In this episode, Barbara and Michelle Dickinson discuss:
- Eradicating the mental health stigma within the own workplace
- How to address depression in First Responders during the Pandemic
- Improving outlook on a daily basis
“People are struggling and they don’t want to talk to anyone. Social media platforms provide a sense of community for people to connect. ” — Michelle Dickinson
Connect with Michelle Dickinson:
Connect with Barbara Hales:
Show website: www.MarketingTipsForDoctors.com
Barbara: Welcome to another show of Marketing Tips for Doctors. I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. And we have with us today a great person, very interesting, by the name of Michelle Dickinson.
She is a passionate mental health advocate. She has also had the opportunity to be a TED speaker which is not easy to accomplish and a published author of a memoir entitled Breaking Into My Life. After years of playing the role of child caregiver, Michelle embarked on her own healing journey of self-discovery. Her memoir offers a rare glimpse into a young girl’s experience living with and loving her bipolar mother. And you can imagine how difficult that might be.
Michelle spent years working to eradicate the mental health stigma within her own workplace by elevating compassion, causing more open conversations, and leading real change into how mental illness is understood in the workplace. Michelle also knows firsthand what it feels like to struggle with a mental illness after experiencing her own depression due to challenging life events of her own just a few years ago. Michelle recently concluded her 19-year pharmaceutical career and became an entrepreneur. She has emerged from her own challenging life events with a strong desire to positively impact the mental health landscape within the first responder community, the workplace and within local communities. Welcome to the show, Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you so much for having me on today.
Barbara: Well, I think that your appearance is quite timely because the first responders are naturally prone to depression with all of the stress that they’re currently under and also having to isolate themselves from their family and friends due to a fear of passing COVID onto them. So how is it that you get them to feel a little bit more comfortable?
First Responders and Depression
Michelle: Thank you for asking. This is one area that I work with. And I have a very powerful and amazing partner that I do that with and she’s an actual active sergeant in a local police department and she’s also just very passionate about having our first responders not suffer in silence. So together, we offer first responders basically a different series of educational programs but fundamentally we aim to shift their relationship to mental health. And unless you’re a new recruit coming out of the police academy, you really never received any kind of conversation about mental well-being and taking care of your brain.
You’re always like focused mostly on your physical well-being. So yeah, our programs, De-escalation, Mental Health First Aid, you know, even Resilience Training, all of those three programs we’re aiming to really shift the relationship to mental health within individual departments.
Barbara: Do you find that there is a fear or a reluctance to come forward due to not wanting to appear weak at work?
Michelle: Yeah. Of course, of course. That seems to be the fundamental structural challenge that is in place. And so you know, I was just talking about this the other day with my partner and another retired police officer who’s now an EMT. And we were talking about that, that, you know, there’s just so, there’s such importance with police chiefs and leaders in the police department to go first and sort of help normalize the conversation instead of people fearing coming out and saying, you know, I probably could use a day or two or probably should probably go talk to someone about what I saw this week or whatever. But it starts at the leadership level. And it has to be a priority. Otherwise, we have men and women suffering. And if they’re suffering, their family life is suffering, the community is suffering. It doesn’t work. We have to do better.
Barbara: Yes, of course. Do you find that they are less anxious now that the vaccine is being issued?
Michelle: I think a lot of people have hope that the vaccine has come out. I think yeah. I mean, it’s amazing. I have had stories of people say to me, you know, I got COVID. I had to be isolated from my family. That was hard. I then have to, you know, make sure that I’m clean before I go back to work. It’s impacting so many people but I do think that now that the vaccine’s out there’s definitely some hope.
Barbara: That’s great. What is it that you spoke about when you were on stage for TED?
Michelle: Thank you for asking. Yeah, I was nominated at my previous company to give a TED Talk about my mother. It was something that I never really spoke about, to be honest with you.
I’m sorry. I have to have a coughing fit. I’m sorry but I’ll answer that in a minute. Okay, okay. So, I’ll start over.
