and essentially being surrounded by grief and trying to cope with that and to help others cope. It’s a lot. Feeling burnout from chronic workplace stress. The fact is that we’re not in traditional work environments anymore. Many of us who were working from home, Zoom has become our best friend, but at the same time, we’re oftentimes in our home no longer surrounded by people. A lot of individuals who have children have had to change their schooling habits in terms of teaching them. Again, people are out of the workplace. A lot of these changes to individual routines and also the places they can connect and the people they can connect with while having all of this trauma unfold before them. These are things that we’ve all been going through.
Adrienne Lawrence: And as much as many of us would like to think that we’re fine, really, if we scratch a little bit below the surface, we’re going to see that we are not exactly okay. And so a lot of people have been coping with substances a lot. And I’m sure you’ve seen some of the stats on it. 13% of Americans reported increased substance uses to cope, but really, it’s probably been greater than that.
Adrienne Lawrence: 38% reported higher risk of overdose due to supply disruptions, because the reality is when the economy changes, pandemic changes, people are unable to access things, things aren’t being shared the way they used to, people who may have had a normal use of street drugs, of cocaine, methamphetamine. They have had a supply disruption by virtue of the fact that, hey, not all their suppliers can necessarily be as accessible to them because people aren’t moving around as much. They’re not traveling. So maybe they start looking for other drugs to abuse and use that their body is not used to. And as a result, we have overdose spikes. 20% since the pandemics onset, people have been abusing drugs to see what they can get their hands on.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, we have to realize too, with seeing doctors, we are seeing doctors now virtually. So the doctor’s not necessarily in a position to fully assess you. And if you give a good story and you can get your hands on some drugs, better prescription drugs, there’s also been an abuse through those gateways. And we have to realize too, that the doctors are human beings and they’re going through their experiences as well, to watch people lose their lives, become sick, to have to aid and have to deal with their own families and whatnot. So things are changing incredibly, and we need to be aware of these things.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, alcohol, it’s been extraordinarily accessible of all the drugs out there, it’s sold just about anywhere. And adults consumed 14% more. And I’d like to think that number is probably a lot lower than we think. But we do know that women have reported increasing heavy drinking days by 41%. It could be in part because a lot of women were pushed out of the workforce. We suffer the most in terms of losing work because of the pandemic. And then in addition to that, because women tend to be the primary caretakers of children and the home, the added pressure of work, whether it’s teaching children, cleaning home, also maintaining employment, or even losing employment. And as a result, a lot of people are turning to alcohol because it is a substance that is readily accessible and available. And these are things we want to be aware of because a lot of us think we’re okay, but we are not.
Adrienne Lawrence: So let’s talk about how we can stay mindful. Foremost, we can recognize the signs. We got to be mindful of it. I know you heard through here in terms of, I often said anxiety, depression, PTSD, these things are very common signs. But let’s look at what that breaks down to, what does it kind of look like when it’s actually playing out through our system? Well, you just say anxiety, hey, general anxiety, that fear, that apprehension, that tension, maybe there were things that you used to do before and now, you don’t feel that you can handle it.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, feeling powerless, low motivation. I mean, you’re tired all the time, you sleep a lot more, you just feel burnt out, not even doing what’s in front of you. I can’t begin to tell you how many days I had where I had tons of work, but I just couldn’t get to do it, I just rather just sit there. Also, that perpetual sadness, where it’s almost a hopelessness. Poor concentration, that inability to focus on what you’re doing, maybe because you’re distracted being pushed and pulled in various directions.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, insomnia. Many of us I’ve seen as I’m late night on Twitter, getting up at 3:00 AM, 4:00 AM and not being able to get back to bed. And I’ve seen an uptick in a number of people who are online. Also, oversleeping. Again, excessive sleeping, that can definitely be a sign of depression. Changes in eating habits. A lot of us, we joke about kind of the pandemic 20, that they say those additional pounds many of us have put on. But these can be signs, signs of the fact that something could be wrong.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, substance abuse. As I mentioned, a lot of people have turned to substances, some legal, some illegal, but the reality is that they’re being abused and that is a sign that something is wrong. It is incredibly important that we understand and appreciate these signs, we recognize them in ourselves and the people we care about as well, and how we can maybe build better boundaries is a good way of preventing a lot of the mental health breakdown. It’s about preserving our peace. And ways in which we can do that include engaging in some self-reflection, some perspective that’s taking that me time, thinking about how do I feel, why do I feel this way? Where are these feelings coming from? And exploring more time and sitting with it and trying to maybe unravel a little bit, also doing things that are pleasing to you.
