Iulia Mihailov via Unsplash

Why Mental Health Needs More Than Lip Service for Successful Workplaces and Stronger Communities

My wife and I decided a few years ago to dramatically increase our support for education and awareness around mental health, a topic that’s becoming more and more relevant to all areas of life, including in the business world.

For us, the topic is personal, mainly because Sue’s father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the 1970s when he was 41. Shortly after he passed away in 2019, we learned of efforts to launch what’s now the Colorado Bipolar Education Project and we quickly agreed to help fund it.

The initiative, which is part of the Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, promotes education and awareness about bipolar disorder to clinicians, patients, and family members. With all the misinformation in the world today, we believe this project and its online resources will be a godsend to anyone affected by bipolar disorder.

Researchers estimate that between 2 percent and 3 percent of every population group is bipolar, which equates to around 46 million people worldwide. Several celebrities — Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Selena Gomez, and Mariah Carey, among others — have spoken publicly about their battles with it. Add in all the family members, friends, and clinicians who also are affected, and you begin to see the breadth of the need for accurate information and sound advice.

Interestingly, Sue’s passion for this project falls squarely in line with my work at Colorado Uplift, as well as my writing and speaking about leadership.

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Colorado Uplift offers mentoring and character-focused training to students in inner city schools. All these students — around 4,000 a year — come from the most economically impoverished families in Denver, and many of them are dysfunctional. These kids see and live with things most of us can never imagine — a dad who is in prison or missing in action, a mom who is a drug addict, people who come and go at all hours, and a home where the source of the next meal is often uncertain.

The students and their families face significant stress and pressure, and figuring out how we embrace mental health counseling for urban youth is extremely important to me.

The ripple effects from mental health issues impact everyone. You can start with the obvious connections to homelessness and crime, but mental health issues don’t discriminate. You find them among both men and women regardless of their race, ethnicity, or cultural background. You find them in people who live in a cardboard box, but you also find them in people who office in the C-suite. In fact, a 2015 survey by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 72 percent of the entrepreneurs they surveyed had mental health concerns, including 49 percent who said they had at least one lifetime mental health condition.

Mental wellness is critical for becoming the best person and best leader possible. If we are depressed or clinically diagnosed as bipolar or have some other issue that goes untreated, we won’t be at our best whether we are a high school student in the inner city, a manager in a factor, or the owner of an insurance agency.

Until recently, Americans typically attached a stigma to mental health issues. Many people in my parent’s generation, and some in my generation, would not go to counseling or have open discussions about their issues, even with close friends or family members.

Sue and I believe one of the best ways to improve mental health is by removing the taboos about discussing it. That’s a focus point for the Johnson Depression Center, and that’s why you will find me writing about mental health rather frequently this year. It’s one of the biggest workforce issues of our day, and it’s not going away. The better we educate ourselves on the dynamics of mental health, the better we all will be.


  1. Neill Epperson, MD

    Walt and Sue, your contributions to education around mental illness, and specifically about bipolar disorder has and will positively impact so many here in Colorado and across the nation. I’m thrilled that leaders like you are pushing forward the agenda of destigmatizing mental illness through education and outreach and could not be more honored to be working with you both!

    Reply to Neill Epperson, MD

    1. Walt Rakowich

      Thank you, Neill, and thanks also for joining me on Off the Rak to discuss this issue in depth.

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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