8 Steps That Employers Should Take To Address Emotional Trauma in the Workplace

In light of the terrorist attack in Paris on November 13th, and now the workplace massacre in San Bernardino, I released a press release in Europe and a blog post on Huffington Post offering employers guidelines on handling employee apprehension in the face of modern terrorism.

I’d also like to address this issue here with a replay, more or less, of the H-P piece.

In my estimate, employers must remain alert and responsive to the potential “emotional aftermath” among employees of such events. These can cause considerable trauma and anxiety for workers, and employers have a role to ensure that the workplace remains a venue of safety, security and open discourse in a subject that is disheartening and scary.

Employers are encouraged to understand that, at a time like this, the employer-employee relationship will be strengthened, affirmed, or ruined.

Mental Health International has compiled the following guidelines to help employers manage emotional distress among employees, especially where there is a perceived threat to public safety:

  1. Employers should make arrangements to allow employees to discuss traumatic events at work, either in small groups, one‐on‐one with managers, or with professional counsellors.
  2. Employers should reassure employees that measures to protect their safety have been taken. Any security measures that are put in place at work should be explained clearly and with sensitivity by management.
  3. Managers should be trained to deal with signs of anxiety in their employees at work. This may be expressed by appearing preoccupied or “distant,” to more overt expressions of apprehension regarding future plans, overnight trips, or upcoming vacations.
  4. Working parents may wish to stay close to their children in the aftermath of tragic events. Employers should respect and accommodate such employees in these circumstances, allowing them to leave work early to pick up their children from school, or the flexibility to keep very young children at home from daycare should they wish.
  5. Working parents should receive suggestions for communicating and comforting their children, in order to provide assurance for the days after an attack or event on the scale of Paris.
  6. Employees should also be allowed time off to consult with the teachers and schools their children attend: What are their kids being told there? Are trauma counsellors available for children displaying anxiety and fear?What, if any, special security arrangements are being put in place? How are these being explained to the children? If a child becomes upset for reasons unclear at school, what steps will the teacher take, and will parents be contacted? These are things that will be on parents’ minds.
  7. The key to mental comfort for employees is the connection that they have to friends, co‐workers and families. Employees absent due to illness or injury should be contacted by their manager to see how they are doing, whether they need anything, and to be invited to work to be part of any conversations happening there, should they be able to.
  8. Similarly, employees with elderly or disabled parents should be encouraged — not merely allowed — to get in touch and visit with them. This gives that person a connection through which to voice, reflect upon, and understand their own worries, and how those worries can be calmed.

These accommodations should not constitute one-off reactions to a particular event, but form part of workplace relations, and I encourage employers to incorporate this thinking into their organizational processes.

The shocking images relayed by the media on the night of the Paris attacks will remain in the public consciousness for some time. Employers should take proactive and preventative action to support the mental well-being of their workers and seize upon this opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their employees for the future.

Feel free to share this article with others, to spread the important message of addressing emotional trauma in the workplace.

  • Bill


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The Top 8 Targets of Depression

Since 2013, I have visited 19 European centres in 19 months, recruiting interest in the mission of our campaign to ‘Target Depression in the Workplace.’ During this time, we developed key themes and messages. Here is a summary of some of those themes for convenient reference.

Top Eight Themes of the Target Campaign

  1. Chronic Job Stress and potential to lead to depression, workplace disability, and lost work time

One of the main targets in our campaign is chronic job stress, which is a major risk factor for depression. It is something that employers can work to control, thus reducing risk.

  1. Economic costs: our goal is to help employers of greatly reducing the financial impact of depression in the workplace.

Notably, according to an analysis funded by the European Commission, 84% of the costs of depression are borne by the workplace and the economy through lost work hours, days, weeks and months.

At the same time, the study found that the return on investment (for every Euro expended on mental health support systems) produces a return on investment ranging from about two-to-one to 13-to-one.

3. The well-being and productivity of employees

Depression is heavily concentrated among men and women in their prime working years and is now the leading cause of workforce disablement as defined by insured services to sustain employee income during periods off work.