Adrienne Lawrence: Oftentimes, in this world, many of us, especially many of us with obligations often feel like we are doing everything for everyone else. Do some things that are meaningful to you. It might be going on a walk every day. I started instituting that during the pandemic because I would go for days on end and not leave my apartment, whereas I used to be an extraordinarily active person. I need those dopamine hits that come from activity. So make sure that you are also doing things that please you. And I love to just say no. If I can’t be fully in it and be fully present and excited about it, just say no. It’s okay to say no, say, I can’t, I’m not prepared to do this at this time, or let’s go ahead and reschedule maybe later. Whatever you do, protect and preserve your peace because that is essential to ensuring that you have the mental health bandwidth to move forward in this life in the best version of yourself.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, get clear on your priorities. That’s right up there with just saying no. Make sure that your actions are aligned with your priorities, the things that you find valuable. And communicate what you will and will not tolerate, be clear on that. You know what you deserve, you know what you need, you need to take care of you. And so if there’s behavior, if there’s activity, if there is something that is not good for your mental health, it’s all right to box out, shall we say.
Adrienne Lawrence: Ensure that you’re putting you first. And that includes listening to your gut instincts. We all have instincts and they tell us what we want, what we need, and we should go with it. Don’t override it. Not at all. If you know you’re tired, it’s okay to step back and say, I am going to have to table this conversation for later, or I’m going to need to reschedule. Nurture yourself and your soul. And if you feel like, hey, I feel like I’ve done something wrong or that maybe you need to make amends, offer an alternative, maybe we can meet for this day next week, or maybe we can do this or that. Whatever it is, make sure that you are preserving your peace. You want to focus on things that bring out the best in you.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, do not be afraid to be direct and firm. That’s one of the beauties of boundaries. Explaining or actually just really setting where you and that other person or that other activity begins, because again, you do need to protect and preserve your peace. So being firm and direct and setting those boundaries is a powerful thing. And you will not regret it.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, in workplaces, curating the culture, mindfulness in the workplace. If you’re an employer or you’re in a position of supervisory authority, providing accommodation for people. Maybe not everyone is ready to go back to the workplace five days a week, because remember, people are still working through the psychological changes and the mental health struggles, as well as just the fears, anxieties that go along with the fact that we’ve come out of more than a year of trauma. So if people need accommodations, be more amenable to them if you can provide them. Many of us have worked from home for the past year and change and done extremely well. It’s my understanding that productivity numbers are generally up across the board. And so there should be no fear that the work won’t get done. So if you can get the accommodations, do it. You want your employees, your colleagues to be at their best. And if that means that they patch in remotely and they’re present and they’re doing the job and they’re also nurturing their mental health, it’s for the best for everyone across the board.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, offering an employee assistance. Maybe you have a healthcare plan that offers therapy, or maybe there’s a hotline, whatever you can do to extend a hand out to your colleagues, to your employees, consider providing it, especially now during these very challenging times, where we’re navigating being on the cusp of really that old world of our pandemic quarantine life and a potential new world of returning to workplaces and almost setting a new status quo.
Adrienne Lawrence: Consider mental health days. It’s very much something that should be a known option with sick days. Mental health is so incredibly important. Make sure that people know that they can take days if they need them to preserve their mental health, to reset themselves and to put themselves first. We also want to foster empathy. Yes, certainly, we don’t want to use mental health as a punchline. We want to make sure people know that they are embraced, that we’ve all been through so much. And a lot of things that we’ve been through over the last year and a half, most people don’t even know because they occurred in the four walls of our homes and maybe we didn’t talk about it, but also because everyone else was suffering.