Thank you for asking me about that, Barbara. I never really told my story, you know, growing up with a mother who had bipolar disorder. It was a secret. It was something that I never really spoke about. But a colleague of mine knew my story and she nominated me to tell my story on the TED stage at my Fortune 50 company that I was working. And I for the first time in many, many years found myself really explaining to people what that was like, what is it like to love someone who has extreme manias to deep depressing lows, you know. And so when I told that story, it was incredible. It was all of 13 minutes or 10 minutes. I don’t even remember. It was a few years ago. But it was incredible, terrifying. The way I can explain it is it was terrifying and exhilarating.
Barbara: Well, it must have been very therapeutic.
Michelle: Incredibly. I mean, incredibly. And it gave me confidence. The girl who had never had the confidence, that her voice mattered. It gave me the confidence to then go out and write my book and write my memoir which would really humanize what that was like growing up with my mom.
Barbara: And for those people who might not know, could you tell everybody what TED stands for?
Michelle: Yeah. TED — What the TED platform is, is it’s a platform for people to initiate conversations that will make a difference, that will get people thinking. There’s a national TED website where you can go and you can listen to, you know, key TED Talks from Steve Jobs to Tony Robbins to, you know, the local person who has something to say about something. And it really is designed to get you to think differently.
Barbara: That’s great. When you transitioned to private practice or as an entrepreneur as opposed to working in the pharmacy, how did you let people know? What is it that you did to increase your visibility and to market yourself to make your company successful?
Michelle: I was in the pharmaceutical industry for 19 years and it was all I knew. I started really young working for a corporation that ultimately had me move over to the pharmaceutical world. It was brand new for me. It was overwhelming. It was exciting because I was finally following my passion. And I’ve had my company now a little over a year. And you know, when you love what you do and you’re passionate about the work that you do and the difference that you know you can make, it’s very exciting.
Isolation vs. Compassion in the WorkPlace
I have a lot of great friends and colleagues and peers and, you know, people in my network who are well aware of the work that I do. And now during COVID more than ever, organizations are looking for ways to keep their employees mentally well, engaged, not feeling isolated due to quarantine but really, really present and connected as much as they can through virtual platforms like this or otherwise. So, it’s been great. I’ve been really fortunate to get to share my work with a lot of different people because what I really care about is shifting cultures. We need there to be more compassion in the workplace, you know. We are human beings before we are employee number and I’m really passionate that there’s work to be done in company cultures.
Barbara: So, word of mouth started out as your choice way of marketing yourself and you did well with that.
Barbara: And did you send out letters or postcards announcing your appearance with the company to hospitals and associations?
Michelle: I did not, I did not. I could probably learn from you. It was mostly word of mouth and I initiated a platform to cause more open conversations about mental health. I actually do interviews with mental health leaders and individuals who’ve navigated mental health sort of as my marketing to just showcase value. I think at the end of the day if we’re adding value to customers and we’re having people see us as people that are constantly adding value and elevating the conversation, they see it in our actions more than anything. So that’s really how I’ve been getting my name out there, is really by being the change that I want to see in the world.
Barbara: Are you active on social media in terms of getting your message out?
Michelle: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I’m always promoting on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. It’s important that people, you know, see me. I also host a morning huddle on Friday mornings because nowadays people are struggling and they don’t want to talk to anyone. I just sort of created a space for a sense of community and people to connect. So you know, I mean, it’s been a variety of different activities that have really helped me get my name out there more than any type of, you know, PR.
Of course, I do impact statements as well. I want people to realize the statistics. You know, CDC statistics say one in three is dealing with depression or anxiety. That needs to be front and center. People need to get the impact of this pandemic so I try to also have impact statements going out across my social as well.
Barbara: What do you advise the average person to improve their attitude or their outlook on a daily basis?
Michelle: You know, it’s such a great question that you asked. You know, it’s very, very easy nowadays to just be consumed by the media and not have a positive disposition. But the truth is that that is toxic and that will never serve us. So I mean, I go back to the things that I learned through my therapy, through my self-discovery work. And all the things that I share in my Resilience Program, there are certain things that have to be a staple in your day-to-day to keep you in the cockpit of your life, positively looking at life. Some of the practices that I do myself include gratitude, I have a gratitude journal; meditation to clear my head; structures in place so that I am maintaining a routine so that at the end of the day I have a positive sense of myself that I accomplished what I wanted to do. Little things like that can really make all the difference in having you feel good about yourself and having a positive disposition about life.