Decreased health in this cohort ensues, worsens through age, and is a factor in the EC-funded study’s focus on early retirement on such a scale as to create a structural problem in the economy tied to the loss of skills needed as companies fight for competitive and comparative advantage in a intense global economy.

4. Gradual decline in life expectancy

Inherently, the campaign to target the impact of depression in the workplace will counter the gradual decline but meaningful decline in life expectancy now recorded by the US National Institute for Mental Health.

5. Heart Disease and Diabetes

Depression can influence the course and outcomes of other chronic conditions including depression, diabetes and the treatment of cancer. Improving the treatment of depression will save lives.

  1. Protect the Future Well-being of Young People

The average age of onset of depression is 21 and in some cases late teens. The Target campaign is, by definition, addressing this generational issue.

  1. Stimulating and Fulfilling Work Environment

Employers associated with the Target campaign promote workplace practises that are conducive to job fulfillment and effective employee performance at work. We make the case for a work environment that is stimulating and promotes the cognitive capacity of employees which is under assault through the rise of depression.

  1. Call for Economic Investment in Fighting Depression

The London School of Economics calls mental illness the most important health issue facing men and women of working age in Europe. In vestments in human asset management are called for, and as note above, the ROI can be substantial.

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Brianna’s Guest Post: Postpartum Depression


Bell Family, photo by New Vintage Media

Hello to Bill’s blog readers,

My name is Brianna Bell and I’m Bill’s Social Media & Blog Coordinator. Today Bill has offered me his blog as a platform to speak about postpartum depression.

When I was offered the opportunity to work with Bill, I found it a great honour to become a part of a wonderful group of people who dedicate their lives to fighting the stigma of depression. It was a no-brainer, I knew I must jump on board and do what I could to be a part of the movement.

For me, fighting the stigma of depression is so important, because I have experienced first-hand that stigma.

Three years ago, in January 2013, my husband and I were settling into our new home and life together with our first child. My daughter was 8-months-old at the time, and I felt like I was finally getting the hang of motherhood and my new life as a stay-at-home mom.

Just as the Christmas season, and all the joy-filled festivities came to an end, I felt the cold winter’s chill like I never had before. Within a few weeks after Christmas, I knew I was in trouble, and something was deeply wrong.

At the time, I tried my hardest to reach out to others and let them know that I was not well. I found it difficult to wake each morning, and felt little joy in my day. I would often cry, and beg my husband to return home from work early. I felt loneliness like I had never felt before. I was fearful for my safety, and felt I was not being an attentive mother to my child. I wondered if I’d ever get better.

But most importantly, from that time, I remember wondering who would ever help.

It seemed most people thought that a stressed, lonely, and “sad” young mother was quite common. I heard many things:

“It will get better.”
“All moms feel this way.”
“Just go outside more.”

When I attempted to reach out, my pleas were often met with a brush off of my true feelings.

When I finally met with my doctor, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression. My doctor had spoken to me for five minutes, and had her pen poised to write a prescription. I felt a lump in my throat, and shook my head.

“No, I don’t want pills. I’m scared to take pills.”

I was too afraid. I didn’t know the side effects, and worried they would make me worse, or change my behaviour towards my family. I chose not to medicate, once again, a victim of the stigma of depression and antidepressants. This was my choice, at the time, however I support others who have chosen differently.

I ended up pursuing intensive talk therapy, and found this treatment was very effective (albeit, expensive). I continue to this day to pursue talk therapy regularly, and find when I feel myself slipping that increasing my sessions has helped me to move forward.

I still wonder to this day if choosing not to medicate was the right choice. I may have saved myself months of pain if I hadn’t been so afraid.

But most importantly, I feel sad for the young mom who felt that depression was a “normal” experience for motherhood. I feel sad that I didn’t have a strong community at the time, people to support, listen, and encourage me to seek help.

And if my story has any message at all, I hope it’s this: please watch and listen for cues of depression in those around you. Some people will be in situations that seem to warrant an “exhausted” or “lonesome” appearance. A young and new mom is one such example. But never write someone off, or assume its normal for them to appear depressed. And especially, if someone reaches out, do not brush them off.

Being an attentive and listening ear, and encouraging them to seek help, can be a life-saving or life-changing effort.