Adrienne Lawrence: So we have to realize there are things in people’s lives that we have no idea that have happened within the last year and a half. And we want to be empathetic about it, compassionate about it. That means using compassionate language as well, and giving access to treatment. Again, offering assistance programs, ensuring people have access, that they know that they won’t be penalized for seeking care. If anything, that is encouraged. Our society is still struggling with embracing mental health issues and elevating them, but we can continue to move forward and to grow by appreciating that these things are extremely important. And so when you have a workplace that cultivate and curate that kind of culture, that’s when everyone wins.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, there is considerable strength in minding the substances. Again, a lot of us look to cope on the outside. And so we might reach for things that aren’t necessarily the best for us. So here are some signs of abuse that you want to be aware of because you might see them in yourself, as well as in loved ones or colleagues. If people are tired, irritable, unmotivated, missed work, maybe neglecting obligations, forgetting to pick up their children at school, or maybe not even going grocery shopping and having no food in the house for days on end. But there’s plenty of Jack Daniel’s, it’s a problem. Also, sudden change in social networks. If people are no longer spending time with those who were their friends before and they are in a whole new world, maybe they deep dive into Reddit, who knows? But that sudden change in social network, that can say a lot, but there might be a sign of potential abuse going on.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, dramatic changes in habits and priorities. A lot of us who were active before the pandemic maybe became inactive, maybe we’re not moving and not getting out around as much just by virtue of the fact that, hey, things have changed. We want to be mindful of the source of those reasons, is it just the pandemic? Or are we potentially abusing substances behind closed doors? Also, increased aggression, irritability, changes in attitude, personality, people being involved in criminal activity. That’s definitely a thing. Also, unusual body smell, scent, hygiene, we stopped taking care of ourselves. A lot of substances, the abuse of them can impact our dopamine levels. They can also cause depression, all sorts of things. So we want to be mindful of substance abuses and to make sure that we’re on top of them.
Adrienne Lawrence: So things to recognize when it comes to risk. These are some tips for people who may not necessarily know that they are potentially at risk, maybe they have easier access to substances, maybe they live in a home where there are a lot of prescription drugs around, that could become very easy, that access. Also, not having an adequate social support. A lot of us have lost that to some extent being in quarantine and not being able to have the communication that we had with individuals, that body communication, the connection. Also, limited finances. With the economic decline, a lot of people don’t necessarily know how their future is going to unfold. And so that could put you in a risk position for abusing substances.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, having preexisting mental health, substance abuse issues, dependence issues, having limited coping skills. A lot of people never thought this would happen. Of course, none of us did. It was unprecedented. Well, I guess a few of us did. They could see it coming. But essentially, the vast majority of us did not. And so to have the coping skills to deal with being indoors day in and day out, wearing masks, not being able to touch others, see others, hold our family members. We’re all in the process of developing new coping skills. And it’s incredibly important that we understand that individuals who have very limited coping skills that they are more at risk for potential abuse.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, with our changes, losing access to treatment programs. I have a number of friends in AA who now had to have AA virtually, and they didn’t have that before. And so if people were more extroverted or really enjoyed that closeness, the physical closeness of others, it was a risky time. And a number of people talked about it on social media how being indoors, being pent up, being uncertain about the future, how they feared relapse greatly. And we have to realize that a lot of people have been through things once again, that we have no idea about. And these are our colleagues, these are people who we may come in contact with in the office. And we want to be able to recognize the risks as well as to have the compassion and the empathy for being amenable to change.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, we saw a spike in suicide over the pandemic. I lost my older brother to suicide during the pandemic. Suicide prevention in everyday life is so incredibly important. We want to be able to normalize prevention before there is an actual crisis. And some tips that you can do that are asking people if they’re thinking of killing themselves, if they’re thinking of taking their lives. You want to listen to them without judging. It’s so important not to judge. Don’t judge or shame. It’s important to show that you care. If there’s a potential crisis moment or you’re uncertain, stay with the person, make sure that you’re with them in private secure place and that they’re cared for. Also, if there are any objects around, remove them and you can call 911 if there’s danger of self-harm, it seems imminent. We don’t want to shy away from having conversations that could save a life. It’s so incredibly important that we understand that people are coming from different places, we don’t necessarily know what people have been through. So we want to address others with the same compassion and empathy that we all would want.