Barbara: One of the statistics from COVID is, unfortunately, that domestic violence has risen more than double the amount during the stress of COVID and isolation. How do you tell people to combat that?
Michelle: Yeah, that’s a really important topic that you raised. Absolutely. And I think that that’s because of isolation and the fact that people are so confined to their homes and they’re not out with their friends, they’re not connecting with people. But you know, at the end of the day, we all need someone to connect with outside of the home.
We all need that whether it’s a virtual connection or meeting someone at a park for a walk. You have to keep those connections alive because they could be your lifeline and they can also be the conversation that ground you in saying, hey, this is not acceptable. Like I’m going to stand for you that this is not acceptable. So, we can’t sever those connections just because we’re quarantined. We must maintain those connections and those relationships. As human beings, we can’t isolate ourselves entirely. So, my recommendations are always to make sure that you have a community of support, a circle of friends, and people that you are regularly checking in on and talking to and connecting with.
Barbara: That’s good advice. And of course, physicians are people at the end of the day. They’re not just professionals. So, would you give them different advice or the same advice that you’re giving to your other patients?
The Toll on Healthcare Professionals
Michelle: You know, it’s amazing. I just did an interview with an ER physician and she was telling me about the toll that this experience is having on her. And I think about healthcare professionals in general. Oh my gosh, I went to get a COVID test and the doctor that came in I could hardly see their face because they were so covered in PPE. And I thought to myself, this is your daily routine. Like wow! This is right in my face. But people who haven’t had to go to the doctor have no idea what these poor men and women are enduring just to be able to serve us and to care for us. It’s the old oxygen mask and it’s hard because these care givers.
These are people in the world who literally have chosen a profession of caring for human beings, right? There’s a special gene that they have. I’m quite sure. But it’s all about the oxygen mask. You have to take care of yourself. So it’s easy to get lost in the care of other people but you’re nothing if you don’t take care of yourself. So, you have to and I think — You know, the way I would recommend, you know, my advice would be in order to show up the best of your ability in your work, in whatever you do whether you’re a physician or otherwise, you have to care for yourself first so that you have the ability to be proud of how you show up and not exhausted or drained or depleted, right?
Michelle: You wouldn’t be satisfied with the level of support you provide so we have to care for ourselves.
Barbara: Yeah. Another problem that doctors have experienced over the last seven or eight months is that you know, because they are givers and healers and because they generally have the ability to make people feel better and now people are dying no matter what they do, it’s taken a huge emotional toll. How do you advise that they get around that? You know, they’re almost like mourning each patient and feeling totally helpless.
Michelle: I just read an article, I think it was in Yahoo, about a nurse who just refused to leave the side of a dying elderly person with COVID. And I just thought about the emotional burden, the emotional baggage that they just took on by holding that person’s hand until they passed away. And my heart just exploded thinking about the pain. But that person was committed that that person does not die alone. My goodness! We are not men and women that are supermen and superwomen. Like as human beings, that kind of pain, you think you probably can navigate it on your own because you’re just going to go on to the next but it’s layering on and layering on. You have to talk to someone. You have to get the support. You have to be able to unpack that, navigate that and not carry it with you. That’s a recipe for PTSD. It is something that we are anticipating is going to happen after this pandemic is long over, you know.
Michelle: It’s like you have to realize that you’re not going to be able to shoulder it alone, that you need support. And you know, it’s got to be a hard thing for a physician to reach out and get support because that’s not what they do. But if they want to show up in their family life and not be robbed of their joy of life because of their service to humanity, they have to do that.
Barbara: Well, I think Michelle that you are providing an important function especially now with the stress that everybody is under. I have a few additional questions for you. First of all, what is the name of your book?
