E-Commerce secrets to scale

005 - Why Mental Health Should Be A Priority For Business Owners

005 – Why Mental Health Should Be A Priority For Business Owners

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Tanner:

This week, I have Dennis Gillan on the show. He is a mental health advocate, Dennis and I talk all about why mental health is so important to business owners and why it’s so important for them to take care of themselves and not only themselves, but their employees as well. This is a really great topic and I really enjoyed this interview and I hope you guys do too.

Welcome to the show, Dennis. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about a very serious topic. Go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Dennis:

Hi Tanner. My name is Dennis Gillan, and I thought I was supposed to be the super-duper businessman by now, but it turns out my life took a couple turns. And I’m now a mental health advocate, following a mission in life to improve the conversation around mental health.

It’s probably the reason I’m still here today.

Tanner:

What’s your story, how did you get started and becoming an advocate for mental health?

Dennis:

Sure. It started in college where I was, I took a business track. I was an accounting major going for my Bachelor of Science in business administration. And then I was going to come out and do what I had to do. I did that and I actually got a really good job after college. But during college I lost my older brother Mark, my junior year, which is pretty much the mid-point of anyone’s college career. Right in the beginning of my junior year. So at half-time, I come out of the huddle, the locker room, and junior year, I get a call that my older brother Mark, right in October, died. And my sister told me on the phone that he died in a car accident. They didn’t know what to tell me. They didn’t know what they just wanted me home.

I was eight hours from home and I learned later that day that my brother died in a car, but it was no accident. Mark suffered from depression and he died by suicide. So I had to go home during college. I figure I’m 20 years old. I go home and burry Mark. Gosh, I got the news on a Wednesday, Thursday and back in New York where I grew up. I was at school West Virginia. I come back Tuesday to school, just did a quick weekend, and we pretend nothing happened. I just go back to normal. I graduate on time four years, a couple, I took one summer session.

We don’t have to go into that, but it happened, you know, I had a major life crisis happened in the middle of my career that I go home and I get a job with Merck Pharmaceuticals, a pretty good job. Sales rep eventually, throughout my career, I made it up to district manager. But during, when I was a sales rep, I got a call other than Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and 11 years after Mark died. And I’m one of five kids, and Tanner, one to five and the Sheila Mark now and having me Janice and Matthew, and I got a call again from Janice. Every time she calls me to this day, my heart skips a beat. She called me and told me that Matthew died and he died by suicide as well. So, that’s two brothers over 11 years, you know, two of five in a family. And it rocked my world. That one rocked my world. I was married at the time, living in Carlisle, thought I was living the American dream, a little house, going to start a family. And I went into a major funk, huge funk after that dark.

Thank God my employer. I want to give a shout out to them. They had an employee assistance program. I got counseling and at the time. I’m telling myself I was, I liked to imbibe alcohol beverages and that’s how I was coping with Mark’s death. And after Matthew died, I stopped drinking totally. I got hammered the night of his funeral and I just stopped. So I’m 26 years sober. So, I got that going for me. You combine the sobriety piece with the mental health piece. You’ll go to see a professional. It’s probably the reason I’m still here today.

Tanner:

Wow. You know, that had to have been incredibly difficult. I mean, I think a lot of us are aware that suicide is definitely an issue, but I think a lot of us think that, you know, that’s not going to happen to me. It just happens. You just hear about it, right? But you know, it really hits home when it impacts you. And I just, I have a hard time putting myself in that situation, understanding how I would feel in that situation. But man, had to have been incredibly tough.

Dennis:

I have a hard time putting myself in that situation. One time I heard myself being introduced. The first time I really got into speaking, and I was at the university of South Carolina and they invited me to come up and talk to these psychology interns. And Tanner, they’re introducing this guy that lost two brothers to suicide. And I had an out of body experience. I’m sitting there listening to them, introduce this guy. And I go, “wow, that poor schmuck.” And then I realized it’s me. They said my name. I was like, crap, it’s me. I knew it. So I agree with you totally. You can’t fathom it. That it happens not once, but twice, 11 years apart. And then to hear someone externally describe you as that person. Here’s a guy who lost his brother to suicide. I lost it. That was the worst time ever. I cried the entire hour. Thank God. It was a small group of psychology interns who were very understanding.

Tanner:

What, what do believe is the biggest contribution to everybody’s daily mental health struggles?

Dennis:

Well, 2020 has been a struggle for all of us. You have prolonged stress, but, and I’m not a psychologist. I’m not going to play one on TV. I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express. You know, none of that stuff, you know. I’m just a normal guy that was bopping through life and this happened to me. But I do believe one: we’re hard on ourselves. We’re harder on ourselves than anyone ever would be. And someone once gave me advice and that is to treat yourself like you treat your kids. If one of your kids fell down, you’d pick them up and go, “Oh, are you okay? Are you okay?” And you’d build them up. Why don’t we do that to ourselves? And then you know, if you look at the world I live in, suicide prevention and we want to go upstream to talk about mental health.

