Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Legacy BY LETTING HIS IDEALS LIVE ON THROUGH ME: A MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE FIGHTING FOR SOCIAL CHANGERead Now
Can you imagine a now 91-year old Dr. Martin Luther King Jr giving me, a mental health advocate, this pragmatic advice: “convince a CEO why he needs to retain someone with depression or PTSD versus fire him, then you’re set"?
Dr. King was viewed by many as a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He understood what it meant to create discomfort and disharmony. But, his underlying intent was always to do so for our collective well-being. For that, we owe him our collective gratitude.
To affect meaningful social change on behalf of those our team advocates for, we too must walk in his footsteps and be troublemakers or changemakers as we like to call ourselves. Speaking for myself, as an advocate for those with serious mental (read brain) illnesses, I will not advocate for those without a heart.
Dr. King would not have doled out that advice I was given, albeit my head did understand it was a matter-of-fact suggestion in today's heartless business world where people are often subjected to the almighty dollar's reign. However, my heart was not only disillusioned but my sensitive soul brutally reminded of why, after being laid off during the throes of a deep bipolar depression from a stigma-laden workplace and subsequently trying to take my own life, I have no desire to return to cold-hearted Corporate America. (You can read my story here).
MLK is gone, But I Choose to Honor HIS LEGACY.
Dr. King’s simple answer to those who condemned idealism, preached the quiet cynicism of self-limiting “pragmatism,” insisting it is “how the world works,” was he was “maladjusted.”
In a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, he said:
“There are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted. ... I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.”
I too am maladjusted. I never intend to become adjusted to mental health stigma, i.e., discrimination. I never intend to adjust to the heartlessness of those who fire or lay people off because they bravely come forward and say they are struggling with depression. To the bigotry of those who fire people when they discover they have bipolar disorder. To the ignorance of those who don’t hire people because they are neurodivergent, e.g., by some reports, unemployment of autistic professionals with college degrees may be as high as 90 percent.
And, I never intend to adjust to those who need to be convinced it is cheaper to retain people who have depression versus lay them off as I believe I have suffered enough. I live in California, an at will State, where you can be fired for no reason, and I am painfully aware of this fact. There is zero accountability or recourse for those of us who get let go because of our mental health struggles.
We should all be insisting this is not how the world should work. It is those who are leading our companies to whom I say, please adjust your business mindset, tune into these simple human facts below and, let us bridge this gap.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, which I pray will reverberate from our classrooms across the country today, I also hope we hear these prophetic words:
“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” ~ Dr. King, I Have a Dream Speech delivered in Washington, 1963
In the words of Barack Obama, we have an empathy deficit. And, I can hear Dr. King whispering, we must undergo a "radical revolution of values" and demand empathy back in our workplaces.
Putting people before profits and leading with empathy is the ONLY sustainable path forward in our new normal.
Perhaps I am an idealist but one thing is for damn sure - there is a glaring bright light on the other side of the bridge beaconing us forward: putting people before profits and leading with empathy is the golden sustainable path to remaining not only profitable in our new normal but, more importantly, attaining mental wellness for all.
Can there be any doubt that Dr. King would be devoting his energies to fighting for those with chronic mental conditions who remain excluded from DEIB programs? Who get laid off or fired because they struggle through no fault of their own with disabilities that are invisible or keep hidden because of shame due to stigma? Who must work in environments that are not inclusive or psychologically safe with no needed mental health supports as they cannot afford otherwise?
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” ~ Dr. King in his speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966
Given all we know of Dr. King’s values, it is not unreasonable for our team to believe that his spirit also lives on in our Accelerating Mental Wellness Campaign, a grassroots social change campaign for the people by the people. Our goal is to eradicate stigma from our workplaces, rebuild corporate cultures on a foundation of empathy, inclusivity and wellness, bringing in needed mental health programs and supports for all.
Three Ways you can help support mental wellness for all
If you hear Dr. King whispering to you too and want to eradicate stigma in our workplaces and bring empathy back, here are 4 simple ways you can help:
We can of course never be sure how Dr. King might view all of our current pressing issues. But, he can still guide us through his rich and deep record of words, deeds and actions. This is how, as mental health advocates and, we as concerned citizens, can best honor his memory and his life of service.