Michelle: The name of my book is Breaking Into My Life – Growing Up with a Bipolar Parent and My Battle to Reclaim Myself.
Barbara: That’s a pretty long title.
Michelle: Yeah. You can find it on Amazon or barnesandnoble.com just by looking up Breaking Into My Life.
Barbara: It’s a little bit easier.
Barbara: And is there a name for your company or are you just going with your own name?
Michelle: Yeah. Well, if you google my name, you’ll find my company, Michelle E. Dickinson like Fairleigh Dickinson. The name of my company is Trifecta Mental Health. And so what I do is I work with organizations, the public sector, private sector to really look at what they’re doing in their corporate culture or their culture, in general, to really have it be a compassionate space for people with invisible disabilities. There are things people can be doing to just create a comfortable environment for people and one that is not, you know, stigmatized. Like in society, we deal with the stigma. Well, imagine if your workplace was stigma-free and people could genuinely, you know, just say, hey, I need a mental health day and not be held, you know.
Barbara: Wouldn’t that be nice?
Michelle: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be nice? Yeah, exactly.
Barbara: That’d probably go over really well.
Michelle: I love it. Yeah.
Barbara: So since you’re calling yourself Trifecta, what are the three facets that it stands for?
Michelle: Thank you for asking, yeah. I mentioned to you that I grew up with a mother who had bipolar disorder so my lens on mental health for many, many years was that coming from a child caregiver. I cared for her. I know what it looks like to love and care for someone with a mental illness. That’s the first facet. The second one is about three years ago I was diagnosed with depression. And I was adopted so I never thought — I’m like I’m not going to have anything here because I’m adopted, right? Well, a life event came along. The divorce of my, the end of my marriage. And I went to a very bad depression and it just made me realize that nobody’s immune to a mental illness and it’s part of your life.
Barbara: That’s true.
Michelle: Like I didn’t see that coming. And then the third piece was when I was at my Fortune 50 company, I was helping the company as a leader within a team, an employee resource group, shift the culture to create a more compassionate workspace. I watched what was working and I watched what wasn’t working to create more compassion and have people feel accepted. So those three pieces I think really position me well to help companies create a better environment for their people.
Barbara: Is there any specific exercise that our listeners could do?
Michelle: Around their mental health specifically?
Michelle: Well, I mean, you know, there’s the wellness piece of it. I offer my Resilience webinar as a tool in response to a request from one of my clients, like help my employees feel better on the day-to-day. And there are so many tips in that Resilience webinar. I mentioned a few, you know, monitoring how much consumption of media that you’re doing, practice gratitude, meditation, getting outside, connecting with your loved ones, making sure that you’re making time to connect. But the other piece of the Resilience webinar is I do a mental health assessment because a lot of employers just genuinely don’t know how their people are faring.
If you ask an employee how you’re doing, they’re going to say I’m fine because they’re not feeling probably comfortable enough to say I’m really struggling with this. So, my goal with the anonymous assessment is to really take the pulse of the culture and see how people are doing and then share that back to them in the Resilience webinar so they can see I am not alone, like the majority of my peers like they’re just doing the best they can too. So how do we together support one another and what can we do?
Barbara: That’s true. But especially in the beginning, I think that the fear of being furloughed was real. And because of that, they really didn’t want to give their employers any excuse to lay them off.
Michelle: Yeah, exactly. It’s a sign of weakness. People — You know, the stigma creates this perception that admitting that you’re struggling with a mental health challenge is it’s weak. And really, my goodness, if you can acknowledge it, that’s the first step because then you can do something about it versus ignoring it and watching it compound and get worse and worse and having it play out in performance or having it play out with compromised relationships.
Barbara: How can our listeners get in touch with you?
Michelle: Sure. Through my website michelleedickinson.com. It’s probably the best way to reach out to me. I love to hear from people. On my website, you’ll see there are five steps to creating a compassionate culture so you can check those five steps out as well. And then reach out to me. I would love to be able to have a conversation and see if I could make a difference for your organization.
Barbara: Well, thank you for being with us today. It was quite illuminating. This has been another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors with your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Till next time.