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Mental Health Champions: Why & How Mike Caguin Of Periscope Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

… Talking about mental health, along with meditation, has been my holy grail. The day I started sharing my experiences was the day a new world opened up to me.. That was the day I began to see myself and others affected by mental illness as warriors sharing in this collective experience.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Mike Caguin.

Mike Caguin recently joined Minneapolis-based advertising agency Periscope as Chief Creative Officer to oversee the creative output of the agency, advance its creative, design, and production departments, and support new business and agency marketing. Beyond his work as a creative mastermind, as board chair of The BrandLab, Mike is also passionate about advancing DEI efforts and behavioral and mental health initiatives within the advertising industry. With a compassionate and collaborative approach to leadership, Mike is a champion for the mental health of himself and his team. He has been published twice in Ad Age sharing his own mental health journey, along with advice for others who may be working through similar experiences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised outside Baltimore, Maryland. My late father came from the Philippines to the US after medical school and my mom is a second-generation Italian American. Both of them came from low-income households and were the first in their families to attend and graduate from college. Although they were frugal, I lived a privileged childhood thanks to their hard work and perseverance. As the youngest of four children, I always had a love for the arts. My parents would take us to art galleries and I was the only one who enjoyed it. It’s no wonder I pursued art through high school and college and turned it into a career in advertising. My wife and I have since been raising two children in Minneapolis for over 20 years. We moved to Minneapolis for a life adventure and decided to stay.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

At the heart of it all is creating a workplace culture of inclusion that aims to create advertising that’s more inclusive as a result. This includes increasing our understanding of mental health and wellbeing. We’re not perfect by any means, but our recruitment, employee engagement, and talent development efforts are derived from a foundational pursuit of inclusion in the broadest sense. We’re now fine-tuning our work process to fuel curiosity so that we can identify meaningful cultural, behavioral, and emotional human truths that will lead to more inclusive, impactful ideas on behalf of brands.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I became passionate about mental health several years ago when my wife and I realized our daughter had depression and anxiety. Through the process of understanding what she was facing, I became attuned that many of my coworkers at the time struggled with depression and/or anxiety as well. One thing led to another and we started talking about it as a company with the goals of promoting understanding and reducing the stigma surrounding these invisible illnesses. Since then, I’ve written about mental health, talked about it at ad industry events, and moderated several panel discussions. In 2019, I realized that I had anxiety that had been building over the years due to the pressures of my job. I had a couple of panic attacks at work and found myself in crisis mode to get a handle on what was happening. Thankfully, I’ve been able to mitigate my anxiety through mindfulness and meditation.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Several years ago when my daughter Mollie decided to raise awareness for depression and anxiety in high school, “Race to Justice Day” was the day I became a public advocate too. Her courage gave me the courage and conviction to try to make a difference.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

A month into my job our president shut the agency down for a mental health day because she saw that people needed it. In my 27 years in this business, I’ve never seen anything like it and I was awestruck by her swift decision led by tremendous empathy. It was an action that I’ll remember and appreciate for the rest of my career.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My high school art teacher, Ed Smith, changed the trajectory of my life. He was so passionate about teaching students about art history and exploring all aspects of fine art. He lit a fire in me and pushed me to be a better artist. He’d say, “When you go to Italy, you have to go to Florence to see the Renaissance masterpieces.” He’d always speak as if it were mandatory. Needless to say, I’m planning a trip for later this year.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Mental illnesses are invisible so it’s hard to create compassion or opportunities for learning about pain that can’t be seen. So often, you hear misguided comments such as, “choose to be happy,” “just cheer up,” or “stop worrying,” when in reality it’s not a choice for someone with depression or anxiety. Well-intended comments like this contribute to the stigma.

Even worse, sometimes people with a mental illness are seen as weak, when in fact it takes someone with a mental disorder much more fortitude and determination to navigate life.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

As individuals, it’s important to understand that mental illnesses are no joke. The symptoms can be severe and completely debilitating. People with clinical depression can’t just “cheer up” at will and those with diagnosed anxiety can’t just “stop worrying about it.” When someone is experiencing bouts of depression or anxiety, oftentimes it’s unpredictable in why it shows up and how long it will last, which makes it more difficult to overcome.

As a society, mental illnesses are on the rise and have only skyrocketed because of COVID-19. Not only did the fear of the pandemic and a sudden shift to isolation and working from home affect our mental health, but there’s now a study that’s indicating that many of those who have had COVID are now experiencing neurological issues. I believe we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg on this, so businesses need to get ahead of what could be a need for a dramatic change in mental health benefits, flexible working hours and accomodations.

Our government needs to continue to fund research, greatly expand our mental health resources, incentivize students to pursue careers in health care, and prepare for a society where many more millions of people need professional support.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

As it turns out, I really do have five strategies: meditation, mindfulness, exercise, talking, and gratitude.

Meditation is something I turned to right after I was diagnosed with anxiety. I use the Ten Percent Happier app 4–5 days a week, and it has truly helped save my career. Prior to meditation, I had two panic attacks, increased sweating and was even experiencing claustrophobia. Two years later, all of my symptoms have greatly reduced.

Mindfulness, or being present in the moment versus fixating on the future or dwelling on the past, is a big part of what meditation teaches you. When I’m feeling anxious, I now recognize it and process it instead of fighting it, which helps tremendously.

Exercise has been a part of my life for over 20 years. If I go just a few days without exercise, I become irritable, fidgety and less confident. While I typically either run, cycle or swim five days a week, I’ve noticed that even a 10-minute walk outside every day has a profound effect on my mental wellbeing.

Talking about mental health, along with meditation, has been my holy grail. The day I started sharing my experiences was the day a new world opened up to me.. That was the day I began to see myself and others affected by mental illness as warriors sharing in this collective experience.

And finally, practicing gratitude. Research shows that gratitude is a key to living a happy life and understandably so. When you appreciate who you have in your life and what you have rather than what you don’t, you’re framing your world from a place of abundance. Life is beautiful when you reflect upon the goodness around you and share your appreciation of it with others.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

There’s too many to mention, but here are my top three: the Ten Percent Happier app, Peace Is Every Step by the late Thich Nhat Hanh and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Having a positive impact on just one person is my only goal every time I talk about mental health. If you’re making just a single human’s life better, what you’re doing is worth it. The rest is icing on the cake.

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter, Instagram: @mikecaguin

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/caguin/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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