Adrienne Lawrence: And also, we want to focus on healthy coping. There are so many ways to take care of you, and I’ve mentioned some of those over our conversations. But remember exercising that activity, getting out there, even just sunshine, it can go a long way. Also, following your creative pursuits. I have an adult coloring book. So when I feel anxious or stressed, I get out those crayons and I go to work and I love it. And then I have my drawing and I can showcase and share with people. I just remember that from childhood of how good that feeling became, but it allows me to focus on something, to use my creative talents and to essentially just breathe to get it out of my system. I recommend having one, keep it at your desk, keep it at home, take some time. So you can really just space out, recenter and get creative a bit.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, ensuring you get enough sleep. I know many of us are Netflixed out and HBO Maxed out and we can end up staying up for hours watching some new series, but make sure that we’re getting sufficient rest is important. Netflix will be there tomorrow, I assure you. Also, staying hydrated. I have one gallon water jug, I bought that during the pandemic because otherwise, I wasn’t getting the hydration I needed. And it’s so incredibly important for our mind to function. We need water in our body and also just for our body to function. So invest in staying hydrated. Also, eating nutritious foods. You can avoid it, avoid it in terms of the sugars, the sweets, the things that aren’t good for you. Keep those to a minimum. Eat well because that does help your mind process and function. And hey, it can also help bolster your self-esteem, your thoughts of yourself, your mental health.
Adrienne Lawrence: Take care of your emotional as much as possible, therapy, counseling. There are a lot of therapists who love having remote conversations and phone calls, and you can call them at any time if you’re having a dark moment or feeling anxious. Invest in you. Because oftentimes, we want to try to maybe talk to our family, our friends, but we have to realize that number one, they’re not professionals and they’re also not paid to deal with our mental health issues and also they’re going through their own journey. So it’s always best to go ahead and go with a counselor, a therapist, talk to someone. And then again, enforcing those boundaries, putting those boundaries up, making sure there’s plenty of you time and that you are embraced and that you can embrace others around you, because if you’re not at your best, there’s really not much you can do in terms of others and uplifting them.
Adrienne Lawrence: Always remember at the end of the day, everyone is going through their own journey. So you are not alone. You’re not alone at all. And there is no shame whatsoever as we’re all in this together, also that there is help out there and that you’re supported, people care. And I want to thank you so much for joining us for this presentation and we’re going to hop into the Q&A session right now. Chad, thank you.
Chad Moses: Adrienne, thank you. The time and energy and the compassion that you put into that, just thank you so much for that time. Yeah, no, I’m excited to see what’s piqued our interest, what questions we’ve perhaps been carrying around for months or years. And this is an open door, this is an opportunity to ask the things in a safe space.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely. Yes. And so there are a number of questions here on deck. But I did want to maybe tap into your brain a bit in terms of what journey did you see or did you experience yourself going through the pandemic?
Chad Moses: Oh my gosh. So for me, there’s so many peaks and valleys, deeper and steeper than I ever would have anticipated. So for me, my job is to be away from a computer screen as often as possible. My hope, my job is to connect with people face-to-face consistently intentionally to translate everything that we do online into a tangible experience.