The world needs more (pacifist) troublemakers or changemakers who make us feel discomfort and disharmony. By making people feel uncomfortable as well as making them accountable for detrimental human costs of their "pragmatic" choices, we truly can affect change for the social good.
In the words of my dear friends and fellow tribe mates, Jack and Allié McGuire, Founders of AwarenessTies at www.iamawarenow.com, we will no longer wait for permission to change the world.
With gratitude and with hope. #RIPMLK
Kerry Martin, Mental Health Advocate, self-proclaimed troublemaker and changemaker, CEO and Founder, Accelerating Social Good.
a call for social justice and STigma-Free Workplaces: WE get fired because of our mental illnesses BUT only we deal with STIGMA'S POISONous WRATH AND true depths of ENSUING SUFFERINGRead Now
resilience built up in childhood. check. higher education underway. check. then, a series of weird events started happening.
I had a very good childhood with loving parents and friends. I was bullied a little at school. But that gave me some resilience and taught me self dependence at a very early age.
I was a straight A student and excelled at my studies. I got my Bachelors and then pursued a Masters in Computer Science from the best college in India.
Being an INFJ, I was always a self-starter and figured out solutions to problems myself.
Then, a series of weird events started to happen to me.
In my last semester of graduate school, other students started noticing a change in my behavior. A calm, introverted kid was now fighting with everyone, verbally, not physically. I was much more irritable and got angry at the slightest of things.
I was unaware at that time of exactly what was happening.
i soldiered on, landing my first professional job. But, quickly burnout after being expected to work long hours, becoming nonfunctional for months.
I started my internship at a game development company in 2014 where I was expected to work long hours. I was not performing at optimal levels and after 6 months, I experienced my first severe burnout.
I came home severely depressed.
My parents supported me. I was nonfunctional for months.
My neighbors started noticing I was not getting out of the house. They did their best to try and talk to me.
With that said, being in episodes spoiled my relationships with almost everyone. Yet, still I couldn't really figure out what exactly was happening to me until I had a lightbulb moment.
My Lightbulb Moment. I realized I needed treatment to survive. And, I got THAT AND MORE: a bipolar 2 diagnosis and A LITHUM Prescription. check.
I was lost in the darkness, struggling to figure out what was wrong with me.
Grasping at straws, I went online and started reading and joined online forums. I read the DSM. I did research. I read blogs.
That all led me to finally going to see a psychiatrist. After asking me questions during a one-hour consultation, he diagnosed me with Bipolar 2 and put me on Lithium.
After three months of Lithium, I got a little stability and decided to give work another go.
back to work ONLY TO HAVE my hard-fought stability snatched away. CEO discovers MY bipolar disorder. I'm fired.
I got a job as a Junior System Admin two blocks from my house and worked there for almost 2 years. It was a mid-sized company with 150 employees. I had very good relationships with everyone and helped everyone with their computer issues.
Then, the CEO finds out about my bipolar disorder and fires me two weeks later.
Even to this day, I still get calls from the IT department asking for help with IT problems. I still offer give solutions.
I Enter a stigma-free workplace at last. My stability, balance and SENSE OF worthiness RETURN.
Then, I got a job at a chain of salons as an IT Manager. It had 3 branches for which I was managing the entire IT and digital marketing.
This time, however, my boss was very supportive and helped me in every way to become productive. But due to COVID, he had to shut down two of the branches and laid off people.
But he has always stayed in touch, even to this day.
"To me stigma-free workplaces are built on foundations of people understanding the need for inclusivity and empathy.
My third and current job was found via LinkedIn. I applied to a Denver-based company and the Founder interviewed me for an IT Manager position but gave me the Project Manager position.
I got a few episodes during this job but my company supported me when they knew I had bipolar disorder.
Medications Taken to date to see me through this journey. Did I have to go through all this?
I had seen a severe form of illness but I could manage it and most people couldn't tell (or were not telling me) that I have such a severe condition. I had taken almost every medication over the years, which is generally prescribed for bipolar.
I can't help but wonder if my journey would have not been as arduous if not been for stigma in the workplace; and if perhaps I would have found the perfect cocktail for treating my bipolar sooner. You see it is not easy or particularly fun to have to try all these different medications as you cycle up and down and as society pushes us up and down with stigma.
