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 a number of statements. Some of the statements are purposely provocative so as to promote discussion. The following instructions are provided with these statements:
As you are having breakfast and ideally before the conference starts, please complete the BLUE sheet, here is how: For each of the questions on the BLUE sheet enter a number between 1-5 according to the following scale to the right. Please use the whole number (no decimals) that best matches your opinion. If possible, please do not discuss your answers with other individuals but instead use your own best judgement. Once completed, give the BLUE sheet to one of the Myth Busters before the conference starts or at the break at the latest.
Before the end of the conference please do the same as the above but with the GREEN sheet. Once again, please give the sheet to a myth buster before the end of the conference.
Privacy and How this Data will be Used.
This data will be collected in an anonymous manner. Although an ID number is being used it is not cross referenced to you in anyway. A before and after comparison based on the ID numbers will be completed. We are asking for some demographic information but otherwise are requesting that you DO NOT put any identifying information on the sheets.
The data from the BLUE sheet will be used to inform the panel discussion. A comparison of the GREEN and BLUE sheets will be made available after the conference. Feel free to use the pre-conference notes version if you want to keep your own notes.
Why are We Making Crazy Statements
While the statements are meant to help make the conference an engaging event they will also have three 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 intents is that we will use how people responded to the statements as the basis for the panel discussion. Thus, if a statement yields little difference of opinion – this is likely not a myth to spend too much time on. Conversely if a statement shows wide variety, then this is one to focus discuss.
The final intent is that our partner organizations (Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association) may use this slightly-scientific method to gauge the opinions of this segment of the population. As well, by having a before and after comparison, it will be interesting to see if the responses of the individuals change. This can help to determine whether the conference had a real benefit in exploding mental health myths.
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.