“Asking for workplace accommodations that set you up for success will help a company get the most out of you.” with Aaron Harvey and Chaya Weiner

Asking for workplace accommodations that set you up for success will also help a company get the most out of you. One component of our new workplace guide, Beautiful Brains, is to help educate both employees and employers on the concept of accommodations, and how they can actually boost productivity for the company, and the […]

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Asking for workplace accommodations that set you up for success will also help a company get the most out of you. One component of our new workplace guide, Beautiful Brains, is to help educate both employees and employers on the concept of accommodations, and how they can actually boost productivity for the company, and the health of the individual.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Harvey, a partner and co-founder at Ready Set Rocket, a New York City-based marketing agency. He is also the co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Made of Millions — a grassroots advocacy platform made for sufferers, by sufferers.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this point in your career?

After struggling in silence with undiagnosed OCD for over 20 years, I decided to devote my time and skills to making sure younger generations don’t experience the same pain. Along the way, I discovered that the most inspiring, impactful mental health advocacy is being driven by those who have survived mental illness — not institutions, government programs or large scale non-profits. Our mission at Made of Millions is to inspire DIY advocacy within the mental health community. We want to encourage everyday people to invest in themselves, their recovery, and eventually, drive change in their local communities.

Can you tell us a story about your struggle?

I started experiencing intrusive thoughts around 13-years-old — graphic, violent, taboo thoughts that play on repeat in my mind, making me question my character and capabilities. I spent decades living with this hidden illness, convinced I was a psychopath about to snap. At 33, I finally plugged “violent thoughts” into Google, and learned that I had a little-known form of OCD called Pure O. This subtype is characterized by mental compulsions, rather than the visual ones that most people associate with OCD. I spent hours and hours each day in an anxiety-induced state that eventually led to panic attacks, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard in your life?

I’ve always been very high-functioning, and capable of immersing myself in work, productivity and hobbies as a way of being present and escaping the chaos in my head. That has its pros and cons. On one hand, it’s a therapeutic vehicle and a creative outlet. On the other, that always-on drive and ambition can exacerbate my mental health conditions. I find myself pushing and pushing and pushing to create more and more things, and I question if it’s all just an unhealthy compulsion, or if it’s just in my DNA.

So what did you do to turn things around?

There’s a behavioral therapy called Exposure Response Prevention Therapy. The idea is that by exposing yourself gradually to fear (a phobia, OCD obsessions, trauma, etc.), you learn how to let your anxiety pass. With my advocacy work, I’ve learned that while it can feel very exploitative and take a toll on my emotional health, it’s a good source of constant exposure. It forces me to face my demons head-on. And learn how to harness them for the greater good.

Every day is a new day. With OCD, it’s super cyclical. I can go for weeks without paying much mind to my intrusive thoughts, or I can go months straight of total utter chaos. On the positive, I have been getting better at mitigating the rumination that comes from anxiety and depression. Rumination is a silent killer. So, in short, I’m OK right now, but always a work in progress.

Can you share a story about a mishap that was made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s a self-funded volunteer project. But just like any business, mistakes abound. That said, my biggest mistake was assuming that non-profit organizations would want to collaborate. Sadly, the combination of institutionalized thinking, organizational bureaucracy, and fear of losing a ‘donor’ or ‘sponsor’ to another non-profit project has proven to be a shockingly sad reality.

We’re building a DIY movement. And that takes open collaboration and knowledge share. “Our” benefit is stronger than “your” benefit. Our ethos is tied to my experience playing in punk and indie bands — sure, we competed, but we also helped each other get shows, meet agents and so on. It’s the same in the digital agency space. We agencies help each other out, even though we are competing for the same RFPs. So, this non-profit conservatism, this old world protectionism is something that I fundamentally do not understand, nor seek to be part of. So, my biggest lesson is that we simply have to go around it and find our own path forward until someone listens.

What do you think makes Made of Millions stand out? Can you share a story?

When you look at the mental health landscape, you have 2 very disconnected components. On one side, you have artists creating and sharing beautiful stories through a variety of mediums. On the other end of the spectrum, you have traditional institutions doing research and advocacy. We sit squarely in the middle. Our goal is to combine art and advocacy to advance mental health education and end stigma. That’s why we invest in beautiful storytelling, while simultaneously connecting it to tangible advocacy, where people who’ve been affected by mental illness can make a change in their communities — whether that be school, work, home, faith, policy.

Within that position, our goal is to help create an identity around mental health culture. We launched a touring exhibition that has stopped in London and New York called SEEN. The idea is to leverage artists and have them tell mental health narratives through their own visual language, and then pair that work with in-depth conversations about the mental health landscape and fight for change. This idea of rebranding what mental health looks and feels like is critical to advocacy. Especially when you are competing with other causes that can be easily visualized and felt by society at large — pollution, plastic in oceans, genocide.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them deal with mental health issues in the workplace?

Asking for workplace accommodations that set you up for success will also help a company get the most out of you. One component of our new workplace guide, Beautiful Brains, is to help educate both employees and employers on the concept of accommodations, and how they can actually boost productivity for the company, and the health of the individual.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am forever grateful to the bravery that Rose Cartwright, our co-founder, shared when she published her story in the Guardian, humanizing the condition of OCD and intrusive thoughts. It was a real lifesaver. Beyond that, our tiny little volunteer team blows my mind every day. Anastasia Kuznetsova for her relentless dedication as a creative and designer to help bring these strategies and ideas to life, and Lauren O’Shaughnessy for taking a big risk right out of school to come onboard and advocate for this cause through strategy and editorial. I’m forever grateful for this core team.

Moving forward, we’re starting to expand our relationships with larger corporations that align with our ethos, and we’re very excited about the potential to bring big ideas to life, at scale.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Every day, I use my best efforts to balance generating value for clients, revenue for the agency, and advocating for mental illness both in the workplace and beyond. However, I can leverage my skills, access and relationships for the greater good is my core focus.

Can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can be a mental health advocate?

  1. Submit your story: We want to redefine what it means to have mental illness, and the best way to do that, is through storytelling. If you’re struggling or have struggled in the past, reach out with your experience or relevant artwork, and we’ll find creative ways to publicize it and help make a difference.
  2. Advocate online: Honestly, one of the greatest ways to support our platform is by encouraging online discussion. Talk about mental health, share our resources and art, help educate others. As a grassroots movement, we thrive when we’re creating conversation. Just remember to tag us!
  3. Bring us into your workplace: Our team visits corporations, schools and public conferences to talk about mental health stigma, storytelling, advocacy and policy reform. Sometimes a panel or workshop is the best way to humanize a person’s experience, and spark an intimate conversation in spaces where it might otherwise be avoided.
  4. Share our resources: It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to mental health advocacy. We’re constantly investing in resources and toolkits that eliminate that confusion. They’re written and designed to be shared directly with workplaces, schools, centers of faith and community organizers. Explore what we have to offer and send it to others who can help you implement our recommendations and drive grassroots change.
  5. Host an event: We don’t just want to facilitate online community, we want to bring those connections into the real world. Our goal is to create a network of international advocates who host meet-ups, support groups and speaking events that bring sufferers together on a local level. If you reach out, we’ll give you the information you need to put this in motion in your town or city.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I already have, in truth. Made of Millions is the movement, and I am hoping that over time, it will help to make sure that workplaces across the globe accept neurodiversity. Workplace wellness is a movement that’s starting small, but it’s my goal that one day, the 32 million workers in the U.S. who experience mental illness will not suffer in silence.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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