My most irritable symptoms were hand tremors and throbbing headaches. I still have these.
How do I COPE? BY FIGHTING BACK. AND BY GIVING BACK TO OUR COMMUNITY.
Cancer doesn't just go away, nor does bipolar disorder. You have to find methods in order to survive. I learnt coping mechanisms for my illness at a very early stage. I could tell when my moods were swinging and took immediate action. Other coping mechanisms included:
But, the best coping mechanism for me has been and still is helping people. That naturally lifts your depression. I have been helping people for many many years with their IT stuff and with my mental health advocacy work.
LIKE AIR POLLUTION, STIGMA IN OUR WORKPLACES IS POISONING US CAUSING BOTH PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SUFFERING. LIKE A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT, WE ARE FILING A SOCIAL ACTION LAWSUIT. WE ARE TIRED OF BEING FIRED.
Most recently, I have become the Chair in India for Accelerating Social Good's social-justice campaign, Accelerating Mental Wellness, to co-create stigma free workplaces built on a foundation of empathy with needed mental health programs and supports in place.
Why? Because it is unjust for people like me to get fired simply because I have bipolar disorder.
I see this as analogous to a class action lawsuit in America. Like a social action lawsuit in a way.
People are poisoned by stigma. In a class action lawsuit, I understand people are literally poisoned by pollution so they come together and file a lawsuit to get reimbursed for medical bills and for their suffering, the punitive damages.
But we are not filing a class action lawsuit. We are not taking this to court.
We are taking it to the people. We are taking it to to you. We are asking you to lean in and listen to the human case, our stories.
How is this any different for those of us with bipolar or other mental illnesses (read serious brain disorders) who are being fired?
Is stigma in the workplace not poisoning us to?
Are we not also feeling physical pain? Trust me, having to go on med and after med to try to regain your footing after being fired does cause much physical as well as emotional pain.
We too are suffering. Where is our justice? Who is standing up for what is right? Who is advocating for change?
I am. Accelerating Social Good is: Founder and CEO and Founder, Kerry Martin, supported by Meagan Copelin, chairing in the United States, COO Erin Macauley chairing in Australia, and Natasha Tracy chairing in Canada. They are leading mental health advocates and they all have lived experience too. They also have their own stigma stories, some harder to read than mine.
But it's not just us. There are many others who agree stigma in our workplaces is discriminatory, unjust. And, not just for those with a serious brain disorder such as bipolar but unjust for every single human regardless of your physical or mental health condition, visible or invisible, and regardless of the color of your skin or your sexual preference. It's unjust period.
Please visit our Wall of Solidarity, made up of everyday people like you and me. People who have stepped up to join us in our campaign. We call them our stigma-fighter superheroes as by uploading their selfies to our wall they are helping us take another brick out of the wall of stigma and sending a clear message that we want the wall taken down. Finally.
These are not just concerned citizens, but global diversity, inclusion and equity leaders, best-selling authors, mental health advocates, podcasters, nonprofit leaders, and those that suffer from mental health conditions.
I hope that others will join us in our grassroots campaign to eradicate stigma in our workplaces and put an end to the discrimination. And, to finally provide urgently needed mental health programs and supports in our workplaces for all who are suffering.
We are all humans worthy of support, not worthy of being poisoned by stigma. No one should get fired because they have a mental illness. This discriminatory practice must be stopped.
Hitesh Gupta, India Chair, Accelerating Mental Wellness, A Global Workplace Cause-Advocacy Initiative Sponsored by Accelerating Social Good with contributions by Kerry Martin, Chief Purpose Officer and US Chair.
WE aRE here to build a world where all children flourish but first we need STIGMA-FREE workplaces: FOUR simple ways you can helpRead Now
why i am doing this accelerating mental wellness campaign FOR WORKPLACES. what is your why?
Please allow me to introduce my why, the inspiration that drives me to work so hard on this campaign: Sara. We have hashtags for one another, #saraslight and #kerryshope.
Accelerating Social Good collaborates with causes to build a world where the mental healthcare system doesn't let anyone down. A world where all our children can flourish.
To enable all lights to shine, we simply must have work settings that support and empower people, environments wherein my precious Sara's light is allowed to illuminate as bright as possible.