Your question, a lot of it’s trauma based. Something happened to somebody that shouldn’t have happened, pure evil happens. You know, I was doing this talk at a homeless shelter and I would hear stories from these folks. They were kids, they were little and stuff happened to them and it should never have happened. And it set them on a trajectory that wasn’t positive. So there’s that component. And then a chemical imbalance, you know, biological aspect to it where your brain chemistry is just off and that’s okay. They make great advances in trying to fix that. So you wrap all that around. It’s almost multifactorial at that point. There’s a lot going on.

When you give up a part of yourself, big parts, come back.

Tanner:

I know that you’re a firm believer in volunteering. Can you tell us how volunteering can impact someone’s mental health in a positive way?

Dennis:

Oh, absolutely. It’s funny about volunteering. We often do it, I’ve done it myself, for selfish reasons. You know, Hey, this will look good on my resume. If I do this, so I’ll go do it. You know, Hey, habitat for Humanity – I’ll go paint a house and you end up going. And you’re so glad you went. When you get back in the car. I’ve done this a couple of times. I think it’s going to look good for me. And then I get back in the car and go, “Holy man, I’m a changed person because of that, because I met the people we were paying the house for.”

So the mental health benefits of volunteering are simple, you reduce your stress, you get everything you want when you help others get what they want. There’s all kinds of like seven different positive factors. The last one I love is it makes you happy. It makes you happy. And that’s all I did.

Tanner:

I mean, how can you not be happy when your contribution impacts someone’s life so much, right?

Dennis:

And that’s it. When you start living outside yourself. When you give up a part of yourself, big parts, come back.

Now when you get together with somebody, you talk to someone for me, it’s a different conversation. It’s a little deeper.

Tanner:

So speaking of 2020, what impact do you think COVID-19 has had on everyone’s mental health and even just contributing to the global suicide epidemic? What are some ways that everyday people can cope with the fact that COVID-19 has had on their lives?

Dennis:

Yeah, this is a prolonged stress event because, I remember. I’m a public speaker. My last public speaking event was March 7th, you know, and then everything just shut down. And I was going to have a pretty good year, I thought, spreading some love around the world and talking about why you should. COVID-19, it’s a prolonged stressful event, but I’m going to be a silver lining kind of guy here. If we get through this and we will, we’ll be more resilient on the other end. You know, you’ve probably heard of post-traumatic stress disorder, extremely real. I’ve talked to people, who’ve had it, you know, I may have had a touch of it too, after Mark and Matthew died. There’s a thing called post-traumatic stress growth. And if we could kind of put our eyes on that, where you form tighter relationships, you know this now when you get together with somebody, you talk to someone for me, it’s a different conversation. It’s a little deeper. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you doing?” I mean, you really, really mean it because we don’t know what we’re going to see him again, live and in person. So a lot of good things can happen with this silver lining kind of guy. I imagine the stress is there. I got it. It’s stressful for me. My business went nowhere. I’m going to say that we’re going to come out of this stronger, better.

Tanner:

Yeah. I completely agree with you. And I’m a silver linings type of person as well. I think that COVID has really taught us that we don’t have to be in the same room as someone to connect with them. And I also think that it’s helped us keep in touch with people that we otherwise wouldn’t have, if we weren’t physically there with them. I think that it’s made it more socially acceptable to reach out to your loved ones and see how they’re doing. Would you agree with that?

Dennis:

Oh, absolutely. When you were talking, I was thinking about, look at this. This is a guy in Utah, a guy in South Carolina, having a conversation face to face. We never met each other, but we’re already connected on this deeper level than we’ve ever been. Tanner, there’s a good chance I never would have met you or I’d be too busy to talk to you right now because I’d be so busy publicly speaking, but life throws you curve balls. I don’t want to be all silver linings, like life is Skittles and unicorns. This COVID thing stinks on ice. I got it. It is not fun at all. 2020 has been up for years, just keeps kicking us. But I think we just gotta keep getting up, that’s it.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think like you said, will come out stronger. It’s really just what I feel like the trial on our part. Right. I think it forces us to come out stronger. Because what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Dennis:

Absolutely. And there’ll be, there’ll be days like, hopefully in 2021, we’ll think about something and someone go, “Hey, do you remember 2020?” Yeah. Alright. I got it. Not that big a deal.

It starts at the top.

Tanner:

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, the reason I brought you on the show is because I really think that business owners need to take care of their mental health if they want to scale their businesses. And I firmly believe that. So what are your thoughts on that? And what are some ways that business owners can take care of themselves better?