Please feel free to share your own story in the comments below.

All the best,





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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency Peer Support Program


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a government agency, introduced a new program in the Spring of 2015, called the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Peer Support Program. This program has been developed over the past two years, and was initiated to support CFIA staff with mental health awareness and support.

The program, which has been employee driven from the beginning, trains volunteer staff who have personal experience with mental illness and ongoing recovery from brain-based disorders, such as depression.

The program was originally initiated by employees, and legitimized by upper management. Many professionals were consulted to ensure the highest quality of program. The goal was to launch the Peer Support Program while meeting the highest of national standards.

From initiation, to development, and now implementation, the CFIA’s Peer Support Program has been one that Canadian business people and employees can use as an example. It is an exemplary initiative backed by some great advocates of mental health.

The first Mental Health Innovator in Canada to develop the peer support model was Stéphane Grenier, a retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Forces. As a sufferer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) himself, he has personal experience and a desire to use his experience to benefit others. Grenier’s peer support model was developed and implemented by Grenier for the Canadian Forces and Veterans, and was the first of its kind in Canada. Not only did Grenier implement the first peer support program in the military, he has also been instrumental in transferring these programs to the civilian employer community, including the police force, private sector employers, and government agencies.

Grenier’s peer support model helped to lay the foundation for these types of initiatives. The CFIA has taken the important step to invest in, and train up employee’s willing to volunteer their time lend their support to other staff members who would benefit from this program.

Why is the CFIA’s Peer Support Program so impactful in the battle against brain-based disorders?

  • They have turned the liability of lost work time, due to depression, into an asset within the company or agency. The program allows for early detection of mental illness within the workplace, and provides effective training for employees (peers) to provide that support to employees seeking assistance.
  • Peer Support Programs demonstrate the generosity of spirit that accompanies one’s recovery of mental health. This is a reflection of the courage and high achievement of overcoming a brain-based disorder, and the continued support and community to maintain such recovery.
  • A Peer Support Program proves that the experience of recovery in a transferrable one. It helps to reduce the stigma related to depression, especially within the workplace. It also provides a support system through peer relationships, maintaining the idea that relapses do not equal failure, and in fact are normal course for recovery. As an individual experiences different seasons of life, multiple experiences may cause triggers and require extra special care. As someone suffering from fibromyalgia may experience worsened symptoms through stress and a change in environment, someone with chronic depression may also experience relapses or worsened symptoms with change as well.

The hope is that many more companies, within Canada and abroad, will adopt the effective peer support model in the workplace. It is a worthy investment both for the mental health of employees, the comradery experienced through peer support, and the financial benefit due to the betterment of the overall mental health experience within the workplace.

  • Bill
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Depression in the Workplace in Europe: A Report

Target Depression in the Workplace has released a report titled Depression in the Workplace in Europe: a report featuring new insights from business leaders.

The aim of this report is to use case studies and experience to aid employers in taking real and practical steps towards addressing mental health in the workplace. The report is an important first step in imparting knowledge and understanding about mental health in the workplace, encouraging employers to act now, and exploring some of the challenges that these employers may face. The overall goal is that it will help in reducing the impact of depression in the workplace. Some key elements discussed in the report include:

  1. Addressing the profound effects of depression on the economy. For both men and women in their working years, depression is one of two leading causes for work years lost, with premature death and disability causing the loss of work years. The economic cost of depression is staggering; in 2010 the approximate cost of depression on the European economy was €92 billion.
  2. Many corporate case studies are included in the report, exploring the different management practises and programs that large companies are partaking in. The goal of the ground-breaking programs is to support the mental health of employees, and reduce the economic impact of depression in the workplace. The human costs of depression are also discussed; the impact of depression on an individual’s life is far-reaching, going beyond employability. Individuals that suffer from mental health issues are often more prone to accidents, self-harm, and financial and relational strain.
  3. The report discusses the various effects of depression in the workplace. This includes absenteeism, when an employee misses work due their mental health. Also, presenteeism, when an employee comes in to work but is unable to perform their duties, and is unproductive at the workplace.
  4. The benefits of talking about mental health in the workplace are far-reaching. Benefits to the individual: who now feels confident to seek help and is supported, which reduces stigma and feelings of discrimination (perceived or actual). It also makes logical sense that a business would talk about and address depression in the workplace. Doing so reduces the overall financial impact of depression, while allowing their employee to recover and return to work healthy and fully capable of completing their tasks.

