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“Don’t assume.” With Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated & Anja Dunphy

Don’t assume the people who appear happy aren’t anxious or depressed. Although there have been many documentaries about mental health, the recent release of Come Inside My Mind (available on HBO) about the life and suicide of the iconic comedian Robin Williams has helped bring awareness to the foreground. As a part of my series […]

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Don’t assume the people who appear happy aren’t anxious or depressed. Although there have been many documentaries about mental health, the recent release of Come Inside My Mind (available on HBO) about the life and suicide of the iconic comedian Robin Williams has helped bring awareness to the foreground.

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anja Dunphy.

Anja Dunphy has been a leader in Corporate America for over 20 years, more than ten of which have been focused on healthcare. In 2019, her drive to help the community and her expertise in businesses development led her to create Leaf Mental Health. Leaf is a teletherapy company that connects industry leading therapists with patients looking for their help. The pandemic that began in 2020 has created a surge in need for online mental healthcare services and Leaf continues to grow to support that demand.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Ihave always felt inspired and driven to find new ways to help the people around me advance their own lives, both professionally and personally. Each of us can bring our unique strength and unique talents forward, making their lives, mine, and the wider community better for everyone.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

After more than twenty years in progressively higher corporate leadership roles, decided to start my own teletherapy company in 2019. I had many friends who were busy professionals like me and had difficulty staying in therapy because the time it took to get to and from the psychologist’s office was too much for their schedule. The therapists I knew expressed frustration that marketing for new clients was taking time away from treating patients. Seeing this mutual need inspired me to create Leaf Mental Health. The vision was to help patients easily find and get access to experienced, top tier therapists and give psychologists more time to treat patients versus search for them. The investment in helping people become happier and more fulfilled on that scale has been tremendously rewarding.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Decades in leadership in corporate America provided a host of opportunities to witness burnout as well as see how some people manage stress and balance life well. Particularly in this era of so many people working from home, setting clear time boundaries is a great help. Based on your business and personal needs, set a schedule for the day when you will be working and when you will turn off your computer or stop checking email. There are well known benefits to turning off screens (and work related screens in particular) at least an hour before going to sleep at night. Tosha Silver once wrote “Don’t drink somebody else’s poison.” You alone know what you need to and can do. Trust that and, as much as possible, try to not internalize other people’s anxiety. Another tremendously beneficial practice is to take just 15 minutes a day to have fun- really have fun. This can be playing with your children or pets, dancing to your favorite music, or anything else that elevates your mood to feel happy and joyful. The uplift will last well beyond the 15 minutes you spend focused on getting into that feeling. Prioritizing your health- regular sleep and a healthy diet- will improve your ability to make good decisions and stay balanced throughout the day. It’s easy to stay up late to finish answering emails or get a little further with a project, but it will diminish your overall productivity later and may reduce your performance in all areas.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

1. Trust your employees. If you focus on a good hiring process and bring on talented people who can do the job, trust them to do the work. Checking in occasionally and monitoring results are key ongoing business functions, but employees who know you trust them are more engaged and productive.

2. Take time to get to know your employees and spend some time, even just a few minutes each week, to ask them about their lives. Taking a consistent and sincere interest in them, not just their work, will make a strong impression and serve to keep them engaged.

3. Find ways to focus on the why/ purpose of the work so each person understands the impact and value of their participation.

4. While many companies work to cultivate a learning culture, studies have found that a focus on teaching has an even stronger positive impact on culture. People become focused on helping one another and teaching somebody else also hones the skill for the teacher.