Dennis:

I’m so glad Tanner, you’re talking about the business owner because it starts at the top. And if you’re the owner of the business, you are at the top. And as a business owner myself, you think about it 24-7, it just invades every aspect of your life. You need to get away. One thing I would do is set the tone early at the top that a mental health day is okay. We’ve seen this on the web. When people, you know, business owners and bosses have blessed it, said, “Hey, we got this”. And if I was a business owner and I was going to get my business up to scale on, I still may, you know, with this thing comes back and I start hiring people. I’m going to make sure I offer an employee assistance program that has mental health, knowing full well, that, that bailed me out of a very dark spot. So we all know health insurance in America is a brutal expense for any business owner. I get it, I’m paying it. I got it. It stinks on ice, but I do know that my insurance also gives me a $20 copay to see a mental health professional. And I like that part.

Tanner:

Yeah. And so I think that’s a very important point, right? As business owners, we need to make sure that we’re taking care of our people and in more ways than what we’re used to. Because, you know, traditionally it was, “Alright, we give them health insurance so they can go see a doctor, get a surgery, or have a baby and not have it break them financially.” But we’re to the point as a society that everyone out there, I don’t care who you are, everyone struggles with mental health. I think some people just handle it better than others. But as employers, we need to take care of our employees’ mental health. Because to me that’s even more important than physical health because you know, if they’re unable to come in and perform, then you might as well just give them a day off. Right? Like mental health day, like you just mentioned. What’s the point in forcing them to come in and being unhappy and working in an environment where they’re not gonna set up for success?

Dennis:

There’s a World Health Organization study on economic benefit. You talk to business owners, you’ve got to talk return on investment. You gotta talk money. And I get it for every dollar spent on mental health, it comes back to help you out $4. So what your example right there say a guy calls up on a Tuesday and says, “Man, I’m not having it today.” Don’t drag him in. He’s going to be worthless on Tuesday. And then it’ll be a hangover on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. You say, “Dude, stay home, come back Wednesday swinging.” You’re going to get a better Wednesday, Thursday, Friday out of this guy because you gave him Tuesday off. So great point, Tanner, I think the World Health Organization study was for every dollar spent $4 to $5 come back in economic benefit when they spend it on mental health.

Tanner:

Oh, that’s really interesting. I did not know that, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. I mean mental health and productivity kind of go hand in hand and you kind of have to take care of both of them. So, you know, mental health for employees needs to be a priority, just like everything else. I don’t see why employers are giving mental health days with sick days. Because in a sense it’s kind of the same thing. Like you feel don’t feel your best when you need a mental health day. Right?

Dennis:

Correct. And there’s a thing out there called mental health parody, which is, you should be treating mental health service as much as you’re treating physical health. So it’s actually a law. And if you want to get political, and I don’t, but it was Bush and Obama who both signed it. So we say both parties, so everybody’s happy. Don’t write in, don’t get us off of the email. We’ve got both sides that agree on this. And that’s the beautiful thing about mental health is, both sides of the aisle agree that we need to do something. But sometimes when it comes to funding or budgets, it just doesn’t get the attention it needs. So that dollar, that study from World Health Organization showed the dollar spent up front – four to five on the back – business owners will get that.

Tanner:

Yeah. And you know, it does start at the top. Businesses need to take care of their employees, mental health. But I think ultimately the biggest part of the responsibility falls on the individual themselves, right? Because everyone knows there’s a stigma with mental health. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to admit that they have issues with their mental health. I think that it’s also important for individuals to take the initiative and take care of their mental health on their own. And like you mentioned before, congratulate yourself on the small things, right? Just the smallest things like getting out of bed and going to work for some people that’s really big struggles. So you should be proud of yourself.

Dennis:

Oh, small victories every day. When Matthew died, if I got out of bed by noon, it was a victory. You know, it was just, I was down for the count for those two weeks afterwards. I was like, wow, it rocked my world. So you’re right. Small victories. Sometimes it’s hard though Tanner, to be the one that sees it. Because you’re in it, you’re in the weeds. So it’s always good to have someone come up to you and your good friend and say, “Are you okay? You know, really, are you okay? I’m not leaving it to you. Tell me the right answer.” Sometimes we say that in passing, “Hey, how you doing?” “Doing fine. Living the dream.” You know? And we don’t, we don’t even stick around for the answer, but that’s it, that’s a campaign that’s out there now. Are you okay? You know, how are you really?

It’s almost an issue of self-preservation.

Tanner:

Yeah, that’s true. I think a lot of our small talk conversations are just so surface level that, you know, those kinds of things don’t come out. And I know that you being an advocate for mental health, you probably really focus on that when you talk to people going back to your Ted talk that you did your speech at TEDx, you talked about how you lived in an apartment building. I don’t know if you still do now or how old that episode was, but you got a group of guys together and you got breakfast with them every morning. And those are guys you didn’t know, but you were so genuine, and you actually cared about them and spend time with them and really uncovered how they tick. And you didn’t have to do that. And you really just wanted to help them, right?