This simply serves as a brief summary of the topics covered in the report. You may read the full report here.

  • Bill
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The truth about depression

What is the leading cause of workplace disability?
What is one of the top sources for work years lost through both disability and early death?
What illness, as a country, would make up the tenth most populous country in the world?
What illness cost the European Union €610 billion due to employee lost work-time and reduced output in the corporate world?

The answer to all these questions is depression.

Depression is a costly illness, both in the corporate world and in the personal lives of millions of people. Depression knows no bounds. It affects the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and both men and women.

Some may be surprised that the majority of people with depression are men and women in their working years. Most people with depression can trace the illness back to their childhood, and the onset of depression typically happens in the teen years.

Depression involves a range of disorders, and should be spoken of in the plural. What other diseases are related to depression?

  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

Understanding the economic and personal impact of depression can be difficult, when we look at depression as a sole disease. However, when we see the many other medical issues that depression can cause, we realize the far-reaching impact of depression.

This is why we must target depression as a disease, and fight its impact with all the resources that we have.

The business sector should be troubled by the impact of depression. In Europe, businesses are impacted five times more than healthcare and social welfare services. The cost of depression is staggering, and one that must be recognized and acknowledged. The number of people impacted by depression is growing. Science has already marked the increase and growth through many studies.

The study of the brain is revealing many new things about depression.

  • That depression starts in early childhood.
  • That it is a disease of the brain.
  • That through brain data and genetics, a personalized treatment plan can be formed.

A business and science partnership will only mean increased gains in the fight against depression.

Throughout the next few blog posts I will look at why targeting the impact of depression is important, how a business-science partnership will benefit the fight against depression, and different scientific breakthroughs and studies that are happening.

Thank you for reading, and engaging.


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The Six Key Principles to Help Reduce The Impact of Depression in the Workplace

TARGETLOGO_JPEGIn 2012 Ipsos Mori, on behalf of The European Depression Association, conducted a study of over 7,000 workers and managers across seven European countries. The research was initiatied and funded by Lundbeck, one of the world’s few drug research and development companies dedicated to nervous system diseases and injuries.

Findings of the research were eventually published in a final report called Impact of Depression at Work in Europe Audit (commonly known as the IDEA report). The results of the survey indicate both the prevalence of depression in the workplace and the need for a healthy and supportive environment at work. Some of the highlights of the survey include:

  • From the 7,065 surveyed, 20% had been previously diagnosed with depression by a medical professional.
  • When asked if they would tell an employer if they were diagnosed with depression, 34% responded yes, 28% responded no, and 37% were unsure.
  • Of those diagnosed with depression, 51% had taken time off work because of their depression.
  • Reasons given for not telling their employer for their depression included: feeling that the employer wouldn’t understand, fearful of job loss, did not feel their employer would be able to support them, felt it was a private matter, and felt their personal life was a burden to others.

This survey led to the founding of the Target the Impact of Depression in the Workplace initiative in Europe, the goal being to help business executives and professionals tackle the devastating effects of workplace depression. I have chaired this initiative since mid-2013. Those involved include senior business leaders from some of the largest organizations across Europe.

In 2014, TARGET developed a Business Charter, six key principles to guide employers in taking stress to reduce the risks of depression inherent in the modern workplace and manifest largely in the form of chronic job stress, one way to reduce the impact of depression in the workplace.

These principles follow.

Principle one: A Healthy, Prevention-Focused Workplace

Encourage good management practices that facilitate healthy workplaces and protect the mental health of employees.

Principle two: An Informed and Understanding Workplace

Improve the awareness and understanding among executives, managers, supervisors and employees of the symptoms of depression, including cognitive symptoms, and its potential for disability and premature death.

Principle three: A Well-Trained, Responsive Workplace

Mandate training for executives, managers and employees to be informed and constructive in their response to employees in distress on-the-job and employees returning to work from sickness absence.

