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My Sister Karen Is My Why

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share the backstory of “my why'' or the reason behind my passion about speaking about the importance of mental health and wellness. It is very personal to me and my family. My sister, Karen, suffers from depression (diagnosed), anxiety (diagnosed) and possibly attention deficit disorder (ADD) (not diagnosed). Living with this mental condition for years, Karen was having a difficult time managing being a single mother and her career in architecture. She found that her firm lacked the understanding of mental health as well as the awareness of how best to support her or willingness to offer accommodations for her to work from home as she healed. The sad result was that she was terminated leading to a downward spiral of deep depression, isolation and near suicide.

This was a life-changing time for not only my sister but also my entire family. In order to assist her, I dug deep into research on mental illness and how best to support my sister. I soon discovered that my sister is not alone as 1 out of 4 Americans experience mental illness. I also found that the business world has a long way to go to overcome the “stigma” around mental illness to create a caring culture that embraces mental health and encourages all to care for oneself.

Many people tell me that it takes courage to talk about mental health. I never thought about it that way. I simply saw a lack of awareness of mental health in our society as well as in the workplace that needed to be bridged with education and discussion. I felt this was a small way that I could help my sister by doing my part to increase the understanding of the importance of mental health and wellbeing. My ultimate goal is that others who are suffering will not have to lose to the “stigma” that those who have mental illness are weak or unproductive. Or feel the “deep shame” that my sister continues to feel to this day.

The reality is that mental illness is a medical condition just like diabetes. Yes, mental illness is the ‘illness you can’t see,' however it can be managed. The one experiencing the illness should be fully supported by all to get the best treatment and care leading to a great and productive life.

I was proud to be the first to speak of mental health in the multifamily industry in 2019. I am thrilled that there has been a surge of support of mental health and focus on wellbeing possibly due to what we all experienced during the pandemic with a rise in depression, anxiety, isolation and extreme stress. Today, I see a growth of positive conversations about mental health, an expansion of company resources for wellness and a normalization of leaders supporting employees to care for their wellbeing. I challenge every leader and manager to assess how aware they are of their team’s wellbeing and determine the best way to refer colleagues to assistance. As education continues to grow with the focus on all the areas of wellness (physical, social, occupational, financial, spiritual and emotional), I am humbled to know that me and my sister, Karen, played a small role in this movement.

Karen- I hope you know that this is part of your amazing legacy and positive impact on the world. You have helped so many people. More than you know. Every time I step on the stage you are with me. It is a privilege to be the messenger of the story and I am humbled to share it.

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