Chad Moses: So I was in Phoenix, Arizona, working at a music festival on behalf of the organization doing outreach there when I got the first email from the first festival that says, hey, next week, I think we’re going to close down. And that turned into just, all right, we’ll get through this. And in a month, we’ll be back to normal. In two months, we’ll be back to normal. In six months, we’ll be back to normal. And through all of this, I’m seeing my friends being furloughed, I’m seeing friends losing their job, I’m seeing people that have spent years and decades honing their craft, musicians and artists, and now they don’t know if they’re going to be able to support their dreams, much less support their family. And I’m sitting here with kind of survivor’s guilt of how did I get so lucky? Why do I get to keep doing this? Why do I get to keep flying a banner of hope? And at times, it seemed and felt incredibly hypocritical telling people you’re not alone while feeling so alone myself.
Chad Moses: And I think for me, these past 18 months, it’s been a constant effort to stand up against an assault on my perspective. One thing I lost, the biggest thing I lost was not the memories, was not the miles, was not the cashflow to support the organization, the biggest thing I missed was not sharing a space with people that encourage and challenge my perspectives. But during these 18 months, the world was only what I could see and hear and feel. And that got lonely. And if I’m operating out of a sense of anxiety or depression, then my perspective is tinted, it’s skewed, it’s not true. So it’s taken a lot of effort to invite other perspectives and to remind me that this isn’t permanent, to remind me that the efforts I’m putting forth are still worth something, even if they don’t look or feel like they normally do. Short question with a long answer. Even working in the field of mental health, this hasn’t been easy. I know all the answers, but so much of it is about putting these answers into practice. And I believe that practice demands a sense of community.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely, community is so incredibly important. And as someone myself who is in the area of broadcast journalism and that has to track the media cycle, for the last 18 months, it’s been actually wild as we were dealing with administration changes, also the protests that were coming out and we had National Guards being called out to major cities. And I happen to live on a main route in Los Angeles. And so I’d have tanks going down the path and I have to stay awake on the news cycle. So it can be very stressful and you never get a moment kind of a break. And so I know I wasn’t alone. I saw a number of journalists also go through that and then also being black and being a woman on top of those things. And so when you do talk to people and counsel them, what avenues do you suggest to them? What are like maybe top three things?
Chad Moses: Totally. So first and foremost, any time that you can connect with a living human being, that’s going to be the gold standard. Please be aware of your sensitivities to how close you can get if you can hug or high-five or anything like that. But for us, everything is moving towards this apex of meeting with a counselor, meeting with a therapist, meeting with a peer support group. But we know that that’s probably going to take some time to work up to that.
Chad Moses: So there’s a number of tools that you can implement right here right now to help take steps towards connecting with more people. One thing that we created during this pandemic is an app that is available for anyone with an Android or with a iOS device, it’s called the Hopeful. So if you just go to your Apple App Store or Google Play Store, this is an app that we created, it’s for daily mood tracking, it’s for journaling, it’s for daily encouragements, it is your ever present tool for self-care and your Batman utility belt of self-care.
Chad Moses: Number two, we know that a lot of people don’t ask for help for one of two reasons, either they don’t know who to ask, or they don’t even know if it’s okay to ask. So that is a huge amount of pressure to put on one person going through this seemingly perceptively alone. So I think a great way that we can encourage these mental health practices within ourselves is to invite other people along, be aware of what resources exist. With that in mind, we do have a tool on our website where you can find free and reduced cost mental health care options by zip code. If you just go to our website, which is twloha.com/findhelp, you can find a number of resources there.
Chad Moses: So I think all of these steps, if you can’t find a counselor, reach out to a friend. Realize that your friends may or may not have gone through schooling to do counseling, to do therapy, but at the end of the day, I think I speak for all of us when I say, when I announce a problem, when I announce a stress point or a pain point, in that moment, I don’t want to be fixed, I want to be seen, I want to be valued, I want to be told that it’s okay. You don’t need a degree to be a good friend in that moment. So reach out in whatever way is necessary. I would say, don’t start with Twitter, don’t start with a Facebook post, but reach out to people that can mirror and reflect your sense of value, mirror and reflect your sense of meaning, of perception of what’s going on around you, be sure you have someone that can respond to you.