5. Have fun whenever you can.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite quote is a well known one from Theodore Roosevelt. It is from his speech: Citizenship in a Republic. It’s long, but have referenced it and shared it numerous times over the years:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

When I hear criticism, I remind myself it takes strength to show up and do the work or push for the goal. I try to honestly listen to and evaluate what others say, but be understand that a lot of it is noise from people who do not close enough to truly understand. In short, it is important to listen, but always keep your own counsel. Ask yourself who you want to be and follow the path to get there.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Fortune 500 companies are offering enhanced mental health benefits to employees. As an example, a major national insurance carrier is now allowing employees to see any mental health specialist and have the sessions covered as an in network benefit, even is the provider is out of network.
  2. Develop programs that help prevent discrimination and reduce the stigma of mental healthcare. Silicon Valley has pioneered this in many ways, such as having therapists on site to meet with employees seeking care.
  3. A wide range of wellness programs have become increasingly available to employees, from simple to complex. Smaller ones may offer discounts for services (gym membership, mental healthcare, etc.). More comprehensive programs may provide financial compensation to employees for getting preventative care, logging X number of steps on a pedometer, or hitting other healthcare metrics. Some employers with large campuses that include cafeterias for employees charge less for healthier meals- a salad may cost less than a slice of pizza to incent people to make a healthier dietary choice.
  4. Encourage connectiveness. Gallup studies determined people who felt they had at least one close friend at work were happier and more engaged. Personal connections have been harder to form while so many people are forced to work remotely. Teams have weekly happy hours or coffee get togethers in which the group all video conference into the gathering. Managers should encourage employees to reach out to peers with questions and FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom call the other person to see each other live while talking.
  5. Send wellness surveys to employees. Ask them what they need and respond to their ideas.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

Make wellness and mental health a common corporate topic, encouraging people to think and talk about it. A Wednesday Wellness newsletter, virtual yoga classes, or encouraging them to use the discounted wellness services available to them are all easy and helpful ways to shift away from the stigma sometimes associated with mental health.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?

  1. Be as self aware as possible. Understanding your own perceptions and how they might influence the way you interact with those around you will help you be more perceptive and give a more objective view of how to support the people around you.
  2. Don’t assume the people who appear happy aren’t anxious or depressed. Although there have been many documentaries about mental health, the recent release of Come Inside My Mind (available on HBO) about the life and suicide of the iconic comedian Robin Williams has helped bring awareness to the foreground.
  3. Making mental healthcare available to all those who indicate a need for it. Social programs to support people who need care and cannot afford it will elevate us all. Many mentally ill people are suffering so severely they are unable to maintain jobs or function at a high level.
  4. Most people suffer from some level of anxiety, depression or stress during their lives. It is very normal and should be acknowledged as such. There are hundreds of YouTube videos featuring celebrities talking about their own struggles with mental illness, ranging from Dwayne Johnson to Michael Phelps to Lady Gaga to K-Pop. Continued conversation featuring role models will support a shift in societal perception.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

Schedule your sleep and monitor your eating habits. This basic care for your body will go a long way to better mental health. When you feel a surge of anxiety, stop for a minute and interrupt that train of thought. Slow down, take a few focused deep breaths and ask yourself what about the situation is upsetting you. There are always choices; think about your choices in the moment for how to handle the incident for the happiest outcome for you. Ask yourself if you are worried about something that already happened that you cannot change, something in the future you are worried about (but may not happen) or something happening to you right now. Focusing on the moment should help you focus and make good decisions about what to do next. There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of daily meditation. Taking five or ten minutes to stop what you are doing and focus on your breath each day calms anxiety and has numerous other neurological benefits.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story? Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This book, first published in 1937, provides repeated examples and information about the power of focus and determination. It inspired me to learn about my own desires and purpose in a deeper way and reinforced the impact of perseverance when pursuing the goals that really resonate. It’s a great book for anybody wondering what to do next in their lives.

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. 🙂

There are two things that come to mind. First, enhancing the education system to teach children how to deal with the inevitable anxiety that comes in life and build their confidence by helping them find ways to trust themselves (versus outside influences). Second, making short volunteering to support some public services mandatory. It would reduce cost to the public for these services and give people across society a way to be empathetic by connecting with those they otherwise might not.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

LeafMentalHealth.com provides excellent mental healthcare to those who seek it. Over 70% of our providers have doctorate level training and have been in private practice for over ten years. We post weekly articles on our blog page about mental health questions and share occasional information on social media with our 700 Facebook followers and 2,000 Instagram followers. If there are specific questions, contact us anytime at [email protected]. We’ll find a way to help!

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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