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Empathy As A Service: Supporting Mental Health in the Tech Workplace

At any given time, 1 in 5 Americans are living with a mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, burnout, or ADHD. Statistically, all of us working for an organization with 5 or more employees have at least one colleague who is affected. At the same time, the tech industry is often characterized by high stress, long hours, workplace pressure to be available by phone and e-mail after-hours or sometimes even while on vacation, social pressure to constantly network and attend conferences and make a name for yourself, and the precarious balance between trying to do good by contributing to open-source and maintaining some semblance of free time that doesn't involve coding. Given how this demanding environment increasingly blurs the line between our professional and personal lives, how can we ensure that the most vulnerable among us aren't being left behind? As a community, the single most damaging thing we can do is continue to treat mental health as a personal shortcoming that can't be talked about openly. We shouldn't think of it as "somebody else's problem"; the 4 in 5 of us who don't currently have mental health disorders must do our part to help end the stigma. This talk will begin with an overview of key statistics about mental illness, followed by the efforts of the non-profit organization Open Sourcing Mental Illness to gather more data about mental health in the tech industry, the ALGEE action plan taught by the Mental Health First Aid training course, and finally conclude with ideas and strategies for making our tech workplaces more accommodating and inclusive.

Nara Kasbergen

Nara Kasbergen (@xiehan)


Nara Kasbergen is a full-stack developer in NPR (National Public Radio)'s Digital Media group, where she's worked on a variety of projects, most notably the third-party developer platform for NPR One. She recently joined the tech conference speaking circuit because of her interest in Developer Experience (DX), community-building, the intersection of humans and code, and her volunteer work for Open Sourcing Mental Illness, a non-profit organization raising awareness about mental health in the tech industry. Though she has no noticeable accent, she hails from The Netherlands and lived in Munich, Houston, Pittsburgh, Tokyo, and New York City prior to settling down in Washington, DC. In her spare time, she satisfies her foodie habits by trying out all of the best restaurants in the city, collects board games, and watches too much Netflix.