Dennis:

It’s funny. We had a common area in our apartment building and I’m no longer there, but I am happy to report I still have a breakfast with those guys. We had it yesterday as a matter of fact, we found a place that’s outside and we had this common area. I’m going to try to it. Won’t help your podcast much, but I’ll show you a picture. I’ll show it to you on Zoom. We have a common area in our apartment. We just used to see each other just casual. Hey, small talk, hey, you know, let me know when you’re done with the coffee machine.

Then one day I was talking to this guy, we got to be good at pretty good friends. And I said, “One day we should go to breakfast off campus.” We used to joke that our apartment building was like a campus. We should go off campus. And we walked downtown. It was, it started small, it was three of us. And it grew and it grew and grew. I think I yesterday it was five or six guys, but I could barely see it on it. Not going to show you zoom, but I’m proof. That’s proof positive that it happened yesterday. Five or six guys showed up. There’s an appetite for this. For your podcast listeners, I just showed Tanner a picture of five, six guys sitting at a table outside now with the Corona social distance, but we need each other. And it grew out of a real need just to talk. So my day is better. We meet the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month. And sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t if life gets in the way, but when I make it like I did yesterday, and I’m there at eight o’clock and I left at nine, I just seem to have a better day. It’s just a good way to start my day. See these guys and talk, how’s it going? I moved out of the apartment building. They tell me what’s going on over there. We talk about stuff, you know, and then we just move on and it just makes my day to stay in touch with these guys. We could’ve just, I could have just, lived in our apartment and friends with them then moved out and never seen them again. But this is still a connection that keeps going.

Tanner:

Yeah. So I think the responsibility kind of falls on our population as a whole, right, to go out of our comfort zone and build relationships with complete strangers because those people really need that.

Dennis:

And we need it. I need it. You know, it’s almost an issue of self-preservation. I started that thing because I needed guys. I needed to hang out with guys. Men need men. And 78% of all suicides are guys. Women are not off the hook. They have more attempts. But as we get older, and I watched it with my father, we tend to lose friends. And I’m really cognizant of that because of what I do as a mental health advocate. I’m trying to grab everybody and keep in touch with people. It’s work. I get it. And there’s introverts out there. I posted that picture of us having breakfast and one person said, I enjoy my quiet mornings. And I’m going to tell you what – so do I. It’s only twice a month. I’m not asking you to go through a packed stadium and have, you know, with all your friends. It started out with three guys over breakfast and started out once a month. And then we decided we liked it. So, I do enjoy my introverted times where I’m sitting, having coffee, just reading at my counter, but I really enjoy coffee with someone else.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think that’s amazing that you do that. And I just, I can see that you’re just such a genuine person that you care about every living soul. And I’m sure that has a lot to do with your past. But I think a lot of people listening have a lot to learn when it comes to stuff like that.

Dennis:

I think you’re onto something there because when you go through anything, and everybody listening to this Tanner, yourself included, has gone through something. Fair enough. It was not the way we wanted it to go. You come out the other side a little more compassionate and empathetic. And that does it. It did its work on you. It wasn’t ideal, but it did something positive to you. I hope it did. It could also have a negative effect, but try to look at the positive.

Take the first step and reach out to them. They’re not going to find you. You’ve got to find them.

Tanner:

Well, this has all been amazing, Dennis. Is there anything that I did not ask you that you think might benefit the audience?

Dennis:

Well, if the audience is struggling or wants to get involved in mental health, there’s almost coast to coast these organizations like the national Alliance of Mental Illness, Mental Health America. There’s somewhere in your neighborhood, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there’s some club or some organization you could tap into. There’s a lot of recovery groups out there as well. They’re out there. I’m going to ask you all and your listeners to take the first step and reach out to them. They’re not going to find you. You’ve got to find them. And they’re there. They’d love to hear from you.

Tanner:

Well, I think that’s some great advice, Dennis. What’s a good way for anyone listening to get in contact with you?

Dennis:

Sure. The simplest way Tanner, and I thank you for asking this, I have a website, which is basically my name. I’m not that creative. I told you I was an accounting major. We’re not known for our creativity. It’s dennisgillan.com. A lot of my stuff’s up there. The TEDx talk, references out there on loneliness, a lot of media pages. I blog every now and then. That’s a good way to start. And also a contact page. If you want me to do a Zoom call or come and see your organization, when the Corona goes bye-bye, I’ll do it.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time.

Dennis:

Well Tanner, I really appreciate you taking the time to put this on your podcast is it is a very important subject: our mental health.

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