I gave a keynote to 1600 women hoteliers in San Diego this past April. Through that opportunity, I met so many wonderful and giving South Asian business women, including Silpa Patel.
What I admire most her is her transparency. She has struggled with clinical depression and anxiety. Today she is in business development with Stigma Zero, a unique online training program she designed to help companies of all sizes end the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. And, given her long affiliation with the hospitality industry, she’s made the resource available on Marriott’s platform.
This week’s LadyDrinks Member Spotlight is on Silpa Patel.
You have suffered from an affliction for many years. What is that?
I have been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety most recently. For the past 38 years, I lived my life masking my darkest times thinking this was just a “phase” and I would snap out of it. Growing up with immigrant parents trying to make a better life for my sister and I, was not a childhood I dreamt of. Most of my days I would feel sad, helpless, lonely and wished I could run as far away as possible. As life got harder and more demanding, the pressures of “producing” not only at work, but at home as well got that much harder. I found myself when I hit rock bottom being withdrawn from people, places and family including my children. I had no desire to go to any social events and was fixated to my bed. I just did not have any more energy or mental capacity to be “me”. Luckily, with my family support, I was able to get the help I needed to combat this debilitating disease. I am not cured or fixed, because as we know, this is a lifelong battle I will have. However being given the therapy and tools I needed to cope with my depression and anxiety, brought me back into life I never dreamt I could have.
What would you say was the reaction to you being vocal about it?
Being Indian, especially Gujarati, our society is known for keeping everything hush-hush. When I was going into treatment I remember everyone making excuses for where I would be for the month I needed inpatient. When I truly understood my diagnosis, and realized what I had was not defining who I am as a person, but a chemical imbalance, I left my treatment facility spreading as much awareness about mental health as I could. And continue to do so. I will not be silent. I am not ashamed of what I have gone through, in fact it has strengthen my ability to want to help as many people as I can. Mental health is the leading cause of suicide, and being a survivor myself, shows how important it is to address this right away.
You have created a new online platform to make mental health and help more accessible. What is that?
I have grown up in hospitality and hotels from a young age. The pressures I saw my parents have, mentally and physically, made me want to research more on what it is I can do to help those that are in this fast pace environment. I saw there was no program that was out there to be focused solely on mental wellbeing. We are in a customer centric environment 24/7 that drains us being on the forefront of our hotels. Our employees are expected to be at 100% all times. That is a hard demand when you are dealing with different customers and situations daily. I have been in front office and back offices, and with such a demand, personally, it took a toll on my mental health. It is exhausting and draining. I saw a need for workplaces to address the stigma surrounding mental illness, so I started searching to see what was available on the market. After an exhaustive search, I found an amazing company called StigmaZero; they offer a unique online training program designed to help companies of all sizes end the stigma of mental illness in the workplace. Once stigma is eliminated companies can better support employees, improve culture, reduce presentism and dramatically reduce lost revenue associated with mental illness and stigma. It is a true win/win for the company and employee. After speaking with the StigmaZero Team and seeing their program, I saw this as exactly what was needed in today’s workplaces, so I joined the team as an Ambassador / Business Developer.
This product is going to be made accessible throughout Marriott’s corporate platform. Can you explain more?
As a Stigma Zero Ambassador/ Developer one of the first things I wanted to do was to setup the staff at my hotels and give them the training and tools that they need to better address stigma in the workplace. The response I have received has been overwhelming. Not only do my employees feel supported, they now feel like there is an open dialogue for them to discuss matters both professionally and personally. They feel understood, heard and appreciative that we, as owners, are recognizing the times they are the most vulnerable. My goal would be to have this available for not just all Marriott owners, operators and employees, BUT the entire hospitality industry. We are in discussion with Marriott Corporate offices to explore how we can do this. There is a need and urgency for this matter to be discussed openly and fairly without being judged or discriminated towards. For anyone interested in learning more, I encourage you to contact me directly or visit www.stigmazero.com
You were in Washington this month. What is the advocacy you are engaged in?
As part of my mission is to spread mental health awareness, I also saw the urgency there is to speak about this is workplaces. I joined as an ambassador with AAHOA, one of the largest associations for hoteliers, and being given this platform, I took the opportunity to speak to several of the local senators and representatives this past week in our Legislative Summit Action which took place at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. It was an empowerment I felt, raising my voice, with a different approach tying in the hospitality industry with mental health. Several of the people within the organization I spoke with, would have never thought how important the 2 go hand in hand. Advocating about this both statewide, and nationally, is something I continuously will be engaged in until there is a fix. I am proud to be a part of StigmaZero, a company that thrives to get the mission out there.
To become a Women’s Leadership Academy member, go to www.joyadass.com
To engage in upcoming events, see below