An inspiring victory inside the battle with mental health
How this Director completely transformed his life through CBT
Foreword by: Paula Allen
Often the most inspiring stories come from the people closest to us — whether they are friends, family or work colleagues. Learning about others’ battles with mental health can provide a deeper sense of understanding and encouragement for those going through similar situations.
That is the case with my colleague, Brad Miller, National Director of Operations in the Absence Management Solutions division at Morneau Shepell.
Brad is an open book — a characteristic forged after a difficult childhood that became even more challenging as a young adult. Working within the very industry that provides mental health support for employees, he was able to push forward and rise up the ranks as a leader in behavioural health, absence prevention and disability management.
Having fought hard to overcome those challenges and his battle with mental health, his story has inspired many of us within our organization and beyond. His story is one of adversity, transformation and ongoing success.
In Brad’s own words…
At a time when no one was talking about mental health, I suffered from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem at school. I especially struggled with social situations throughout university, and the problems seemed to worsen when I got my first job in the non-profit sector.
But that job didn’t work out, and I hit a low point as I was entering into a new professional chapter of my life.
In 2008, I took an entry-level position at Morneau Shepell hoping that things would be different, yet I couldn’t shake those internal feelings. Fortunately, it was my new coworkers who took notice and decided to take steps to help.
Unexpectedly, things finally changed for the better.
Addressing my mental health challenges head-on
Working within the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) call centre at the time was fateful. Being trained to recognize certain symptoms and mental health issues, some colleagues noticed that I was struggling. They took the initiative to approach me, and it may have been one of the most meaningful conversations in my life. It was in this new workplace where I had finally discovered a place where people understood me.
The group suggested counselling through our internal EFAP program — which bridged a critical gap to a point where I’d eventually use my extended health benefits and begin cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in 2010.
Changing my mind through CBT
CBT makes you analyze your thoughts. You learn how to start to challenge those thoughts and slowly rewire how you will respond to similar situations in the future.
Thoughts that persist for years develop into hardened patterns. That makes it even more challenging to break away and follow different ones. Since I had suffered from negative thoughts for years and became trapped by them, I was never able to feel positive about myself or my surrounding environment. But by repeatedly examining my thought patterns and making room for new ones, I literally changed my mind.
My original CBT counsellor used online video to conduct the sessions, with a combination of typed responses and a workbook to document my progress. Writing down my thoughts and reactions to those thought was a big part of my progress with CBT — and it was incredibly beneficial.
With CBT, we draw on our past work to deal with new situations, and that was an important aspect of the therapy for me personally. Essential to the CBT model is that you keep the work you’ve done. It’s a practical approach that is not based on an open-ended, never-ending deep dive associated with traditional therapy.
Moving forward in my life and my career
My life changed — both personally and professionally.
Learning how to apply this practice in daily life, particularly in situations when I needed it most, helped enable me to thrive at Morneau Shepell. It actually encouraged me to grow my career and lead to my current role within the management team. CBT helped me get to this place in my life while remaining true to myself.
What I often do is an abbreviated CBT session in my head. I ask myself how people would be treating me if these feelings of inadequacy were true. Would I really be where I am if I didn’t have something to offer?
Taking CBT online has improved my therapy
When Morneau Shepell decided to create its own Internet-based CBT tool to help our customers and employees, I was thrilled. Technology has come a long way, and Internet-based CBT (iCBT) enables patients like me to track our whole process online rather than using manual documentation.
If I had the opportunity now to reference everything I did in 2010 online, it would be so much easier than having to flick through the pages of a workbook and read my own writing.
Because of my personal experience with therapy, I naturally became an advocate for the iCBT product when development began in the fall of 2017. In fact, I began testing the user interface and giving feedback to the development team that would help improve the solution.
I don’t have the clinical expertise, but I absolutely have that experience as a patient. Simplicity in the user interface was key for me, and I knew first-hand that people grappling with depression and anxiety are not always able to process information quickly and carefully. It’s so critical that the user interface reflects where that person is in their journey.
Looking forward, there are opportunities to expand these types of tools to include more tailored notifications. It will only expand and grow from here. These types of features could regularly remind mobile users to be mindful of their thought patterns or connect patients directly with peers who are facing the same challenges.
A necessary component of mental health support
Tools like this will provide much-needed assistance for those suffering from mental health issues. It’s a growing problem that needs a compassionate solution.
35 per cent of our short-term disability claims are mental health related, so cognitive behavioural therapy is an absolute requirement. It is the gold standard, and it changed my life.
I am proud that I’ve never had to hide who I was. Finally, after all these years, I’ve learned to like that person – and to believe that others around the meeting table feel the same way.
Does your company have the best strategy, practices and policies in place for absence management? Find out in the “Best practices in absence & disability management” eBook.