Adrienne Lawrence: Now, those are very, very powerful and helpful things. And that’s indeed, I ended up going home to spend time with family several times during quarantine, because that connection with people is so incredibly important. So thank you so much for that. And I want to definitely bring up some of the questions that people had, which is that, how can companies help support those having mental health crises?
Chad Moses: Right. Awesome, great question. Thank you too. I’m going to guess the dozens of people that asked that, that’s not a rare question. I think this starts with a confrontation of culture. So culture is three things in my opinion, it’s what we say, it’s what we do and the distance between those two things. So it’s one thing to say, take your mental health days, we give this to you, this is a perk. It’s another thing to model that, to be transparent with that. We tell people, look, if you’re coughing and sneezing, don’t come work. Please don’t jeopardize our workplace with whatever infection or what other virus you may be holding.
Chad Moses: I’m not saying that mental health is negatively contagious. I am saying that proper mental health practice is positively contagious, that if I see a friend or coworker take intentional time away, even if it’s just, look, lunch is going to be an hour 30 today because I just need to walk and listen to the birds sing and get some sun on my skin. The more I see my coworkers doing that and seeing and hearing a respectful applause to them doing this, the more likely it is that I take that option on. So I think a lot of it is from the top to the bottom.
Chad Moses: If we say we care about mental health, show it, show that you are worthy of taking some time for reflection, maybe it’s building in a mindful minutes into your workday of saying, look, every Tuesday at lunch, we’re going to have guided meditation, look, on Thursdays, we’re going to talk about Marvel’s Loki and how mental health plays into that, look, on Fridays, we’re just going to take some time to have a shared cup of coffee, even if we are remote. All of these things are mental health care. It doesn’t have to be a moment of crisis in order to be an impactful step towards encouraging people to continue to invest in their own sense of care.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely, Chad. And you’re absolutely right. And as someone who is very much a business oriented person, logically also, you want to invest in the mental health of those who work around you, especially if you’re in a safety situation, maybe you work in a factory or in something that you need the individual to be fully aware, cognizant and present in what they’re doing, you want to definitely ensure their mental health is on point and to make sure they have the adequate breaks that they need.
Adrienne Lawrence: But also, just from an economic standpoint, the fact is that you have invested resources in training someone and bringing them on and making them a part of your workplace. And if you’re not able to necessarily get the best performance out of that person, what is the point? Because there’s been times for me where I was working long hours at a law firm of my own volition, but I was working myself to death to the point where I was missing things. And I remember a partner coming into my office and saying, “Go to bed, go home. You’re no use to us if you’re not sharp.” And they’re absolutely right about that.
Adrienne Lawrence: So you want to encourage people to take care of themselves because even just if it’s not only just because it’s the right thing to do and we care about one another, but because it means that you’re going to have better performers, better teamwork, and better togetherness. And that’s important for business. And so also on the topic of business, what resources can businesses offer that’ll help employees encourage or encourage employees to engage in day in and day out work in the face of mental health, emotional stressors?
Chad Moses: Yeah. One of the things I’ve seen have been really encouraged by during this era, this epic of Zoom calls is how many organizations, how many companies not dealing with mental health have reached out to us saying, hey, we just started a peer interest group about mental health, would you mind sitting in on a lunch and learn? That is a resource, your own team, your own employees can be a resource. I bet if you send out an email saying, who here would be interested in more conversations about mental health? Who would like to chair these kinds of conversations using your own team, using that own sense of creativity, using that sense of culture that we hope that any culture is not stagnant? Our hope is to continue to grow, to amend, to meet the needs, not only of our clientele, but also other people feeding this project, like you just mentioned Adrienne.
Chad Moses: So that’s number one, it sounds like a bit of a cop out. But your number one resource in helping solidify and elevate conversations and mental health will be your own employees. Beyond that, I think welcoming in local authorities on mental health, just for a check-in. It can be really scary to have a conversation that ends with, I think you should see a counselor, because if no one in the area knows who those counselors, who those therapists are, that makes this mental picture of who a counselor, a therapist is very foggy, very foreboding. So inviting mental health professionals into the space, not to talk about mental health, but just to give a high-five, just to check in, just to say, look, I don’t know if anyone here needs it, but we know that the past 18 months have been a literal hell, you don’t need to figure out how this journey on your own, here’s some options.
