World Mental Health Day: Leading Through Lived Experience

Aaron Labbé
October 7, 2022
5 minute read
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‍Business leaders must make mental health a priority beyond benefits packages and give their team a safe environment to thrive.

Layoffs, inflation, a potential recession, climate change, global conflicts—these ever-present issues take a significant toll on our mental health at work and at home.

As someone whose mental health struggles laid the groundwork for my career, I welcome any opportunity to discuss emotional well-being and its significance for business leaders and their employees. With World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, it’s the perfect time to raise awareness, lessen the stigma and summon the support to “make mental health and well-being for all a global priority,” which is this year’s theme.

In 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in every eight people – 970 million people worldwide – were living with a mental health challenge. The global health crisis has only increased people’s mental woes while decreasing the services and funding available for treatment, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Across the globe last year, more than 89.3 million people were forcibly displaced, which often leads to severe psychological distress and increased barriers to treatment. Meanwhile, stigma and discrimination continue to hinder people’s lives, including at work, where toxic environments can render us isolated, hopeless and fearful to ask for support.

Each year for World Mental Health Day, the roughly 20-person team I lead at LUCID takes extra time during our morning meeting to discuss mental health and its importance in the workplace. While we strive for an ever-present focus on mental health, Oct. 10 opens the door to further discussion, to share good literature and to remind one another about our policy of openness and transparency.

Lived Experience as an Entrepreneur with Bipolar I

My experiences with mental health, music and tech have given me a distinct perspective on the healthcare industry through my work as LUCID’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

A decade ago, I received my diagnosis – Bipolar 1 – after more than a year of misdiagnosed mania and psychosis. Unnecessarily prolonged through a lack of care and understanding, my initial symptoms caused lasting trauma, and I know I’m not alone. I was forcibly removed from my school’s music conservatory, hospitalized against my will and told by doctors to cope with my new predicament.

Suddenly, I was apparently unable to finish school, maintain a professional job or lead an active lifestyle.

Over time, rather than cope, I adapted. My dream career as a professional musician evolved to incorporate mental health and technology, which I used alongside music to create empathetic modes of care that would have limited my earlier trauma. What began as my university thesis eventually grew into a company working at the intersection of neuroscience, machine learning and music theory.

Nearly half a decade since LUCID’s founding, my team and I have developed a novel mode of empathetic, accessible and affordable care that should revolutionize the way we approach mental health treatments. Most recently, we secured more than $3 million in venture funding to expand our team and our research into a digital therapeutic to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

So much for being unable to maintain a professional job.

Mental Health & Business Leadership

Mental health has justifiably come to the forefront of the business world, with today’s top leaders making it a priority beyond adding support options to their employees’ benefits plans.

It's less about access to support and more about making your team feel comfortable with their mental health, as well as expressing their emotional well-being, day in and day out.

At LUCID, I encourage all employees to take personal days as needed. They’re invited to communicate their feelings, their struggles and their concerns as needed with me or anyone else with whom they’re comfortable.

I try to lead by example by being transparent about my mental health. It’s the simplest thing you can do as a leader, but it's often poorly done because the stigma surrounding mental health persists.

People still feel uncomfortable talking about their struggles—especially entrepreneurs, who are constantly expected to be at 100 percent, which is both unfair and unrealistic. This expectation needs to change, and I applaud World Mental Health Day for sparking that discussion.

Entrepreneurs are like everyone else: we’re not superhuman, and we can fall victim to anxiety, depression and other issues. We, as leaders, also have a responsibility to be more realistic about our entrepreneurial stories; instead of solely focusing on our successes, we also need to be open and honest about our failures. Every business leader has experienced stressful days and nights hyperventilating, crying and being unable to eat or sleep.

This transparency and honesty will naturally promote a positive work environment in which your employees will feel more open with their true feelings and emotional needs. Opening the door to your employees’ struggles carries far more significance than simply adding therapy to your benefits plan. The latter approach implicitly tells your employees to figure it out on their own away from the workplace.

At LUCID, balancing my employees' mental health with the company’s production – all of our major projects, tight deadlines and high pressure – has been easier than people might think. Some leaders assume people would take advantage of this empathetic policy, but throughout my working life, I’ve only seen employees become demotivated when these types of policies are lacking. To maintain a productive workplace, your entire team needs to be working at their best. That’s impossible if they’re constantly worried about how their mental health might impact their career. As a leader, if you’re creating that environment, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

Boosting Empathy & Accessibility Through Tech

As someone with lived experience as a marginalized patient, I’m striving to disrupt the healthcare industry and its traditional, often counterproductive approaches using the lessons I learned in my darkest days.

Rather than digitizing existing modes of care – such as digital cognitive behavioural therapy or teletherapy – I’ve placed music at the forefront of LUCID’s technology to create an entirely new approach through personalization and optimization. Music therapy has a long history and continues to gain credibility through clinical trials; however, LUCID’s technology goes further by personalizing and then optimizing the way we listen to music. Our algorithm recommends the right music for the right person at the right time, and these novel approaches are blazing new trails in both mental health and the wider tech sector. While most tech-focused mental health research focuses on making an existing medication more efficient or traditional therapy more scalable, LUCID is creating an entirely new form of therapy and making it scalable based on the glaring gaps I’ve noticed throughout my treatment.

Empathetic care is perfectly attuned to an individual patient’s needs at any specific moment. It also grants people agency over their care, so with LUCID, users can interact with and improve the algorithm that’s working to meet their needs—as opposed to medication or another treatment being forced down their throat.

In its simplest implementation, LUCID’s technology works on a smartphone without any peripherals. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population now has a smartphone, so the potential for widespread scalability and accessibility is there. The accessibility is similar to yoga and meditation, which offer the same type of agency; however, LUCID requires no training or practice. It’s a truly passive, non-invasive intervention, which is what people in a crisis state need.

I’m thrilled to once again share my story and encourage other entrepreneurs to follow suit for the good of their employees, their companies and themselves.