CEOs Against Stigma Central to Core Mission at Brigham & Women’s Faulkner Hospital

CEOs Against Stigma Central to Core Mission at Brigham & Women’s Faulkner Hospital

Dr. Michael Gustafson: “Employee wellness is impossible without good mental health.”

Serving the health care needs of the Boston community and beyond has always been a priority for Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital President Michael Gustafson, MD, MBA. But, Dr. Gustafson knows that it is equally important to meet the needs of his employees. One area not always addressed, and often kept secret within the workplace, is mental health. Dr. Gustafson is making it his goal to change that. “As a healthcare institution, addressing the mental health issues of our patients, their families and our staff is central to our core mission,” he says. “I have had a few challenging cases where I saw firsthand the potential negative impact of institutional bias and stigmatization.”

In 2015, Dr. Gustafson signed on to CEOs Against Stigma, the workplace campaign created by the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness that leverages the power of chief executives to open lines of communication about mental health conditions and eliminate the institutional stigma that exists in their workplaces. “It has been a way to reinforce our messages of openness, inclusion, and sensitivity to employees struggling with their own or loved ones’ issues,” says Dr. Gustafson. “The most powerful and attractive part of this program has been the opportunity to host testimonials, which is always the most effective way to engage staff in thought provoking dialogue.”

Dr. Gustafson is referring to the NAMI signature program In Our Own Voice (IOOV). These presentations—which feature two people sharing their personal stories of recovery and are recognized by a leading national mental health researcher as the most effective anti-stigma program in America—are a vital element of the campaign.

Earlier this year, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital hosted an In Our Own Voice presentation for more than 60 people. The reception was very positive. Dr. Gustafson described the presenters as awe-inspiring and motivational, having the courage and tenacity to show that mental health conditions are not a hopeless disease. He called the presentation “one of the best patient/staff panels we have ever hosted.”

Lisa Halpern was one of the IOOV presenters at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital. Halpern gives a powerful account of living with schizophrenia. She says accessing good treatment is difficult when there is prejudice and discrimination. “Often, because of media portrayals, our perception of people with psychiatric conditions is one of sickness and weakness,” says Halpern. “IOOV presentations turn that idea on its head, showcasing people in strong recovery, living, working, and thriving with their mental health conditions.”

Edward Liston-Kraft, PhD, Vice President of Clinical and Professional Programs at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, also attended IOOV and called it one of the “finest” presentations he ever attended. “This approach really humanized the face of mental illness,” Dr. Liston-Kraft says. “I would hope the campaign leads employees to make use of the array of mental health services that we have available on site.”

“As physicians and leaders at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, we must do everything possible to eliminate stigma and improve accessibility to mental health services,” says Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Chief of Psychiatry John Fromson, MD. “Leadership plays a key role in setting the tone and prioritizing this issue as a high strategic agenda item.”

Dr. Gustafson doesn’t hesitate to say he’d encourage other business and municipal leaders to join CEOs Against Stigma. “There is only positive that can come from participation in such a program. Whether you look at this from a business, legal, HR, or staff engagement perspective, there is only positive return on investment to be realized. Employee wellness is impossible without good mental health.”

Lisa Halpern IOOV

Lisa Halpern In Our Own Voice presenter of NAMI Mass


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