It is for Sara, who is now 24, and her beautiful friends, that I dedicate much of my time to ensure this cause-advocacy campaign exceeds our expectations.
What about you? Is creating stigma-free workplaces built on a foundation of empathy, caring, compassion important to you too? Should workplaces be providing mental health programs and supports? What is your why?
Please consider joining us. Stand with others and share your selfie, and/or share your story. We are simply stronger as advocates and concerned citizens when we stand together. If we are here to affect social change, this is how we can do it. Together.
help write stigma-free story with an empathy plot. a story of hope. let's co-create workplaces we all can flourish.
If mental health advocates collaborate, we can interweave a more inclusive story both persuasive enough to change society and powerful enough to shine a light on what the future should look like. A future of no stigma. A future with where we lose fewer precious souls far too soon. A future of mental wellness. A future of hope. A future where we all can flourish.
Let's work together to create stigma-free workplaces, rebuilt on a foundation of empathy and caring, by sharing our lived experiences. A key to ending mental health stigma (read systemic discrimination) is to humanize it with storytelling.
BUT WE CAN'T DO THIS ALONE. WE NEED YOUR HELP.
This is a rallying cry to advocates and concerned citizens to come together. To share our selfies and our stories in a collaborative and coordinated campaign to accelerate social change on behalf of those who are suffering in silence and shame. With must step up and speak out, a calling more salient in light of the Great Resignation.
Whilst it is easy to build a business case for workplaces to integrate mental health access and programming as a benefit (and we intend to do so), let's also come together to do the hard work. Let's build a human case for rebuilding our workplaces on a foundation of empathy and caring.
If you are a mental health advocate, please consider joining us and raising your voice. Let's all stand up and be heard. And together, be so loud that eventually they must not only listen but TAKE A PLEDGE to either acknowledge the importance of this initiative or take concrete steps to create a stigma-free workplace with appropriate mental health programming and supports for employees. More on this to come in 2022.
FOUR ways you can help
Kerry Martin, Sara's Number 1 Fan, CEO & Founder, Accelerating Social Good; US Lead Chair, Accelerating Mental Wellness Social Change Campaign.
Mental health stigma could have been difference between Me living Or being yet another mental illness statistic: workplace terminates me and takes away my bipolar lifeline, my health insuranceRead Now
workplace terminates me and takes away one of my lifelines, my health insurance
Ultimately, I was fortunate. With the support of my friends and family, and drawing upon my own hard work and determination, I was able to improve and become the person I am today.
But mental health stigma was another barrier to wellness that could have easily been the difference between me living this life or becoming another mental illness statistic.
Don't those of us with bipolar disorder already have to fight hard enough to stay alive corporate america?
Next year, over 25,000 Americans will die by suicide. Half of them will have bipolar disorder. How many can be saved is up to us. Up to Corporate America. Up to those workplaces that continue to allow stigma to fester. That continue to fire those with this serious brain disorders because we are too depressed to work. To string two coherent thoughts together. Or, we are too manic and we upset your work-life culture or you work us too hard and force us into manic states. Or, because we are simply misunderstood as people. Yes, we are just like you. People.
We, as a society, can come together and eradicate the stigma which is quite simply killing us and putting us in early graves. For far too long, the bipolar community has been ignored. Just but one example, in a post explaining why, A Call for Spending Equality Given Devastating Impact of this Killer Disease by Kerry Martin, our Chief Purpose Officer and Mental Health Activist.
It is currently estimated that 4 to 6% of the population has some form of bipolar disorder, with the disease affecting 5.7 million adults, 2.6% of population age 18 and older. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 83% of these cases are considered severe, with 51% not receiving healthcare treatment.
The risk of suicide among those living with bipolar disorder is 20 to 30 times greater than the general population and significantly higher than other depressive disorders. Over their lifetime, 80% battle suicidal ideation and approximately 28% will attempt suicide within five years.
Fifty percent of those with bipolar will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, with up to 11% dying by suicide. Some studies indicate that the suicide rate is closer to 20%.
addendum: WHY ACCELERATING SOCIAL GOOD LAUNCHED, IN COLLABORATION WITH MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATES & CONCERNED CITIZENS, A CAMPAIGN TO CREATE STIGMA-FREE WORKPLACES
Gabe didn't deserve what happened to him but we are so happy here with us now as he is an outstanding mental health advocate and a treasured member of our mental health community. However, he like anyone else with a serious brain disorder or, anyone else who is in need of mental health support (clinical diagnosis or not), deserves empathy, grace, caring and kindness at the workplace. In too many workplaces however, that is simply not the reality.
