On May 17, 2017, the Edmonton Chapter of the Financial Management Institute is hosting a conference: Building a Healthy Workplace. The overview paragraph reads:
Over the past 50 years we have seen the move from the industrial revolution to the information revolution. Increasingly, organizations handle information as a commodity and as a result there has been the rise of the knowledge worker. The other side of this change is that employees rely on their brain to contribute value and to provide for their families. What happens when their brain fails them as a result of mental illness?
The Crazy* Next Door: the Dark Side of an Amazing Organ
This is an important conference because of devastation of mental illness. The topic conjures up images of the shaggy and slightly smelly homeless person shuffling down Jasper Avenue muttering to their own personal demons.
The reality is that you are just as likely to encounter the mentally ill at work, the gym, your home or in the mirror as on Jasper Avenue. The difference is that this second category often suffer in quiet desperation.
The brain is an amazing organ. Its complexity, its ability to heal itself (the subject a field of study called neuroplasticity), its ability to create/love/hate and surprise are all part of that admiration. Unfortunately, with complexity comes the chance of error and mental illness is part of the bargain. Weighing about 3lbs, with trillions of neuro-connections, sloshing chemicals and a Jell-O-like matrix to hold it all in, it is amazing that the damn thing works at all!
Beyond Compassion, Crazy as a Competitive Advantage
But perhaps there is more to mental illness and that jello mass between your ears than meets the eye. Perhaps a little crazy is a competitive advantage. The ability to see the world a bit off and as a result understand a bit more. Certainly full on crazy is a bad thing and fortunately help has progressed over the years for this. Nevertheless, making allowances for a bit of Vincent Van Gough may give your organization an innovation boost or an opportunity to look at its creative processes.
There are a few cautions here. The first is the obvious difference between tolerating a bit of eccentricity versus being oblivious to someone in mental distress. Another caution is the role an organization has in supporting someone with mental illness versus exploiting the benefits while potentially disregarding the costs and need for their support.
Competitive Mental Health
To explore the relationship between the 3lbs of Jell-O, what is normal, what is illness and what people and organizations can do to help, at the May 17 FMI conference we plan to play Mental Health Myth Busters. Each attendee will receive 25 questions which will have a scale of 1 to 5. 1 = FALSE; 5 = TRUE with numbers 2-4 being the gray zone (not to be confused with the gray matter zone).
While the 25 questions are meant to help make the conference an engaging event they will also have two more serious intents. The first is that they can help people test their ‘gut-check’ relative to the fact-check. Because the scoring will be anonymous, individuals can use the opportunity as a learning experience.
The second intent is that our partner organizations (Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association) can use this slightly-scientific method to gauge the opinions of this segment of the population. FMI Conference attendees are well-educated; if this population still holds onto myths what does this say about the general populace?
Twenty Five Crazy Questions
The following is my working list of potential questions. Do you have one that you would like added? While we are limited to time and space to 25 questions, perhaps we can answer 30 or 50 or even more questions. Drop me an email or leave me a comment if you would like to contribute to the conversation and ask a crazy question.
Each question must be answerable according to the following scale (based on current and best available scientific and medical knowledge):
- FALSE: this statement is completely false.
- Likely FALSE: this statement is likely false however this are some who would question this conclusion.
- UNDETERMINED: this statement can not be judged definitively true or false based on current consensus of the literature.
- Likely TRUE: this statement is likely true but it has not been proven beyond all reasonably certainty.
- TRUE: this statement is true.
- Can you catch a mental illness? Outside of side effects of infections, etc. some mental illness can be transmitted through body fluids and other vectors.
- The mentally ill are much more likely to be illicit drug users.
- A direct causal link has been demonstrated between owning cats and mental illness. This is the basis for the ‘crazy cat lady’ stereotype.
- [Question #25] Mental Illness can be precisely diagnosed.
One Crazy Note…
[*] I am purposely using the term crazy as a term of endearment. I realize to the politically correct this may seem jarring which is a good thing. We all carry around our own degree of crazy (mental normalcy) and owning your own personal crazy is one way to reduce the stigma of mental illness.