My name is Neal O’Farrell and over the last four decades I’ve carved out a pretty envious reputation in the world of cybersecurity.
I was part of the first generation of cybersecurity entrepreneurs. I’ve advised governments, Fortune 500 companies, and intelligence agencies. I’ve won awards and accolades and enjoyed a host of technology firsts. I’ve keynoted in Las Vegas and spoken at the headquarters of Facebook in Menlo Park California. And living and working at the center of this world full of secrets, I had a few of my own.
Since an early teenager, I’ve suffered from a trifecta of sometimes debilitating mental illnesses that most people around me knew nothing about. I was diagnosed with social affective disorder, now part of the social anxiety family, with ADHD, and with chronic depression. As I’ve gotten older, the diseases have gotten worse, sometimes debilitating, costing me business opportunities, income, sometimes friends, and always lost time.
So I started to study mental illness more seriously, to better understand these diseases, trying to figure out if there were better solutions than expensive zombie pills. A few things I did notice. For starters, far more people than I ever imagined are in the very same boat as me, although some boats might be taking on water much faster than others.
About 1 in five Americans suffer from depression or anxiety or both, and those are just two of about a dozen different types of mental illness. It also became obvious that while loved ones often bear the greatest emotional burden, workplaces could be paying the highest price, carrying the biggest financial burden, and unnecessarily. Mental health issues now cost businesses close to a quarter of a trillion dollars every year – from things like absenteeism, lost productivity, healthcare costs and so on.
I began to realize that a disease that often has the most impact on the workplace, and on the bottom line of every business, could find a cure in the workplace. We’ve been placing the burden for far too long on either victims and their families, a burden that often they can no longer bear and sometimes with tragic consequences, or placing the burden on a healthcare system that many just can’t afford.
And that’s when I began to imagine the Get Well @ Work message, the notion that in our efforts to both help all those suffering from mental unwellness, and at the same time to help reduce the burden on businesses, we’ve been looking the wrong way all along. That place that so many employees dread facing every day because of how much worse it can make them feel, might actually be the solution.
And not only that, a free solution that helps everyone.
Get Well @Work is based on a simple but radical idea that if the workplace becomes the central support system for employees suffering from mental illness or unwellness, those employees, their co-workers, and the business could all win. And often without it costing anyone anything.