Chad Moses: So I think just saving some space, saving some whiteboard space, saving a channel in your Slack stream of saying, here are some options that exist right down the road, places that exists to make sure that you continue to exist. I do want to say one thing backing up on the culture piece is fostering a community that isn’t there to answer questions as much as it is to ask better ones. We know that we all experienced this COVID era together. That doesn’t mean we experienced it the same way.
Chad Moses: Adrienne, you mentioned that your experience as a black woman is going to be radically different than mine as a white man. It was hard. My hard was very different than your hard. And there’s so many other pressures going on with that. So stigma is whenever our assumptions become absolutes. The antidote to stigma is going to be questions, Adrienne, how are you doing? Hey, I saw this news item, I just want you to know that you’re cared for. If you care to unpack what you’re going through, I am here for it. But ask questions because we’re not seeing the world through the same lens, but we are sharing this space together. My best me is going to be completely contingent on your best you. And I can’t assume to know anything about your story, but I can save space and ask about it.
Adrienne Lawrence: Yes, yes. We talked a lot about that over the last year and a half holding space for others. And it does involve asking questions and not necessarily making assumptions, thinking that you know what their journey or their experience has been like, that’s a place we have to step back from that and realize that things may have gone on in people’s lives that we have no idea about.
Adrienne Lawrence: Also, one of the questions I love to ask people, and I really encourage everyone to ask whether it’s their colleagues, family, friends, if something happens or if you know something’s up, simply asking someone, what level of support do you need? Opening that door. So they can tell you what they need or what they want or just, and you can let them know if you need some time to think about it, please let me know. But that essentially is an opportunity because sometimes people are just venting and they just needed the outlet, sometimes people need action and sometimes people need space, but you may not necessarily fully understand their experience or what they’re going through. But when you realize that it’s not, your ability to support isn’t contingent on your understanding, but on your ability to offer compassion, empathy, and to be supportive by just simply asking what level of support do you need?
Chad Moses: And one of the things that does, Adrienne, is you mentioned in the presentation throughout these past 18 months, we’re getting this sense of powerlessness. And that powerlessness comes with every mental health challenge. When we encounter a crisis, a crisis being any time our coping mechanisms don’t meet the task at hand, that was certainly in these past 18 months, but there’s been a shift in the power dynamic. What I thought I had control over, I no longer do.
Chad Moses: So how do we as individuals and by communities help reshift that power dynamic? How do we re-empower? And we do that, not by dragging you, kicking and screaming into a therapy appointment, but by giving you options, look, I know that the world is cloudy and uncertain, but know that there’s only one option I’m not going to entertain, which is a world without you. So here’s some things that we can do, here’s some things that we can do together, which route do you want to pursue and know that I have your back? That informs that person that this problem, it is not insurmountable, maybe by yourself, but yourself is not the only option. In fact, it’s not an option at all, we’re going to get through this together.
Adrienne Lawrence: Yeah, that is very powerful. And speaking of together, someone has asked, noting the fact that a lot of people have been working from home during the pandemic and now a lot of employers want to bring people back to the workplace. And while the employer would love to have the people back into the office, a lot of people don’t want that, they have been able to work from home, they feel more comfortable in that space. I do also understand that a lot of black people, particularly black women, do not want to reenter the workforce in terms of going back to the office because of microaggressions and having to deal with a lot of the unfortunate, subtle assaults or things that are also more significant major assault on individual identities. And so working from home creates that barrier and it’s a safe space. But I guess on the larger framework, this person is asking what steps they can take to make individuals feel more comfortable and safe and wanting to come out of the home and come back to the office?