Principle four: An Open, Safe and Secure Workplace

Create and promote a work environment where employees are safe and feel comfortable talking about mental health concerns, including depression.

Principle five: An Adaptive, Supportive Workplace

Implement workplace health policies and programmes that support employees with depression as a fundamental principle of care and support and provide work adjustments during periods of illness and recovery.

Principle six: A Workplace with Ties to Community Care and Key Influencers

Work with communities and key influencers to ensure that employees have the information and support that they need to access community-based services, including health care, to complete their recovery from depression.

If you would like to read the full Business Charter you may do so here.

  • Bill
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Why Depression?

Why must we spend the time, effort, and money on identifying the importance of depression in the workplace?

In today’s economy there is an economic premium on cerebral skills. When diagnosing depression, one of the factors to consider is cognitive dysfunction. Difficulty making decisions, poor concentration, impaired memory – these are all symptoms of cognitive decline due to depression.

Scientific discovery has made it clear that depression is very much a disease of the brain. Mental illness affects all areas of life, from cognitive function to heart health.

In the United Kingdom, 1 in 4 people will suffer from some form of mental illness. Mixed anxiety and depression are the most common forms of mental illness. These statistics are staggering, and should be a wake-up call to both the business and science community about the urgency of reducing the rates of depression from both a health and economic standpoint.

What are some of the ways that depression affects the workplace?

  • 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with depression listed as the leading cause of workplace disability, according to World Health Organization.
  • Depression is the leading cause of violent death, heart disease and cancer, the leading causes of death in the western world, can also be linked to depression.
  • Globally, depression is more prevalent in women, and mental illness leads to the loss of life for an unprecedented number of young women ages 15-44, especially in poorer countries.
  • Those of working age are affected by depression in a disproportionate number, affecting business and the economy.
  • Employees affected by depression often experience presenteeism, when they are physically present in the workplace but not emotionally or mentally capable of fulfilling their role at their job.
  • Depression is a risk factor for unemployment and job loss, with those who are both depressed and unemployed experiencing significantly more job losses or periods of unemployment than others with other chronic illnesses, such as arthritis.
  • Perhaps the most visible effect of mental illness in the workplace is absenteeism and disability, when an individual uses paid or unpaid sick days to miss work, and sometimes even leaves their job for a period due to the disabling effects of their depression.


There is great urgency to act now and pursue new developments in the treatment for depression.

  • Bill
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Top 10 Sources of Workplace Stress

A 2013 study of over 4200 Danish public employees has turned up some interesting results. The study took two years to complete, and looked at employee/supervisor relationships within the workplace. The main question being asked was: can an unhealthy or stressful relationship with a boss cause depression? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conclusion of this study says yes.

We now know that workplace stress can be an influencing factor in the brain health of an employee. At the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, we developed a list of the top ten sources of workplace stress, which are these:

  1. Emotional Exhaustion: Not receiving the proper support for one’s emotional health can lead to physical fatigue and will affect the cognitive process of that individual.
  2. Embedded Frustration: This represents the kind of day-in, day-out frustration associated with the workplace, the boss, and unrealistic deadlines; frustration that seems inexhaustible and therefore embedded as part of an unhealthy work culture.
  3. Mistrust: When an employee is mistrusting of their supervisor they will often experience uncertainty, apprehension and fear.
  4. Office politics: Most of us understand what this is. A supervisor openly and regularly treating her employees differently, favouring some and punishing others, the architect of unfairness and tension.
  5. Destructively-negative feedback: Although feedback is an important in the workplace, supervisors must be trained in providing constructive criticism as well as encouraging positive feedback. When supervisors are destructive with the way that they provide negative feedback, they alienate their employee and cause undue stress.
  6. Impersonal, rigid and bureaucratic boss: An impersonal and inflexible relationship between employee-supervisor can impose tension and unnecessary stress on an employee who then feels he or she can not be their true selves in the office. This kind of stifling relationship can be exhausting on even the most mentally resilient people.
  7. Can’t get assigned work completed: When a supervisor assigns tasks without considering their employee’s workload they may cause workplace stress and anxiety when the individual cannot complete their tasks in time.
  8. Long, directionless meetings: Filling up work time with long meetings that have no specific goals can create an apprehensive work environment.
  9. Random interruptions: Most people need peace and quiet to complete tasks, especially one’s that require concentration and cognitive thinking. Being constantly bombarded with unnecessary and random interruptions does not add to a healthy work environment.
  10. Job and task ambiguity: Clear and direct goals and tasks will lead to confidence. Being ambiguous about an employee’s job and goals can lead to frustration and stress.

