Interview with Kelly Greenwood, Founder & CEO, Mind Share Partners
Tell us about Mind Share Partners.
Based in San Francisco, Mind Share Partners is a nonprofit that builds awareness, support, and acceptance in the workplace for people with mental health conditions. We work with individuals, leaders, and organizations in three key ways:
Peer Groups. Peer groups provide a forum for individuals who are managing mental health conditions at work. These groups aren’t intended to serve as counseling or therapy, but are really designed to help individuals specifically manage the work environment via the support and best practices of others. We hold citywide peer groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and plan to expand to other cities.
Leader Role Models. We seek out C-suite and senior leader role models who are either managing mental health conditions themselves or are allies to family members or friends who deal with them. We help these company leaders share their stories with the entire staff so that employees who may also be struggling know that they will be accepted and find support from their organization. Targeting these C-suite level leaders is important because they are culture setters for the organization and demonstrate that you can succeed as a leader while managing a mental health condition—and that you can do so without shame. Company leaders are also in a better position to take the risk of “coming out” about their mental health conditions since they are at senior levels and have already proven themselves. For an employee, having that personal connection to a leader who has experience with a mental health condition can normalize the stigma that often comes with this type of diagnosis. It also helps them understand that they will be supported by their company if they need help. Currently, 8 in 10 workers don’t seek treatment for mental health conditions because of fear and shame. Having a personal connection to someone who has navigated a mental health condition can be a major factor in normalizing the experience.
Workplace Training. We’re currently in the process of developing workplace trainings designed to teach managers and coworkers how to navigate the waters of supervising and working with someone with a mental health condition. A big piece of this is emotional intelligence training on how to best support individuals.
What motivated you to start this company?
I struggled for years with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and experienced a deep level of shame about it. Until deciding to start Mind Share Partners, only a few close family members and friends were even aware I had this condition, which has twice led to debilitating depression. Six years ago, things got so bad that I was forced to take a leave of absence from work. At that point, I believed that my career was over since I wasn’t aware of any peers or role models who had dealt with a similar experience. This of course just made my anxiety worse.
Last year, I was able to take a step back and think about what was really most important to me. I’d been in the social sector since business school and wanted to find a mission that felt 100% authentic to me. I wanted to build the nonprofit that would have helped me when I was really struggling. I wasn’t afraid of doing a startup—the big piece to deciding to launch Mind Share Partners was getting comfortable with the idea of sharing my story since I had so long worried about repercussions, particularly professional ones. Eventually, with the support of my husband and some close friends, I decided to “rip the Band-Aid,” and I started sharing with friends and colleagues. That was surprisingly very empowering, and I quickly learned that just about everyone either has or knows someone who has managed a mental health condition (it’s 1 in 5 Americans in any given year!). The experiences shared by others were very eye-opening, and as I analyzed the mental health landscape, I realized there were hardly any organizations focused on the workplace, so there was lots of room for innovation in this field.
What successes have you seen so far?
We’re still in our early days, but we hosted our 3rd pilot peer group this week and have had overwhelmingly positive feedback to these so far. We’ve had people attend who are symptomatic and asymptomatic, and have found that both groups have really benefited from the peer groups. Other peer groups exist for people with specific mental health conditions, but often focus on those with the most severe diagnoses, who may never be able work. Our groups are different since they don’t focus on just one type of condition and are for people who are working and usually highly functioning. The emotional support and tactical best practices from true peers seem to resonate with everyone who attends.
What have been the challenges?
We’re continuing to think about ways to market Mind Share Partners. Due to the stigma that often surrounds mental health, particularly in the U.S., our peer groups are not necessarily the type of thing that people are going to share on social media. We can send announcements to HR representatives at companies, but we’re not sure if people may be suspicious of something that comes from their employer even though our peer groups are confidential and offsite. And many private therapists aren’t in the habit of recommending outside resources like peer groups. So, we’re looking for that sweet spot in marketing.
Why choose to focus on mental health in the work environment?
Mental health has really started to hit an inflection point over the last 3-5 years, with celebrities and sports figures coming out with their mental health struggles. The workplace is really the next place this type of acceptance needs to happen. Most people have jobs, and the way in which mental health issues manifest themselves in the work environment is important to understand. People are better workers and are more likely to get treatment if they have a level of comfort about their mental health condition at work, which also leads to cost savings for companies from higher productivity and fewer leaves of absence.
I also saw a big need to continue to reduce the stigma of mental illness, and the workplace is a critical lever for doing so. When I was struggling at work, it would have made a huge difference if I had known peers or someone at a senior level at my organization with a mental health condition that told me that I could get through it. It’s important for people to have peer support and role models at their places of work who can actually drive change, rather than just an inaccessible person in the media.
What else to you want people to know?
We welcome any inquiries about our peer groups and workplace trainings, and are particularly interested in connecting with C-suite and senior-level leaders who have personal experience with a mental health condition or are an ally for a friend or family member who does. Please visit our website to connect!