Mental Health Awareness Month comes around each May, and with it, the opportunity for Turnitin to learn from some of its own leaders. This month, the team had the chance to hear from leaders of our Mental Health ERG called Integrity without Stigma (IwS), Samantha Bonk and Salvador Jimenez. Read on as Sam and Salva share their own stories, what mental health awareness means to them, and some practical tips for raising mental health awareness.
What’s your story?
Salva Jimenez: I joined Turnitin back in January 2014. I've been in different sales roles before moving into an account executive role, and then moved into managing a team of account managers. Now I support sales globally from a central role in the ‘Sales Enablement’ team.
I’ve always struggled with my mental health, though for many years I didn’t have the awareness or knowledge to identify it as such. Then, when in 2020 I went through a specially high period of high anxiety and stress, I realized that I needed to really dig deep into my mental health and use the resources that were available to me. That brought me to start regular therapy sessions (thanks to a benefit offered by Turnitin), which not only helped me deal with my own mental health challenges, but also made me aware of my own neurodiversity, as a person with adult ADHD.
Since “neurodiversity” and “mental health challenges” often go hand in hand, this realization gave me a starting point to learn how to ask for support. For me, Integrity without Stigma is an opportunity to get together with like-minded individuals and, hopefully, share resources like the ones that help me.
Sam Bonk: I joined Turnitin two years ago in 2021. Previous to that, I had worked in teaching for 10 years, followed by project management in the commercial construction industry. That’s a really tough environment for mental health, and I suffered during that time. I wanted to invest in my coworkers, and I couldn’t do that there. Just two months after joining Turnitin, the opportunity to serve as chair on Integrity without Stigma opened up, and things just seamlessly slipped into place.
I have a long list of times in my life where I’ve had to champion my own mental health, and I want to be a support system for other people too. As someone who has taught refugees and been in different industries, I’ve seen how mental health awareness is not always prioritized. I want to be a part of changing that.
What impact has IwS had on your workplace experience at Turnitin?
Sam Bonk: For me, I think it's been the ability to connect with people I typically wouldn't connect with in the company. There's people from the project world; there's very senior leadership people I may not otherwise get to connect with on a personal level, which has been amazing to see. Every once in a while, I just get a message from someone saying a quick hello, or just wanting to check in, or sharing an event they have that’s coming up. It’s great to have that community. I've been able to form relationships with other groups as well. So, just having touches with all these different networks and people across the organization has been very meaningful.
Not to mention, it’s global. One of my closest colleagues and friends now is Salva, who is way on the other side of the world. But I feel like he truly is my friend, and wherever our paths go in life, I know that he will always be somebody I can continue to reach out to. And I say that as I hold back a tear because it's just such a special group of people. We've gotten so close over the last year and a half building out this group that it's hard to imagine having it any other way.
Salva Jimenez: Sam, why’d you have to make me cry in this article? (Laughs.) You’ve obviously become like family to me, and IwS wouldn't be the same without you!
In answer to your question: I think that the biggest impact that IwS has had at Turnitin is providing a supportive community in matters of mental health. As members of this community, employees who may be dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions can really find relief and support in turning to each other. It’s amazing to see people open up in different ways (however they’re comfortable), whether it's just by writing a small supportive message or sharing resources to the group. It’s a wonderful space that we've been able to create, as an ERG group, and I’m very proud of it.
How has IwS Impacted mental health awareness?
Salva Jimenez: We've seen an increase in mental health awareness and support at Turnitin. That's very powerful to me personally, as someone who needs that support. Having a consistent community of people and resources available at all times will hopefully raise mental health awareness among our employees, and encourage them to find the support they need.
A way that this is happening is through the IwS Slack channel. Many of us are miles away from one another, and yet the channel helps us connect with someone who feels the same way. That's a priceless thing and, besides having been working at Turnitin for a long time, the IwS community has made me fall in love with Turnitin all over again..
