Carol Faustino kicked off the session by generously sharing her journey falling victim to, and ultimately overcoming, severe depression.
She described how it started with physical and mental exhaustion, before spiraling into suicidal ideations.
“Identifying that there’s something wrong is quite easy,” Carol said. “The hard part is knowing what it is and accepting it.”
As thoughts of ending her life led to sleepless nights, Carol knew she needed help—she was just too scared and ashamed to talk to anyone. It wasn’t until a friend at work asked if she was okay that she admitted she needed help. With a psychiatrist, the right medication, and strong leadership at work supporting her, she dug out of her distress and accepted what she calls a new version of herself.
“I have good and bad days, and it’s okay. Who doesn’t? I know how to manage it now,” she added.
After setting the stage with such sincerity, Carol asked the panelists how they support employees struggling with mental health issues.
Andy Andersen noted, ”I set up time with my team to have conversations, and I welcome topics other than work. Jobs are not life. Remember that we have lives outside of this, and health is not something we can buy back. Be a manager that fosters that type of environment.”
Laura DeCook had her own struggle with mental health after years of climbing the corporate ladder.
“When I tried to get support or even pushed back on what seemed to be a nonstop workload, I was told I was putting the company at risk,” she shared. “I received no support and was told ‘we don’t talk about mental health at work. This is a job and that’s a private issue.’” And this was just five years ago!
That experience led to a full-on mental breakdown in the office through a see-through conference room, followed by prescriptions for blood pressure and anxiety medication. “I was in my 30s and the doctor said if I didn’t leave my job, I’d have a heart attack.”
That was all the motivation she needed. She left that job, found Expedia and built their wellness program. What started as a marketing job led to her becoming the company’s first wellbeing specialist.
Guest Rachel Ferris of Acclaro shared how the company partners with psychologists to create employee support webinars and create awareness about mental wellness. “It’s made it a topic that’s comfortable to talk about, and engage and support each other,” she said.
Another guest, Stefan Huyghe of Communicaid Language Solutions, shared that he’s always felt it was important to keep confidences when employees share mental wellness issues. When he asked if there are drawbacks to employees revealing their problems and putting their careers at risk, Andy was quick to respond.
“Mental health can still be a stigma,” he said. “Recognize there are different opinions and the support won’t be consistent. What we can do as managers is do the best for our team members to help them reach the best possible outcome.”
Wrapping up the event were some strong words of advice for smaller companies that may not have the resources to launch large mental health initiatives.
“Empathy is free,” Kaja said.
And to those who may be going through similar challenges with depression, Carol stresses, “Speak up. Seek help. You are important. You are loved. And life is worth living.”