Mental Health in Tech: A Conversation

As someone with hands on experience with mental health issues, I find one of the most valuable things I can do is speak openly about them and share my experiences.

I want people to be comfortable with having the conversation. I want to actively work towards reducing the attached negative stigma. I want people to know there are available resources available to help them.

Why This Is Important To Me

This is something I’ve dealt with since my early teenage years.
I have been diagnosed. I take meds. I do therapy. I’ve had my brain zapped by magnets. I’ve been hospitalized and survived suicide attempts.

A LOT of effort can go into facing my day.

What I’m trying to say is: no matter what Beyoncé wants me to tell you, I do not wake up like this.

I know, depending on what era of Allison is your starting point, this may feel a little out of left field. These days I (generally) present myself as relatively high functioning…until I’m not. Monitoring this is part of my everyday life for more than 20 years now.

france_iceland-3072It has been a long process. & such an individual one. What I find valuable might not necessarily apply to someone else’s situation. That said, I have managed to add many tools to my wellness toolkit through much ardor, and all the effort has been worth it. I have had many good times in the last few years. I switched industries. I traveled to Europe for my brother’s wedding. I celebrated my Granny’s 100th birthday. I became an auntie. I saw Dolly Parton live in concert. None of those things I would have seen as possible when I was in the depths of my illness.

If I had one word to describe my own experience, it would be resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope effectively with the stress of difficult life experiences. It doesn’t mean you’re untouched by stress, it means you are quicker to return to equilibrium following adversity. A large portion of my resilience was built because of the support I received from my loved ones.

Why This Is Important For You

The benefits for employers to support their employees are numerous. From a business standpoint alone, it is estimated that mental health costs employers $31 billion in lost revenue across the United States. Better health entails lower total medical costs. It means increased productivity, and lower absenteeism. It benefits your employees to know their contributions are valued in a way where they are able to take care of their needs so they can keep contributing.

Burnout is typically described as physical, mental or emotional exhaustion caused by long-term stress. The tech industry seems to have somehow managed integrating it into the fold of what is often ‘the norm’. This is unfortunate because if you combine that with a cognitively intensive job of hours in front of a computer, your health will obviously be negatively affected.

Guess what? The strategies we can implement to those experiencing ongoing mental health issues will also support those on the verge of burnout. Symptoms of the beginning stages of burnout often overlap with symptoms of mental health.

The overall goes is a state of mental wellness. This means having improved concentration and motivation, increased energy, better working memory and smoother cognitive functioning.

Stigma + Support

The irony is that even as I’m writing this, I can feel that pit of fear in my stomach.

It is years of conditioning and internalizing: “People won’t get it.” — “Employers won’t hire you.” –“People will think you’re incompetent or weak.” I have been told more times than I can count that it is in my best interests to never tell anyone.

You know what’s weird about that? A lot of people totally get it. We all have personal struggles. People have either experienced it themselves or been close with someone who have experienced something similar. And yet we’re still not talking about it. We need to keep reaching out to our inner circles for the deep stuff and remember to let our outer circles know that…yeah, sometimes things aren’t going so well.

Open Source Mental Illness LogoWhat We Can Do

If more companies start talking about mental health issues without judgement, more employees will feel comfortable seeking out behavioural health services and accommodations. There would be less concerns with exclusion and discrimination.

We need to change the culture of silence that surrounds this and speak openly. We need to learn what resources are available for ourselves, our friends and our coworkers. Help is available, but because we aren’t talking about it openly and educating the powers that be with resources, people aren’t receiving the support that they need.

If you’re in the tech industry, take the OSMI 2016 Mental Health in Tech Survey and bring up integrating their (open source!) mental health guidelines in your own workplace.

Currently at work (shoutout to my geeky brain trust), we’re raising money for Open Source Mental Illness (a lovely US non-profit I also volunteer for that is dedicated to raise awareness and provide education & resources to support mental wellness in the tech + open source communities.)

If you have the financial resources to donate to OSMI and feel called to do so, thank you for your support.

More importantly, I hope you walk away knowing a bit more about tapping into the power you possess to assist in creating collaboration and action. Sharing our struggles only strengthens the connection between us. We’re in this together.

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12 thoughts on “Mental Health in Tech: A Conversation

  1. Great article, Allison! Thank you for sharing and for doing something to push back on the negative stigma of mental illness. I applaud your advocacy and resilience. What people didn’t get from this article is how witty and funny you are! You always make me laugh and are a pleasure to be around. This world is a much better place with you in it. ???

  2. “Sharing our struggles only strengthens the connection between us. We’re in this together.” This. Thank you so much for sharing and creating space for people who haven’t yet had the courage to speak out.

  3. Allison
    Thank you for sharing…I didn’t know this non-profit existed until now. I’ve worked with several co-workers who struggled with their mental health under the high pressure of tech and tight deadlines – I’ll now be able to share the OSMI resources.
    Thank You – and looking forward to working with you.

  4. “A LOT of effort can go into facing my day.” – I really relate to this, and to so much in your article. I heard you speak at WordCamp SLC last fall and it had a big impact on me. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, and just hearing you talk so openly and normalizing this was incredible. Thank you for sharing and speaking and being a voice for these issues.

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