Sam Bonk: I'm most proud of the community that we've created that continues to raise mental health awareness. We have so many members. We don't have a formal membership form that you have to sign to be a part of IwS. So you join our group, and you're instantly one of us, and it means that you can just engage. Be a lurker, as we say, someone who just wants to come and listen or be somebody who is really involved. You’re engaging in the conversation, either way. You can be your authentic self, in whatever form that is.
Just being able to see all of those names in the group, in whatever form they are, on that Slack channel and watching them continue to grow–wow! This is a place where people feel safe, where people feel seen. They can feel their voice is heard and show up how they want to.
A few months ago, a colleague reached out to me privately, worried about sharing a comment with the group. She didn’t know if it was the right place. She eventually did share it with the group, and she felt so much better that she opened up about what she was feeling on IwS, because then she had this outpouring of people who started to comment, saying they feel the same way, they could totally relate to this, just on a different level. Knowing that we've created a safe space for all of these people, it's just a lasting thing that will stay with me.
Salva Jimenez: Even going beyond our community of IwS, we’re really seeing mental health awareness becoming part of the conversation with other culture groups here at Turnitin, as well as just in the conversations that people are having. It’s great to see everyone working toward the same goals.
What does Mental Health Awareness Month mean to you?
Salva Jimenez: For me, Mental Health Awareness Month is important, because it's not enough to reduce stigma within this organization. Obviously this is where we start, but I want people to understand that Mental Health Awareness Month is not just about improving life for employees, but, when they leave work at the end of the day, I hope that what they’ve learned on mental health awareness and prevention helps them improve their daily lives.
Sam Bonk: One of the biggest things for me, especially looking at the lens of what I’m able to contribute to IwS and our company, is just the fact that we really want to be able to spread mental health awareness and make sure that people can share their experience and educate others without anybody feeling judged, or that their feelings are minimized in any form. That's the whole reason IwS was created: to feel that you're in a safe space. During this month especially, we want to be able to bring in resources to make sure that people really feel that right now. So whether it's an external speaker, or whether we're posting resources, we really want to highlight that this is a time for people to honor themselves and take 30 minutes out of the day and go for a walk. Or step away from your computer because you need that mental health break. If you can't prioritize your mental health, you can't be there for anybody else. That's really, really what I want to highlight in Mental Health Awareness Month.
What is a lesson to take away from Mental Health Awareness Month?
Sam Bonk: if you neglect your own mental health, you can't be there for anybody else. So even on those days when you feel drained or it's exhausting to think about doing something for yourself because you're taking care of the kids, or you're having a long day at work, the best thing you can do is not to sit and focus on them more. The best thing you can do is to take care of yourself, whether it's doing boxwork, breathing, and you know, taking a few deep breaths, or going for that walk, or shutting your computer for 15 minutes again. If you neglect yourself, you're not doing the best you can for the people you love and have around you. Mental health is just as important, if not more important, than physical health, and it really does affect everybody. Stigma and misconceptions are what prevent people from seeking support. So this Mental Health Awareness Month is really about knocking down those stigmas and being compassionate and understanding of everything that encompasses what mental health really is.
Salva Jimenez: Exactly what Sam said, and I’ll add: ask for help. And believe me, It’s a lesson I struggle with myself. I know it’s hard, but it’s okay to say, “I need help with this.” Reach out to a friend, a resource you trust, a professional, and ask for the help you need. Therapy is not just for when people reach their limits. It's for maintenance too. Just like you have a massage for sore muscles, go to therapy for your mental health. Go every few weeks, or go every week. As often as your mind needs. I recognize saying that aloud can feel difficult, because it is also difficult for me, but this is exactly how we change the stigma around mental health.
Overview: Mental Health Awareness Month lessons
Mental Health Awareness Month serves as an important reminder to prioritize our mental health and well-being. It's more crucial than ever to take care of ourselves and loved ones, which Sam and Salva prove possible through the work they do in Integrity without Stigma. Removing the stigma around mental illness and encouraging open conversations about mental health is a sign of strength, and there are various resources available for those who need them. Let's continue to spread awareness and advocate for mental health support and services to ensure that everyone has access to the care they need. By prioritizing mental health awareness, everyone can lead healthier lives and build stronger, more supportive communities.