Melissa Bernstein, cofounder of the toy firm Melissa & Doug, spent decades hiding her struggles with depression even as she launched and led a booming enterprise centered on bringing joy to early life and raised six of her enjoy. She in the end unfolded to her family, colleagues, and the general public and lately launched an organization to offer folks higher tools to focus on and build up their mental health. Bernstein explains what managers and organizations can manufacture to wait on workers going via depression and other illnesses. She’s the author of the e book LifeLines: An Inspirational Dash from Profound Darkness to Honest Gentle.
ALISON BEARD: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Alternate Overview. I’m Alison Beard.
Most of us build on happy faces at work. We project a definite attitude even as soon as we’re unhappy. We act assured to hide our imposter syndrome. We faux we’ve got it all collectively, even when issues are falling apart. Assuredly that can even be okay in a unsuitable it except you affect it roughly manner, however too great faking can take a toll, and in a global where we’re more and more inspired to be inaugurate and proper and bring our legitimate selves to work, why shouldn’t we be talking more transparently about mental health? Why is there this kind of stigma spherical these disorders?
At the new time’s customer is here to focus on her enjoy fight with depression, which she managed whereas elevating six kids and building a $500 million toy firm centered on bringing more joy into the sector. She’ll whine how she in the end stumbled on the courage to talk publicly about it and what she’d handle to see contributors and organizations manufacture to guard and promote mental health.
Melissa Bernstein is co-founder along along with her husband, Doug, of Melissa & Doug. She lately launched a recent initiative referred to as LifeLines, and launched a memoir referred to as LifeLines: An Inspirational Dash From Profound Darkness To Honest Gentle. Melissa, thanks so great for coming on the command.
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: Thanks for having me, Alison. I’m so honored to be here.
ALISON BEARD: So we’re going to get into some darkish subjects at the new time, however let’s inaugurate with the light and success that is your toy firm, Melissa & Doug. How did this firm attain to be?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: That’s this kind of stress-free myth. Doug and I constantly whine, surely he says, because he’s the funnier one, “We conceived a firm out of wedlock,” because we founded our firm as soon as we had been proper relationship. We had been surely 22 and 24, and proper out of faculty we had followed the old route, because in those days, you didn’t up and inaugurate a toy firm. I mean, that was unheard of. You didn’t inaugurate any firm.
You generally studied something in faculty that could perchance turn out to be your profession, and you ranking on that treadmill and you rode that treadmill to the tip of your life. And we believed that and we followed convention and began doing that. And somewhat great about perchance proper about a months into it, we each realized we didn’t know where our which manner was and we had a laborious time getting off the mattress and feeling handle we had been doing something worthy and that could perchance touch the sector in a manner we would like it to. So we determined we would trek away for a weekend to a mattress and breakfast and we wouldn’t trek away except we determined what we had been going to manufacture that lit us up.
ALISON BEARD: Elephantine. So that you made the decision on the toy firm after which how did it turn out to be a success?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: Gosh, I mean, that took many, many years. We tried a range of various pathways that surely had been, I speak you’d call them disasters, except we began to search out our legs. And I deem the daybreak we saw was as soon as we had a brainstorm for something we referred to as a Fuzzy Puzzle.
It was per proper a chat we had been having whereas riding within the vehicle about our current childhood toys. And we each stated, “Huh, wouldn’t it be very honest appropriate if there could be often a puzzle with texture?” And I deem that was our first miniature bit of aha that shall we take grownup slow, lackluster class handle puzzles, that had never been reinvigorated from the first designs that came out perchance 100 years prior, and that shall we take that construct of timeless class and inject some pizzazz into it.
ALISON BEARD: Yeah, and that was massively successful. You went on to launch more wooden toys, manufacture arts and crafts, affect deem, et cetera, bringing all this joy to so many kids. Were you battling depression at this time?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: I mean, I used to be born existentially depressed. So this wasn’t brought on. It’s who I am, thanks to my overexcite abilities that enable me to construct from the boundlessness of white build. My blurse, my blessing and my curse, is I surely derive this highly over excitable persona, and I deem one among the over excitabilities is intellectual. One is imagination, emotional. There are 5 of them, however those surely give me my potential to construct, however also affect me surely unhappy concerning the realities of life and our existence. And many derive stated that what I ranking from is admittedly no longer a pathological condition, it’s a philosophical condition, because they’re proper questions, however that just about all of us hide our eyes from. So I couldn’t ever pretty tag why everybody gave the impact to be denying the truth and the truth that I saw so clearly when it plagued me to such an extent.
