I started talking about mental health in tech publicly on /dev/hell in 2012, when Chris Hartjes let me ramble for over an hour about what it has been like to be a developer with mental health issues. That is what started me down the path of speaking at conferences about the issues I face, and the ones we all face, with a talk called “Open Sourcing Mental Illness.”
Every time I gave the talk, people came up to me and told me how significant it was that someone was telling their story openly. They still do, over 3 years after I started, and after nearly 30 different versions of the talk given all across the US.
As it evolved, I started dedicating less time to me, and more to what we knew about the impact of mental disorders in society, and specifically about the tech industry. We know quite a bit about the former, and we know almost nothing about the latter. So I started the Mental Health in Tech Survey in 2014. About 1100 respondents later, we learned that:
- People who work in tech don’t feel safe to discuss mental health issues in the workplace
- People who suffer from mental health issues are afraid they will not be hired or lose their job if they talk about it
- Few people working in tech know what options they have to seek help for mental health issues
- Very few tech workplaces put any effort into promoting mental wellness, despite the demonstrable advantages of doing so
I wanted to change that. I also knew I couldn’t do it by myself, because I don’t have the professional background in either mental health or organizational psychology. I could spout off a bunch of opinions about the matters, but I didn’t trust that I’d give good advice that would actually affect change.
Thankfully I met two amazing people: Jennifer Akullian and Johanna Wu. Jennifer has a PhD in Psychology, Johanna has one in Organizational Psychology, and they both wanted to help me. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I brought them the idea of creating a document that contained real, actionable information about how to create a workplace that encourages and supports mental wellness. A great idea, I thought, and one I felt entirely incapable of executing. Thankfully, they felt differently.
Jennifer did the primary writing and research on three documents:
- Guidelines for Mental Health in the Workplace, which assists companies with changing their culture to support mental wellness,
- Guidelines for Execuctives and HR Professionals, and
- Guidelines for Employees, both of which focus on applying the Americans with Disability Act to mental health in the workplace.
Johanna reviewed the work and added her bits, and she is also working on additional content to complement what we have already created.
Finally, we have handbooks that tech companies and their employees can use to change their culture and know their rights and obligations. Nothing like this has been available for the tech community until now. I couldn’t feel luckier or be prouder of the work we’ve done.
I have to thank all the donors who participated in our 2015 Indiegogo campaign, or have provided other funds or donated time to support OSMI work. We have a team of 10 people helping out in all sorts of ways. It’s turned into something much bigger than I could ever have imagined.
Thank you for believing that this matters. Thank you for trusting me to keep fighting. Thank you for standing by my side in that fight.