BACKGROUND OF WORKING THROUGH IT
In 2003, Mandi Luis wrote an article entitled "What I Wish I Knew: A snapshot of
depression". Even as she wrote this great article, Mandi knew from her own experience
that it wouldn't help the very people who needed it most. That realization started
Mandi and Mary Ann Baynton, then director of Mental Health Works, on a journey to
create Working Through It™ - a series of videos designed to speak directly to people
struggling with mental health issues. Real people share their experiences of working
through times of mental health pressures at work, off work and returning to work,
and send these important messages: 1) you are not alone, 2) there are things you
can do to reclaim your well-being, and 3) there is hope for a better tomorrow. The
messages are in short video clips that answer the questions most relevant to those
who need them. In addition, valuable resources are free to download and print.
A conversation with Mandi Luis about 'Working Through It'
By Mary Ann Baynton, MSW, RSW
Director, Mental Health Works
Originally published in Moods Magazine, May 2009
Mary Ann: Mandi Luis is the person who provided the inspiration
for the Working Through It project. This project will be a series of web-based videos
that feature people who have lived and worked with emotional distress including
depression or anxiety, talking about how they worked through what sometimes felt
like never-ending devastating distress. They will share how they handled relationships,
workplace issues, financial concerns, and especially how they were able to reclaim
their own well-being. For some this distress was related to workplace issues, for
others it was events in their personal life including a diagnosis of cancer, and
for some their distress was complicated by their use of alcohol or drugs. For some,
it seemed to come out of nowhere and take over their lives.
These inspiring individuals share from their own experience, suggestions and ideas
that they know made a difference to their own ability to navigate out of hopelessness
towards wellness. The videos will provide comments that will help the viewer to
answers their own real life questions at work, off work or returning to work, such
What is happening to me? Why is this such a struggle? Who can help me at work? What
should I say? How can I begin to feel better? How can I manage financially? How
do I cope at work?
Mandi, can you describe your own experience with emotional distress at work?
Mandi: My situation was largely the result of stressors outside
of work. It began with the impact of becoming a single parent of two teenage children,
my oldest child being involved with the wrong crowd and my youngest struggling with
academic and health concerns. In addition to trying to cope with readjusting our
lives, moving from our home, and transferring into a new position at work with more
responsibility, I was also hit by an 18-wheeler. Most of this occurred within a
six month period. During this time I was trying to do what I had always done, which
was to keep my personal life out of the workplace. Each day that I went into work,
I was trying very hard to be the same person, but each day I was losing my confidence,
becoming more scared and more anxious. I began to avoid my boss and depend heavily
on one particular co-worker for support. It became harder and harder to reflect
on my work, analyze things objectively or focus on the task at hand. I became so,
so scared. After 11 months of struggling to keep up I had totally lost my confidence,
began to cry at work and felt negativity from some in the workplace. Unfortunately,
I did not get the right help at that time and instead of getting better, I first
got much worse. Eventually, I felt that I was such a burden on the team that I made
the decision to leave and that resulted in serious financial loss and as you know,
a few regrets.
Mary Ann: As Mandi worked on her recovery, she reached out to our
organization, Mental Health Works, to ask how she could help others who are in the
situation she was in. We decided that she should write an article about what she
wished she had known when she was working through her ordeal. The result is an amazing
feature you can find at www.mentalhealthworks.com called 'What I Wish I Knew: A
snapshot of my experience with mental illness at work'. It is both a fascinating
and practical resource available at no cost to anyone who chooses to read it. But
it is exactly reading it that Mandi thought would have presented a problem for her
when she was unwell.
Mandi: I was educated, a senior manager, had held several management
roles, was always someone who sought out information and initiated obtaining resources
for myself and others. The fact that this happened to me was a surprise to myself
and to those who knew me. During this time I was so scared and had such anxiety
about being unable to perform that it paralyzed me to the point that I could not
access my own resources or seek help. I never even thought that there was help and
yet, I had once supported one of my own employees through a similar situation. At
the time I just could not understand what I needed or where to look for it. More
than that, I was unable to focus on complex materials such as the written word.
It was for this reason that I said after writing 'What I Wish I Knew', that I probably
would not have been able to read it during this period. The only thing that I thought
would have been helpful was to have been given a resource, that provided straightforward,
practical information, preferably in short and to-the-point video format, that I
could use at home. I desperately needed to hear from someone who had been where
I was and had returned to wellness and to work successfully. I needed hope because
the only messages that I actually heard were that I would be like this forever.
Mary Ann: The problem back in 2004 when Mandi told me this was
twofold. One was that Mental Health Works was a non-funded, non-profit, charity
program (which translates to, we don't have the money) and the other was that our
program was focused on workplace mental health issues and not on the other important
factors in Mandi's vision which included navigating through recovery and the disability
system. In 2008 we found the perfect partners when Mood Disorders Association of
Ontario, who are focused on helping people through the recovery process, and The
Great-West Life Assurance Company and their Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
expressed an interest in making Mandi's vision a reality. Mood Disorders Association
provided the expertise and resources around the individual journey towards recovery.
Great-West Life provided a generous donation to enable Mental Health Works and Mood
Disorders to collaborate and develop the videos and supports, access to information
to help individuals better understand the disability system, hosting of the final
project on their website for anyone to access at no cost, and staff support on project
We found 10 people who, like thousands of Canadians, struggled with mental health
issues such as depression or anxiety and found a way to reclaim their well-being.
It is these individuals who provide the primary resource which are short video clips
that provide help, hope, inspiration and practical suggestions. We were also able
to engage some of the greatest minds in the field to act as our Professional Advisory
Group. This group ensures our work meets their standards and provided us with insight
into how we might make it even better.
So now we have the right partners, amazing human beings who are sharing their experiences,
funding to get it done. Mandi, what are your hopes for this project?
Mandi: My hope is that those who are experiencing mental health
issues will use this resource, feel that they are not alone, understand that there
are different paths to recovery and that there is recovery. I hope that they will
know that life will not always look like it may do today. I also hope that the information
we provide will be accessible, when they need it, at various places on the road
to recovery, and that they find new ideas and strategies to navigate their own journey
towards reclaiming well-being. To sum it up, I hope that this resource provides
help, hope and support while they are Working Through It.
Working Through It is available at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com
Mental Health Works www.mentalhealthworks.ca
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario
Moods Magazine www.moodsmag.com
It is with our deepest gratitude that we thank Mandi Luis and the Working Through
It™ project team for their vision, determination and perseverance in
creating this most inspiring resource.