Before I started working as the Content Marketing Manager and Staff Writer at Talkspace, I was unemployed for about 11 weeks during the summer of 2015. After taking a historic financial hit, my parent company had to lay me off, along with almost everyone else in our startup.
As if it was some scene from “Up in the Air,” a woman who looked a bit like Anna Kendrick flew to our New York office, pulled me aside, and told me what I already knew was going to happen. It was all so blatantly unnecessary. Rather than feeling better after talking to her, I wondered why someone whose job it was to fire people was more important to the company than my coworkers and I. A letter or email would have sufficed.
The unemployment period was difficult and fraught with other unfortunate events. Bed bugs infested my apartment and pooped all over my bedroom walls. My building was able to handle the situation without kicking me out of the apartment, but it still took a financial and emotional toll on me. I had to throw out all of the sentimental items the bed bugs had crapped on, including a thoughtful gift my girlfriend had bought. Throwing everything out and buying new linens depleted a lot of my savings.
Then my incompetent parent company lost my severance. They misplaced the check somehow. I eventually received it, but the delay was infuriating. To stay in my apartment rather than moving out and living with my parents, I withdrew my 401K early.
It was the only money I had saved. Unless you make it big, writing is far from a lucrative career. Almost all of my paycheck had gone toward paying rent. I often had to pay it late, too.
All of this stress exacerbated my depressive-anxiety disorder. It strained some of my physical health issues as well. Soon even the 401K money would run out, swallowed up by rent like everything else. I needed a job, any job.
Nonetheless, what I wanted and aggressively sought was a job that would provide an environment where I could do what I loved, grow my skills, and take care of both my mental and physical health. Because of my mental illness and many physical ailments, I needed a flexible schedule that would allow me to come in a little later and visit various health professionals during the day. The recent stressors made this more important than ever.
What I found was much better, beyond my imagination.
When I was scrolling through listings for writing jobs, I saw the position I now have at Talkspace. The idea of making a living writing about mental health and therapy — both of which were subjects I was already passionate about — seemed too good to be true.
I decided to apply by opening up about my history of struggling with mental illness. I wanted whoever hired me to see how passionate I was about using my writing to help others who had struggled with mental illness.
Fortunately this strategy paid off. Talkspace hired me, and I began spending my working days using content to attract people like myself to a service that could help them. My senior colleagues perceived my mental illness as a strength, not a weakness or liability. They had no judgment or discomfort regarding it.
On my first day, my boss encouraged me to use Talkspace. Full-time Talkspace employees receive it for free, so why not take advantage of the service?
Using the product has been a great experience. Even when work at Talkspace becomes stressful, using Talkspace online therapy is, ironically, an effective solution.
Nonetheless, the culture of mental health openness and support went far beyond employees using what they were selling. I became comfortable casually discussing mental illness with co-workers. Many of them were open about their mental health issues as well.
Rather than being vague about my appointments, I casually told people I was off to see my online psychiatrist in the middle of the day or refill my mental health medication. If I was having an anxiety attack or my depression was acting up, I simply said so. It wasn’t a big deal.
All of these aspects of my work experience bolstered my mental health and improved my productivity. Our office is a bastion of acceptance where the mental health stigma of the outside world has to wait at the door. When I step inside, I feel like I am jumping decades into the future to a time when most people have an understanding attitude toward mental health and therapy.
I wish every workplace in the world was like this. Even if companies don’t make products related to mental health, they should still care about mental health and ensure there is no stigma in the office. Our culture should be the norm, not an outlier.
Since the start of my nearly two years working at Talkspace, the mental health support and openness in our culture has grown. We have a clinical team that addresses workplace mental health issues, among many other duties.
Our Vice President of Behavioral Health Services, Linda Sacco, recently told me employees frequently come to her asking for recommendations for therapists. She also regularly overhears employees openly chatting about their experiences in therapy.
Leadership encourages employees to occasionally take mental health days, not only sick days for physical ailments. Unfortunately the idea of a mental health day is rare in other workplaces.
When employers don’t invest in developing progressive policies and an accepting culture, they alienate the one in five adults who experience mental illness every year. Right now our company is an example of what workplaces should be, not what they are. Let’s continue to fight the stigma of mental illness and therapy so Talkspace’s workplace culture becomes the standard, not the exception.