So I constantly suffered from it, however what I did, it was so darkish and threatened to submerge me for so many years, that the handiest manner I’m composed here and the handiest manner I used to be in a plight to outlive was to repress and stutter and disassociate from the total darkness and the demons in my head that told me life was futile and I could perchance composed proper pause it, and surely anchor to a facade that was, “All the pieces’s honest. All the pieces’s sizable,” and turned this excessive achieving perfectionist that I rode proper into middle age and denied even from myself that I used to be struggling from such despair.
ALISON BEARD: Now, everybody is conscious of that startups are notably complicated for mental health, because it’s all nighters, it’s many americaand downs. Did you peep that issues got worse right via that length that you and Doug had been surely building the beginnings of the firm?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: I deem having Doug was essentially top-of-the-line thing ever, because I’m a cup half empty, he’s a cup half tubby, and I positively couldn’t derive done it on my own. I mean, I used to be horrified of taking risks and failing as soon as we began Melissa & Doug. And, obviously, turning proper into a product vogue designer cured me of that very instant. However the indisputable truth that I had him I deem made it so we had been in it collectively, and if truth be told, that section, curiously, it wasn’t no longer easy in any respect.
And I deem because I used to be this kind of soldier and notion via so great, I mean, combating via existential nihilism, there’s nothing more troublesome. It’s handle you’re combating via quicksand every single day. And I hid that from the sector. So starting a firm, to be proper with you, was surely straightforward when in contrast with that.
And I deem the years that we constructed Melissa & Doug and raised our children, in a sense, it sounds crazy, however they had been the perfect years because I had so great going on in my life that I couldn’t deem. And thinking for me is a actually inappropriate thing. My mind is a detention middle and it takes me down surely instant. After I surely want to manufacture and build one foot in entrance of the exchange and affect it occur, it surely is seriously comforting for me.
ALISON BEARD: Authorized. And also you had been so successful with that soldiering on mentality, the damping it down, proper ignore it, proper retain going. So when did you’re taking to fall that facade and be more proper about your mental health disorders?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: So I don’t deem I ever would had been if the shout of my enjoy soul to be considered authentically didn’t get so loud I could perchance no longer repress and stutter it any additional. Attributable to I used to be in such worry, I used to be resisting it with all my could perchance and worry plus resistance equals struggling. And I used to be struggling to this kind of level and so exhausted, I mean, must you denied the total lot you’re and the total lot you surely feel and you hide it all from the sector and adopt a facade, it is fully laborious.
I used to be hiding it from everybody. Attributable to to admit it would had been to settle for myself in totality, and I had never authorized myself for being this darkish churning particular person that was rejected by old society my entire life. Any time I confirmed a shred of my despair or my curiosity or my hypersensitivities, folks had been handle you’re irregular and I didn’t should be irregular, I foremost to slot in additional than something else. My current toy as a miniature of 1, we didn’t derive different funds for toys, however I had a Barbie and I foremost to appear handle Barbie, I believed that you would be succesful to perchance composed look handle Barbie. I foremost to be standard. I foremost to derive Ken as my boyfriend. And I foremost to slot in. I couldn’t. It be no longer connected what I did, even after I tried to unsuitable it, it felt so hollow.
I used to be looking out to be any person I wasn’t, and it broke me in middle age because I reached a degree where I knew I couldn’t manufacture it any additional. And within the future it was handle the closing straw, it sounds dramatic, however I surely cracked. And I noticed that day that I will be succesful to’t manufacture this any additional, it construct of proper hit me. Just a few dots, to be proper, had began to keep that made me see that I surely was afflicted with a condition referred to as a title and I wasn’t on my own, and if truth be told others who had been afflicted with the a similar condition had been beautifully ingenious. And I started to see that will likely be my creativity had one other aspect of it that left me with this construct of burdensome persona. And I started to see that the very thing that gave me the potential to construct was the object that I had tried to disclaim and depress and rupture my total life.
ALISON BEARD: So command me concerning the manner you began sharing this with other folks, your family, your coworkers, after which in the end the broader public of Melissa & Doug prospects?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: So I had two dots join that had been surely profound. The first that I mentioned that I suffered from existential despair and the 2d that I had what are referred to as overexcitabilities, which is a heightened arousal of your central nervous plan, which makes me surely feel more acutely 24/7 than some others, and it tends to command itself in highly ingenious folks. And after I noticed this, I knew I had to portion it. And so I determined to attain out, so to talk, three years ago on a podcast. It was a bunch of surely deep soulful folks that talked about their deepest, darkest secrets and I felt handle that viewers shall be surely receptive to my message.
