Women In Wellness: Kim LaMontagne On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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If you are in a leadership role, know that you have the power to transform the workplace culture. The most powerful leaders empower employees to “remove the mask of fear and shame” and speak openly about mental health.

As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim LaMontagne.

Kim LaMontagne is a Corporate Trainer, International Speaker, and Author. Kim was a top performing professional who suffered in silence in the workplace with depression, anxiety, alcohol misuse, and intense suicidal thoughts. At 13 years sober and healthy, she shares her journey to teach leaders how to shift the culture and normalize the conversation about mental health in the workplace. Kim created a leadership training solution — “The 4 Pillars of Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace Culture.” that teaches leaders how to create a ‘culture of safety’ in the workplace where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Thank you for having me! It is an honor to share my story with your readers.

My story in not unique. What is unique is that I am willing to share it, be vulnerable, and speak my truth, to normalize the conversation about mental health and illustrate that we are not alone.

I was a top performing corporate professional who suffered in silence in the workplace with major depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol misuse. Outwardly, I performed at a very high level, won awards, was a leader, coach, and mentor. Behind closed doors, I was consuming 5–8 glasses of wine every night, followed by blackouts and hangovers.

I felt like an imposter living a double life and feared losing my job, professional integrity, and seat at the corporate table if I spoke openly and asked for help. As a result, I remained silent, fell into deep depression, and almost lost my life.

I entered sobriety on 7/16/2009, but it wasn’t until a conversation with my leader, in 2016, that my life truly changed.

My leader noticed subtle signs that her top performer was not ok. She followed her instincts, flew from Newark, NJ to Boston, MA and spent the day (face to face) with me. She provided a safe space to speak openly about what was truly going on behind my performance.

It is an understatement to say she was completely stunned when she learned of my back story.

She asked, “how have you been performing at such a high level with all of this going on in your life?”

My response: “Shame and fear.”

Her ability to identify the signs and have the courage to open a safe dialogue saved my life. She did not try to be a counselor that day, but her safe conversation led me on a true healing journey which has brought me here today.

On 4/1/2020, I stepped away from my corporate job, formed Kim LaMontagne, LLC, and created a leadership training solution called, The 4 Pillars of Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace Culture. The 4 Pillars teaches leaders how to decrease stigma, create a peer support network, shift to person-centered language, and create a culture where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Many interesting and life changing things have happened since I committed to teaching leaders how to normalize the conversation about mental health in the workplace.

Two defining moments happened during my journey.

The first was at a conference in Houston, Texas. The conference was attended by 150 senior vice presidents in the healthcare sector and I was the first speaker of the day. After sharing my story and training about mental health in the workplace, 13 leaders stepped forward (in confidence) and acknowledged they saw pieces of themselves in my story. Each person thanked me for being vulnerable and creating a safe space to acknowledge they suffer too.

The second defining moment was with my work family. I was invited, by my vice president, to train my colleagues on mental health in the workplace at a business development sales summit. She was unaware that my training involved sharing my personal story. I stood up in front of 35 colleagues (2 vice presidents, human resources, marketing, business development, etc.) and shared my story. This was the first time my work family learned what was behind my mask of high performance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room and you could hear a pin drop. My colleagues were stunned. Eight of my own colleagues stepped forward, after hearing my story, to acknowledge they suffer too.

Takeaways:

  • More people than we know experience mental health challenges.
  • Teaching leaders about mental health in the workplace is critical.
  • Sharing our stories has the power to change lives.
  • It’s ok to not be ok but it’s NOT ok to pretend you’re ok.
  • The most powerful organizations create a safe workplace culture that empowers employees to remove the mask of fear and shame and speak openly about mental health.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am the heart, soul, and face behind my company, but it takes a village to make the biggest impact possible.

The belief that “I can do it alone” was my biggest mistake when starting my business.

As an entrepreneur, 100% of the burden falls on the business owner. Many times, the entrepreneur takes on tasks and responsibilities that are better served being delegated to someone else. That said, I hired a virtual assistant two months after starting my business and it was the best investment/decision ever. Learning to delegate was an important lesson I had to learn. I learned that delegation is a sign of strength and not weakness. I also learned that delegation allows me to focus on the things that need my attention by delegating tasks (that I have no business doing) to others. If I didn’t learn to delegate, I would not be making the impact I am making now. I have also added a web designer, social media manager, public relations manager, and IT director to my team.

