Start the Conversation

Start the Conversation
on Mental Health

In 2015, we launched an initiative within TiER1 called Start the Conversation, aimed at helping people recognize how common place mental illness is and how it effects all of us. Start the Conversation was intended to encourage people within our company to have the courage to talk to friends and family and others about mental illness as it is so prevalent in all of our lives. We had hoped by doing so we would impact our employees, helping them deal with something that we knew must be affecting them but was likely insufficiently addressed. Little did we know how much it would impact our culture.

Creating an environment where people can talk about mental health as though it’s a normal life challenge—like any other life challenge—has resulted in numerous stories of people being more comfortable and knowledgeable in seeking help for their family members, their friends, and themselves. This has ultimately made us a healthier organization in every sense of the word.

“Organizations who don’t do everything they can to help their employees be as healthy as they can are doing a significant injustice.”

When we started this journey, it was to try to use our talents to have an impact on the lives of those affected by mental illness. We started inside TiER1 because that’s the environment we had the most influence over. Ultimately we had hoped to take our Start the Conversation program to other companies to help them impact their employees’ lives. Throughout that process, we never really thought about it from the perspective of how it could make an organization more effective. But of all the things that have surprised me in this journey that’s the one that probably surprised me most—and yet it seems so obvious.

Why we began Start the Conversation.

As a business, TiER1 helps improve the performance of organizations through the performance of their people. The fact is there might not be a single issue that affects business performance more than mental health. Think about it. About one in five adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year (and regardless of what you might believe, it’s very likely that statistic holds up in your company, too). In addition, over 90% of people we surveyed reported having someone in their life affected by a mental illness. If you consider those two facts alone, you can easily begin to see the toll mental illness takes on organizations.

Whether an employee is personally wrestling with a mental health issue or they are supporting someone else who is, the stress it places upon an individual’s life and the impact it will have on preventing them from being their best and doing their best work is tremendous. If they don’t have the knowledge, resources, or support system to directly begin to address it, the stress will mount and the situation will progressively get worse. Organizations who don’t do everything they can to help their employees be as healthy as they can are doing a significant injustice—not just to their employees, but to all of their stakeholders. Put differently, if as an organization you truly want to thrive and have fully engaged, high performance employees, one of the first places to start is in helping them with the knowledge, resources, and support necessary to deal with the challenges of mental illness.

Since starting this journey within TiER1, we’ve launched Join the Conversation, where new employees at TiER1 are introduced to opportunities to learn about mental health. We’ve also begun taking our original Start the Conversation program to other organizations, piloting it outside TiER1. We also launched Start the Conversation as an external initiative focused on promoting an openness about mental health with others and aimed at ending the stigma about mental illness. Start the Conversation is free and open to the public and includes a variety of challenges to learn more about mental health and what can be done.

Stop the stigma.

Within TiER1, we often say that people don’t exist to serve organizations, organizations exist to serve people. Organizations broker value between two sets of customers: the ones that pay them and the ones they pay. If as organization leaders we truly want to do something to raise our impact on both, we owe it to everyone to do everything we can to stop the stigma, start the conversation, and help people address the challenge of mental illness that surrounds us every day.

All the resources TiER1 has produced are freely available to other organizations. If we can help you start your own journey, reach out to us. But however you do it, make it a priority to support your people in their mental health challenges. It will change their lives and it will make you a better organization. 

Originally published by Greg Harmeyer on LinkedIn. Updated May 9, 2017, to reflect the current prevalence of mental illness in adults.

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