It was a large delay between recording and airing, so I forgot that I had even done it. And I almost didn’t deem I had, because no one knew, including my family. And I handiest knew it aired, because I surely forgotten it aired, after I started getting letters. And I’m no longer talking one letter, I’m talking a entire bunch of essentially the most soulful letters ever announcing issues handle I’m sitting on the subway sobbing since you gave phrases to the ineffable in my life and you’re talking about precisely what I’ve skilled. And after perchance receiving 50 letters, I knew that here’s how I foremost to declare the the relaxation of my life. Since the total folks who wrote me and I done up having conversations with most of them and surely talking about these stigmatizing qualities that they had never admitted or shown to the sector. They stated to me, Melissa, I surely feel so equivalent to you in what I’m feeling, however the adaptation is you stumbled for your channel out of darkness, I surely derive no longer. Motivate me to search out the light. And I knew that if any person that was within the darkest despair ever and carried spherical a bottle of pills for a One year, questioning if she could perchance composed pause it, if I could perchance procure my manner out, I knew I could perchance wait on others manufacture the a similar. So as that was surely when the genesis of Lifeline began.
ALISON BEARD: Expose me concerning the reaction inner your firm. You are this senior leader, the founder, the chief ingenious, who I’m definite everybody seems to be as a lot as and perchance assumes has the suitable life. So how did folks react internally?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: I deem the reaction of the firm mirrors the reaction of americans in traditional, because, obviously, they’re proper folks, too. There’s such miniature dialogue on how we acknowledge to folks who admit they’ve a mental health field. There’s so great work done on disaster and what you whine when any person passes on to any person that’s struggling from that, however very miniature in mental health. I would whine it goes one among 3 ways. Both folks fully ignore it and that you would be succesful to perchance command they’re very miserable, and even after I’m strolling in city, they’ll look at me. They’ll look with awe, handle, “Oh my gosh. It’s her. It’s the depressed girl.” I’ll see them build their eyes down and roughly bustle across the dual carriageway.
The 2d, which I get plenty, is that they’ll look uncomfortably at me, get the courage to attain over, after which construct of pat me awkwardly and whine, “I’m so sorry,” which I will be succesful to whine at now. But when folks stated that to me as a miniature of 1, if I ever let it out, sorry manner they pity you. When any person says they’re sorry, it manner something’s inappropriate.
Then the third, which is basically the most beautiful reaction, is when any person comes over and they’re handle, “Oh my gosh, Melissa. That is so unprecedented. I want you to hold that I surely feel you. That is something I’ve struggled with. I derive to turn out to be as intrepid as you in doing this, and I am on your crew. Regardless of you wish me to manufacture, I’m here for you.” That’s after I smile, and that, I get emotional. I whine, “Thanks.”
ALISON BEARD: Yeah. As a senior particular person in an organization, how manufacture you pass your workers, your crew members to the latter reaction?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: It’s very straightforward. All we can manufacture is command our enjoy light, shine our light and command our vulnerability. I wrote a verse the exchange day, it’s: “I will be succesful to navigate your hotfoot, however can’t build on your backpack, too, for you wouldn’t learn the classes that enable proper breakthrough.” That’s what I’ve discovered. All I will be succesful to manufacture is portion my myth and command my enjoy vulnerability and command folks. I deem one among the excellent classes I will be succesful to command folks is that this elusive pursuit of happiness we’re all striving to entire that leaves us all feeling insufficient is a lie. There’s no such thing. Society devices these not likely requirements for us after which construct of laughs at us as soon as we can’t attain them. Every single one among us goes via life feeling unworthy and incompetent, and it doesn’t discriminate. I felt the categorical same manner because the particular particular person that’s struggling on welfare.
We’re the total a similar by manner of that, and I should be the face of any individual who says, “I foremost to derive it all. I went for it all. I foremost to derive a sizable family. I foremost to derive a $500 million enterprise, and it’s no longer superb by a protracted stretch. I construct no longer derive any steadiness, so don’t deem there’s steadiness. I am positively no longer happy the total time. I surely derive a entire bunch disorders with the total lot in my life, however I’m composed main a terribly good life. Though I surely derive existential despair and I fight many days, I’m surely joyful to be here. I’m surely joyful I tried to derive it all, and I do know now that being substandard manner that is perchance no longer roses each day.”
