Bearing Witness to Personal Stories: Nothing is More Powerful

I took the Pledge.


Against stigma.


As one of more than a hundred CEOs, mayors and executives who have signed on to NAMI-Massachusetts CEOs Against Stigma campaign, it is an honor to stand with my colleagues in bringing parity, equality and compassion to mental health conditions in the workplace.

NAMI-Mass. has created a model and effective campaign designed to reduce – and perhaps one day eliminate – the harmful, stereotypical impact of the stigma and discrimination around mental illness in the workplace.


If you believe that the stigma of mental illness is inflated or doesn’t exist where you work, I can share this: Most people say that they would advise someone with a mental health condition to tell their friends and family. But according to a NAMI survey, only 27 percent of people asked said they would advise telling their co-workers about it.  Despite the progress we’ve made in our knowledge, tolerance and acceptance of the fact that mental illness and addiction are treatable conditions, and not character or moral flaws, most still fear and believe they will lose their job if they disclosed.


At Bournewood, the Pledge is in play, and many of its elements is our normal course of business. We are a behavioral health facility, treating adults and adolescent with mental health and substance use condition with compassion, dignity and respect. Everyone who works here is an ambassador against stigma and understands how societal intolerance is so damaging to a person’s recovery. Our workplace benefits stress wellness and our Employee Assistance Program ensures that our staff and their families have access to resources for their mental health and well being. And every chance we get, Bournewood is out front in educating the public about how to move beyond stigma.


Recently, we hosted a NAMI “In Our Own Voice” (IOOV) presentation at the hospital, which is also part of the Pledge. There is nothing more powerful than the personal story of someone who’s experienced mental illness and who has not only survived, but thrived. We were very fortunate to hear from Barrie Baker, MD, MBA, a woman at the top of her profession. She is the Chief Medical Officer in the Public Plans division of Tufts Health Plan and lives a full life.


That’s the public face of her story.


In her IOOV talk at Bournewood, she shared a secret she had kept most of her life. Dr. Baker lives with depression. And she knows that, as a doctor, it’s an extraordinary challenge for her peers to acknowledge a mental health disorder and seek treatment. While it’s well known that physicians have higher rates of burnout, depression and suicide risk than the general population, it’s rare for a doctor to pull back the curtain on their personal suffering for all to see. It was inspiring to hear Dr. Barry’s story, and even more importantly to learn that workplaces like Tufts Health Plan support and encourage


 their workforce to be out in the open about their experience of mental illness. No stigma. No shame. We look forward to a world where we all live these values.


We learn best from the stories of those who have been there. And I invite you to learn more about the CEOs Against Stigma campaign. Share it at work, with your co-workers, with your boss. There’s no time like now to be an agent of change.

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