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Trauma and Grief in the C-Suite: Navigating Challenges with Tayuanee Dewberry and Sabrina Gilchrist


Trauma and Grief in the C-Suite

In a recent 3 part episode of The Unbroken Place with Eddy Paul Thomas, the pressing issue of trauma and grief in the C-suite was brought to light with the help of esteemed guests, Tayuanee Dewberry, MA, Ed. S, LCMHC, NCC and Sabrina Gilchrist, LCMHC. This discussion shed light on the often-overlooked emotional struggles that high-level executives face, revealing the importance of vulnerability, peer support, and systemic change in fostering a healthier work environment.


Executives often bear immense pressure to maintain a façade of strength and competence, even when grappling with personal trauma or grief. Tayuanee Dewberry emphasized the importance of finding a peer group that can offer support and understanding. “There’s something about understanding and learning that you’re not unique in your struggle and in the hurt,” Dewberry shared. Research indicates that peer support can significantly reduce stress and increase resilience among leaders.



Creating a safe space for expression and support is vital, not only for executives but also for their teams. Dewberry highlighted a staff meeting where the need for a safe space was discussed. She advised, “The best way to have a safe space is to be one.” This approach fosters an environment where everyone, including leaders, can feel supported and understood. Studies show that a supportive work environment can enhance employee satisfaction and reduce turnover.


Recognizing Warning Signs


Identifying signs of burnout and emotional distress is crucial for addressing these issues proactively. Dewberry pointed out disengagement as a key indicator, where leaders lose interest in activities that once brought them joy. Sabrina Gilchrist added that pervasive disengagement, often referred to as “quiet quitting,” can signal deeper issues. A study by Gallup found that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged at work, highlighting the widespread nature of disengagement . Additionally, Gilchrist highlighted the impact of strained relationships and brain fog as warning signs of burnout. According to the American Psychological Association, burnout can lead to decreased performance and increased mental health issues.


The challenges faced by leaders in non-profit organizations are often compounded by the need to do more with less. Dewberry explained the added pressure of fundraising and the expectation to provide intangible benefits to society. This often leads to a heavier burden on non-profit leaders, who must navigate multiple roles with limited resources and support. Research indicates that non-profit leaders experience higher levels of stress compared to their for-profit counterparts due to resource constraints and the emotional demands of their work.

"Companies need to financially invest in ensuring that leadership can get the support they need." ~ Sabrina Gilchrist, LCMHC

Both Dewberry and Gilchrist emphasized the importance of addressing the isolation and pressure that come with executive roles. Creating a culture of true collaboration and partnership can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and competition among leaders. Gilchrist stressed the need for accountability and self-awareness, encouraging leaders to recognize and address their own emotional and mental health needs. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that 61% of executives feel lonely in their roles, which can hinder performance and decision-making.


Proactive Steps for Mental Health

To prioritize mental health, executives can take several proactive steps:

  1. Find Your Tribe: Establish a support system of peers or mentors who can provide a safe space for vulnerability and honest conversations. Research supports that peer support groups can enhance coping mechanisms and provide emotional relief .

  2. Invest in Mental Health: Organizations should invest in health insurance, employee assistance programs, and sabbaticals to support leaders’ mental health. A study by the World Health Organization found that every $1 invested in mental health yields a $4 return in improved health and productivity .

  3. Flexibility and Innovation: Embrace flexible work schedules and innovative approaches to create a supportive work environment. The American Psychological Association reports that flexible work arrangements can reduce stress and improve work-life balance .

  4. Self-Care: Leaders must prioritize self-care, including regular medical check-ups, proper nutrition, and activities that nourish their spirit and soul. Regular self-care practices are linked to improved mental health and reduced stress levels.


To destigmatize mental health in the C-suite, leaders need to share their experiences and show their humanity. Dewberry and Gilchrist both advocate for showing scars, if not wounds, to demonstrate resilience and the importance of addressing emotional struggles. By changing the narrative and promoting a culture of openness and support, organizations can create a healthier, more sustainable work environment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, sharing personal stories can reduce stigma and encourage others to seek help.


This wonderfully enlightening conversation with Tayuanee Dewberry and Sabrina Gilchrist highlighted the critical need for addressing trauma and grief in the C-suite. By fostering a culture of support, accountability, and proactive mental health care, leaders can navigate their challenges more effectively and create a more resilient and compassionate workplace.

For those interested in following the work of Tayuanee Dewberry and Sabrina Gilchrist, you can find Tayuanee on Instagram at @tayuanee. Sabrina can be followed on Instagram at @thesabrinanichole and on her website, thesabrinanichole.com. Additionally, her book, "Child Get Up, Living with Mental Illness and Faith," is available on Amazon.

This insightful discussion is just the beginning, and more conversations like these are essential in promoting mental health and wellbeing at all levels of leadership.


References

  1. “Peer Support in the Workplace,” Mental Health America.

  2. “Resilience and Peer Support,” National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

  3. “The Importance of a Supportive Work Environment,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

  4. “State of the Global Workplace,” Gallup, 2017.

  5. “The Role of Burnout in Job Performance and Mental Health,” American Psychological Association.

  6. “Stress and Burnout in the Non-Profit Sector,” Stanford Social Innovation Review.

  7. “The Loneliness of the CEO,” Harvard Business Review, 2017.

  8. “Peer Support Programs in the Workplace,” Occupational Health and Safety.

  9. “Investing in Mental Health,” World Health Organization.

  10. “Flexible Work Arrangements: The Impact on Employee Well-Being,” American Psychological Association.

  11. “The Benefits of Self-Care for Mental Health,” National Institute of Mental Health.

  12. “Sharing Personal Stories to Reduce Mental Health Stigma,” National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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