My team tells me to DREAM BIG and let us worry about the HOW. Knowing that I have a team committed to this work allows me to bring big ideas to the table and lean on them to help bring them to fruition.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

A few statistics:

  • 1 in 5 people live with mental illness.
  • If you are a leader in the workplace, 20% of your workforce could be suffering in silence.
  • Do you know who those employees are and if they are being accommodated?
  • Mental illness is more prevalent than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined.
  • We speak openly about cancer, diabetes, and heart disease in the workplace and are given accommodations, if needed.
  • Do we speak about mental illness and provide accommodations, in the same way, to those who need them in the workplace?

Shame, stigma, and judgment are reasons why employees and leaders fear asking for help. Many leaders fear speaking openly because they feel it is a sign of weakness and could negatively impact their career. Many leaders also feel unprepared to open the dialogue about mental health because they don’t know how to navigate the conversation.

I teach leaders how to create a culture in the workplace where everyone feels safe speaking openly about mental health. As a result, more leaders are prepared to identify signs and symptoms, open a safe dialog, and crosswalk an employee to services. My work is making a large impact in healthcare, education, corporate, legal, construction and many other industries. Leaders are more prepared to create a safe space for open dialogue about mental health. As a result, leaders are navigating the conversation about mental health and employees are feeling safe. Open dialogue results in an increase in use of employer sponsored mental health services, leading to increased employee engagement, productivity, and satisfaction. Healthy employees are more engaged employees.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. If you are in a leadership role, know that you have the power to transform the workplace culture. The most powerful leaders empower employees to “remove the mask of fear and shame” and speak openly about mental health.
  2. Know your personal signs/behaviors that signify you are experiencing depression or other mental illness. Share your signs with others and Give them permission to “reach in” when you aren’t strong enough to “reach out.” Guide them on how to help you by sharing what works for you. These four steps can save your or someone else’s life.
  3. Question your thoughts and don’t allow your negative thoughts to grow roots. I learned, from “The Work” of Byron Katie, that we have the ability to question our thoughts and dismiss thoughts that are untrue. Once I was able to experience a thought (I am unworthy) and find the evidence that the thought was untrue, I began to dismiss the thoughts and free my mind from negativity. I encourage you to view her work at www.thework.com
  4. Energy is everything. Surround yourself with those who are willing to see, support, and understand you by creating safe spaces for open dialog.
  5. Know WHO you are and what you represent. This took a while for me to understand but once I took the time to truly understand WHO I am, I began to love and appreciate myself more.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have already started a movement in the workplace that empowers leaders to have safe and open conversations about mental health, substance misuse, and overall mental wellbeing. In this movement, the conversation about mental health is becoming normalized in the workplace. Leaders are recognizing they are powerful allies in the fight to help those living with mental illness or substance misuse. Our leaders in the workplace have more of an effect on us than our doctors because we spend a large part of our lives at work. Preparing leaders with the tools to feel confident that they can identify someone in distress, open a safe / non judgemental conversation, and crosswalk an employee to services is good for humanity and for the bottom line.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Dream big. I actually learned this two months into my business, when my team started coming together one expert at a time. Together, we are committed to bringing this vital content, about mental health in the workplace, to leaders across the globe.
  2. Align yourself with a coach who can show you the map as you launch your business.
  3. Know that people need what you have to offer. As an entrepreneur, it is easy to fall into a cycle of perfectionism which leads to fear of launching products/solutions. My coach taught me that I belong in BIG rooms and conversations because my work changes lives.
  4. Consult with legal and accounting experts when establishing your company. It is important to follow all rules to avoid any costly mistakes.
  5. Know your “WHY.” Times will be difficult as you start a business. There could be days when you wonder if you are truly meant for your work. Knowing your Why is important and will help you stay focused.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental health is dearest to me because of my lived experience. I understand the darkness and what it’s like to feel unworthy, ashamed, abnormal, like an imposter, and afraid to ask for help. My leader changed the trajectory of my life by opening a safe conversation with me. Now, I teach leaders to be confident in opening the conversation about mental health so their employees can speak their truth and remove blockages to peak performance. Leaders have the power to transform the workplace culture. Teaching leaders about mental health and substance misuse decreases stigma, and creates more open communication, understanding and empathy. It’s good for humanity and for the bottom line.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

Contact information:

www.kimlamontagne.net

kim@kimlamontagne.net

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kim-lamontagne-mba-83140329/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimlamontagnementalhealth

Instagram: @kimlamontagnementalhealth

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.