Chad Moses: Yeah, I would say just because we entered the pandemic times like a light switch, binary off and on, we’re not going to come back to the workplace in the same way. This will be analog. This won’t be a midnight and noon, this will be dusk and Dawn. We’re going to have to turn that dial slowly. So I’d say, to whatever extent that making a schedule of return is helpful, give that a try. Unless you are 115 years old, this is your first time coming back to work in the wake of a global pandemic like this. This is new for all of us. So I would say if you pursue an option and if the fit isn’t good, scrap it, we can make a new plan. And we can do that together.
Chad Moses: I think being transparent is going to be the most important thing through this. Like you said about setting boundaries, it’s going to be about naming the things that you are comfortable doing and the things that you aren’t. A piece of any workplace environment is going to be compromised. If you work at any place where one person has the entire say over everything, I would probably advocate for looking for another job option anyway, like that’s not a place that any of us want to be, unless we’re the one making the decisions. But even then, it’s way more fun to find creative compromises to how we solve problems. So talk through it, be honest with where you are, be honest with where you hope to be, and be honest with the places that you hope to never return to again, name them. The only way we can avoid them is by being sure that we are speaking about the same things at the same time.
Chad Moses: So as our office, we’re still navigating what it looks like. I’m sitting in my office, but it’s a lot emptier than it was back in January of 2020. And I have to respect that my team is making individual decisions based according to what makes most sense in their lives. So with that comes a lot of trust, be sure that you are someone that is trustworthy and be capable of being someone that can trust. There’s no perfect playbook. So throw perfection totally out the window. That is not the goal. The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is to be a community, the goal is to redefine this culture, the goal is to continue to exist in ways that are impactful. Again, I apologize for the cop-out answer, but that’s my way of saying I’m figuring it out too. And I can’t wait to see articles that come out in the next 18 months of folks that did it great and folks that wish they could have a redo, but either way, whatever you are learning, that is worthy of being shared.
Adrienne Lawrence: Absolutely. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a cop-out answer. I think it’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all. And it’s a different journey because there’s different people and different reasons for why they do not necessarily feel safe returning to the workforce. And because of that, if you do have the capability, I would highly recommend potentially just asking people, not asking them one as a large collective group necessarily, but doing a check-in, hey, I just wanted to connect with you and we are reopening the offices and I want to see how you feel about that. Is there a reason that you may feel unsafe? Because let’s say, as I mentioned, a lot of BIPOC women may not feel comfortable coming back to the workforce because they were experiencing microaggressions before they went in and they have a safe space at home.
Adrienne Lawrence: So you might end up learning by simply asking, why don’t you feel comfortable? You might end up learning that that person doesn’t feel comfortable working directly with maybe a colleague or supervisor because they were subjected to harassment before. And there’s a way you can fix that or mend that so that the person will return to the office. And the important thing is that we have to realize that a lot of people and everyone is going through something different. And if we do really want to reach people, we have to put in that investment to understand them better. And so if there are things that can be improved, then that would be great. But there might be things that are outside of your power, and that’s okay too, but you don’t know until you know. And so I know we don’t have much time left, but I want to ask you one quick question if you’re able to provide a succinct answer, Chad, but this question, how do you encourage someone at work to seek help when you know they’re going through a hard time?
Chad Moses: I think one thing that can be incredibly impactful is sharing your own story, making sure that this other person that you’re trying to care for knows that you’re someone that gets it, that feels it. Maybe that’s sharing in a safe and sacred way your own journey of mental health crisis, of loss, things that you have learned, but showing this other person that, again, they’re not someone to be fixed, but they are someone that is utterly deserving of interpersonal connection, asking, how are you doing? Following up with, okay, but really, saying, I know how you feel. Those may be the most humanizing words in the English language, but it’s more than wordplay, it’s finding ways to back it up, it’s finding ways to put off your own email inbox for a second just to sit with a friend to make sure that the focus is on them. That is going to be infinitely more memorable than you responding promptly to an email or to a Slack or to what have you. People, we say it all the time, people over product. What if it’s just people?
Adrienne Lawrence: Thank you so much, Chad. I really appreciate having you here.
Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Doug Foresta: You’ve been listening to the Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity & Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
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