Most people that have been in the workforce for any amount of time can relate to at least a few of these workplace stresses. You may have been even nodding your head as you read this list, remembering a particularly stressful experience.

  • Bill
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A Blog Update from MHI’s Social Media Coordinator

Dear Bill’s Blog Readers,

My name is Brianna Bell and I’m Bill Wilkerson’s Social Media and Blog Coordinator. My role in Bill’s blogging journey is assisting him in spreading his blog to a larger audience.

Most who know Bill, know that he has quite an aversion to social media. Yet, Bill has seen the immense impact that having a well-researched blog on mental health and brain research can have. He would point you to blogs such as Thomas Insel’s, written by the director of the National Institute for Mental Health. This is the vision Bill has for his own blog, a vision that takes his influential and worldwide advocacy to a new online platform.

It has been just over two months since this blog was started, and Bill has published six articles so far. He is still at the beginning stages of this blogging journey, but what has the response been so far?

The Statistics:

The statistics show that we have had nearly 300 views so far. That is encouraging, considering there has been very little social media promotion, and no marketing, other than having links on the main Mental Health International website.

Over 40% of readers have been coming to the blog via the Mental Health International homepage.

Where are the rest of the readers coming from?

    • Facebook: Some readers have shared Bill’s blog posts on Facebook. By sharing links on Facebook we have the opportunity to reach people that may not be aware of Bill’s work or his initiatives.
    • Search Engines: Readers searching for information related to the mental health field have been arriving to the blog via search engines such as Google.
    • Twitter: There have been some readers referred by Twitter, as well as some people tweeting out links to the blog, including A Caring Mind, Therasoft Online, and former journalist Sheraz Khan
    • LinkedIn: We have seen some readers coming over who have connected with Bill’s professional LinkedIn profile. In the next few months I hope to increase Bill’s blog presence through sharing more of his articles on LinkedIn, and the Target Depression group.
    • Mental Health40T Daily: A unique and exciting milestone occurred when a popular website that curates exciting news in mental health shared one of Bill’s most popular blog posts. You can find it here.

What are people saying?

One of the most encouraging results of blogging is receiving kind comments from readers. Most social media experts agree that the ratio of readers vs. comments received on a blog is minimal. People are moving away from engaging with online content, and typically read quickly and move on. However, Bill’s blog has seen an unusual amount of engagement, both through commenting, and readers clicking on links that Bill refers to in his articles. This is a testament to the interest in mental health as a vital topic of the day.

Please see below some of the feedback received through comments on Bill’s blog:

“I stumbled upon MHI in my search for information related to the economic cost of mental illness and/or the benefits of investing in prevention strategies to the benefit of entire communities…Your advocacy and research in this realm is inspiring.” – Glenn B.

“Bill, this is a welcome initiative…I believe that mental health in the workplace is such a big issue because there is so much uncharted waters by people with little experience acting as gatekeepers.” – Smilingtherapist “Thank you Mr. Wilkerson for starting this blog. I appreciate your effort to debunk myths in the area of mental health and bringing an every day reader factual information that will ultimately work to reduce stigma.” – Nitika R.

On behalf of Bill Wilkerson, I’d like to thank you all for for reading, engaging with, and commenting on the content of Bill’s new blog. I’d also encourage you to share the blog posts that inform and educate you, to help spread the blog beyond Bill’s regular readers.

Please stay tuned for many more articles that will advocate for mental health research, the de-stigmatization of mental illness, and share the initiatives of Mental Health International.

Kindest Regards,

Brianna Bell
Social Media & Blog Coordinator
Mental Health International

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