We also all deserve to work in stigma-free environments that enable us to flourish and do our best work for our employers and for ourselves so we may feel of the utmost value. So we feel we belong. So we feel worthy. Not a total lack of empathy and caring friends. Because we as human beings always deserve that. Always.
Today, our workplaces, more often than not, are not safe places. They are not empathetic, kind or caring. And they are chock-a-block full of stigma. Case in point, the Great Resignation where droves are leaving as they don't feel they are getting the deserved mental health support. Whilst it's easy to build a business case for why companies should bring in proper mental health programs and supports, still far too many have failed to do so.
Gabe Howard, Bipolar Speaker & Writer, Host: Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast, Author, Mental Illness is an Asshole & Kerry Martin, Chief Purpose Officer, Accelerating Social Good & Mental Health Activist Flourishing with a Bipolar Diagnosis
IMPACT OF RELIGION AND STIGMA ON Getting TREATMENT FOR MENTAL ILLNESSES IN INDIA: MY PERSONAL BIPOLAR JOURNEY TO SEEK MEDIcAL and Family SUPPORT FOR MY PHYSICAL CONDITIONRead Now
IF YOU HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS, YOu're POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL. STIGMA IS RAMPANT STOPPING PEOPLE FROM REACHING OUT FOR HELP.
India is a big diverse country with people from many different cultures and religions. Having a mental illness (or, what is really, a brain disorder) is still considered a taboo in many religions.
Traditionally, people with mental illnesses are seen as being possessed by evil spirits. Some believe that these people must have done something bad in their past life so they are have been given this curse and will have to suffer their entire life. These beliefs are embedding in our culture, creating a barrier in getting treatment.
Depression is not new to India and most see that as a weakness and expect a person to fix it themselves by meditation or yoga. When a person has a serious illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, he/she/they have a hard time accepting the diagnosis and getting help.
In India, even being a psychiatrist is stigmatized. They are considered crazy and inhumane people who give shock treatments. This traditional thinking has changed quite a lot but still we have psychiatrists in major cities only, with none in and remote areas.
MY BIPOLAR JOURNEY to try and get help I needed from medical community and family and friends. Enter religion. Enter stigma.
When I told my friends that I was taking psychiatric medications to treat my bipolar disorder, they told me that you don't need any medications and my psychiatrist is probably giving my the wrong medications that will make me more sick.
When I was showing the first signs of mental illness, my parents asked a spiritual guru for advice. He informed them I was possessed by evil and they need to do prayers to get the evil energies out of me.
Eventually, they did Maha Mritunjya path (prayers to eradicate evil) for two days and took huge sums of money. Nothing helped even one bit.
The reluctance to getting proper help is such that if anyone says they are taking therapy, people regard them as weak and look down upon them.
In educated and upper middle class families like mine, my parents still believe that mental illness is all in my head and a little walk or yoga could fix depression.
I educated myself. I learnt more and more about illness by reading DSM4 and online blogs. Eventually, I decided to take treatment. That saved my life and made me a productive member of society.
SO, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE IN MY COUNTRY? is there hope?
There is light at the end of tunnel, albeit hidden. My country has come a long way but still needs more awareness around these topics.
With COVID-19, people felt the importance of mental health as they were unequipped to deal with extreme situations like the loss of jobs, loss of loved ones etc., which pushed many people towards depression and anxiety.
That situation paved the way for many to open up about their mental health. This was also the first time I saw the topic of mental health in the national news.
In the past few years, the Indian government has passed many laws like giving quotas (reservations) for people with mental illness in getting government jobs. Marriages can no longer be annulled because of the mere presence of mental illness. Now, we can have insurance which covers consultations and admission charges.
Hope is here. With more educated people and more corporate stress, mental illnesses are slowly being recognized as physical illnesses and this acceptance will, I hope, continue to improve in the coming future.
Hitesh Gupta, India Chair, Accelerating Mental Wellness, A Global Workplace Cause-Advocacy Initiative Sponsored by Accelerating Social Good