Ottawa entrepreneurs look to spark honest talk at mental health forum

Terri Storey
Terri Storey

Ottawa entrepreneurs will open up about their own mental health at an event this week aimed at promoting honest and oftentimes difficult conversations in the workplace.

Hosted at Bayview Yards on Thursday, Working Minds: #GetLouder will feature local executives sharing thoughts on balancing startup life with mental health and how to approach these conversations in the office. Ruckify founder Steve Cody, You.i TV CEO Jason Flick and NumberCrunch CEO Susan Richards are among the slated speakers. All proceeds from the event will go towards the DIFD initiative at the Royal.

“We want to start the conversations, being honest and real, about the challenges in mental health,” says event organizer Terri Storey.

She and her team are organizing the event as part of a soft launch for the Snapclarity app, which provides users with access to a mental health checkup and on-demand counseling through text and video chats. The firm raised $1.5 million this past year to fund the app, which has been live for about two months now.

Before the event even begins, it’s already sparking discussions online. Invest Ottawa senior marketing strategist Ryan Gibson took to LinkedIn to promote the upcoming event, and shared his own struggles with mental illness.

“I was in therapy for five years,” he wrote. “The reality is depression/anxiety disorders manifest in so many ways; the signs are not always obvious.”

A hefty cost

Statistics show that Gibson is not alone in managing mental illness in the workplace, and it’s an expensive line item for businesses.

Doug Smeall, Sun Life Financial’s assistant vice-president of health management services, wrote in a University of Toronto journal a few years ago about how mental illness is affecting workplaces. Thirty per cent of long-term disability claims were related to mental health conditions in 2011 at an average cost to businesses of $80,000 each.

Storey, who has worked in mental health for the past two decades at her clinic Terrace Wellness Centre, says self-care can be especially difficult for entrepreneurs.

“As entrepreneurs, taking care of ourselves is not always the No. 1 priority."

“As entrepreneurs, taking care of ourselves is not always the No. 1 priority … We’re very busy, we’re multitasking, we’re trying to keep our startups alive and it’s difficult.”

Storey adds that it’s especially important for founders and CEOs to keep their mental health in check because they’re role models for their employees and set the culture at a startup.

On the other hand, Storey notes that much of the culture shift is coming from the new generation. As millennials enter the workforce and display baby boomers, they bring with them a new openness to discuss mental health and the impacts of anxiety and depression.

“This is a generation that’s making us deal with it,” she says.

Playing a part

Storey founded Snapclarity with the belief that there was a gap in the market to address mental health on demand and sees workplaces as a logical entry point. While the app is primarily B2C, she hopes to engage businesses to work with their insurance providers to incorporate subscriptions to Snapclarity in benefits packages.

The on-demand nature of the app can fit better with working days rather than traditional hour-long therapy sessions and could end up being more affordable in the long run, Storey says.

“CEOs have a part to play in this. We’re not optimizing the money we’re investing,” she says.

In his post, Gibson noted that he never would have brought up his challenges with an employer 10 years ago when the topic was still taboo. Though the situation may be better today, he believes stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace should not be the reason anyone suffers in silence.

“Whether you're drowning in distress or thinking of throwing someone a life preserver; the waters of mental health can be difficult and uncomfortable to navigate. We need to get better at asking for and offering help.”