ALISON BEARD: Authorized, proper. So it sounds handle you’re announcing this mental health work with out a doubt begins at the particular particular person level, however what can crew leaders, colleagues, bosses at the top, CEOs, what can they manufacture to help more folks to portion and de-stigmatize these disorders?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: Yeah, it’s very straightforward. It’s portion their reality. Don’t build on the facade your self. Need to you are going to even be proper about your struggles, others will manufacture so the a similar. In every single plight I am going now, folks pause me, folks that had been wearing the facade, and they whine, “Melissa, I derive to portion a myth.” They command me a myth, handle their entire life myth, because I shared my reality and they now surely feel that they’ve permission to manufacture the a similar. It’s so straightforward, but we’re horrified to command that our life is messy when it’s the truth. That’s why I derive to exit as in all locations as I will be succesful to and whine, “I am main a messy life, and it’s awesome in its messiness. I’m no longer looking out to claim in any other case. So all of you, too, can lead your messy lives and know that you’re no longer underachieving. You’re no longer failing. You’re doing precisely what you desires to be doing.”
ALISON BEARD: May perchance well merely composed they offer workers alternatives to talk? May perchance well merely composed bosses after they sense that any individual is feeling down, after they sense that it’s construct of been a protracted length of feeling down, could perchance composed bosses be proactive about soliciting that sharing 2d from their crew members?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: They fully could perchance composed. I surely deem that it’s going to turn out to be … What I’m seeing, to be proper, proper within the response from Lifelines, which has been nothing wanting overwhelming. I mean, after COVID, there’ll likely be no one who doesn’t ranking from some construct of mental illness. I don’t know any person that hasn’t had immense apprehension within the final One year.
So I deem in a manner, if there could be to be any blessing in this final One year, it has, I deem, made our walls a miniature of less inflexible and on condition that exchange to focus on issues that we didn’t focus on. I because the head of a firm, I would surely affect these discussions a week, an hour a week, and even as a pacesetter to claim, “Commence door. Advance in, and something else it is advisable focus on, I’m happy to focus on.” At Melissa and Doug, as soon as we had been within the plight of job, folks would attain within the total time. They’d constantly derive this look, handle, “I do know I shouldn’t be bothering you,” because they felt inappropriate doing it. But I used to be handle, “Advance on on in.” They’d whine, “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I constantly knew it was going to be something concerning the work, motherhood steadiness. The minute the door closed, they’d burst into tears. It was constantly something that was going on of their lives.
After they felt considered and heard, their despair, I mean, it didn’t trek away, however they felt so plan more pleased. I would constantly whine, “If or no longer it is foremost to exit and get some air, if or no longer it is foremost to take the break day, manufacture it. That is plan more well-known than your job here. And it never went the exchange manner. Love they favored it and they did what they foremost to manufacture to heal themselves. And as soon as in a whereas it took months, and that was proper honest. They composed had been in a plight to be productive members of our crew.
ALISON BEARD: And what about mental health advantages in organizations? What would you handle to see there?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: Oh my gosh. I mean, in our society, we now derive this kind of scourge and so few folks that can come up with the cash for proper care. So I deem something dramatic desires to interchange so as that contributors can receive the wait on they want. And one among the criticisms, obviously, I get the total time and I’m so inaugurate to it because I tag it is, “Melissa straightforward for you to claim, you’ve entry to proper mental health advantages.” And I manufacture. I surely derive handle essentially top-of-the-line therapist within the sector who surely helped me via. And so most of the oldsters I talk with whine, “I will be succesful to’t come up with the cash for a therapist.” And even those that can they whine, “The therapist I will be succesful to come up with the cash for, it’s a 3 month wait and I don’t know if I’ll affect it till the following day.”
ALISON BEARD: And for the time being, no longer decrease than within the US, companies must provide that since there’s no universal healthcare.
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: They if truth be told manufacture. They if truth be told manufacture. And now the co-pays, the benefits pause at a obvious level. I mean, it’s surely tragic for a majority of these – because a majority of these conditions they’re no longer mounted with 30, 60, 90 days. I mean, these are lifetime conditions that you wish a protracted length of therapy to beat the patterns that derive developed in decades. Unfortunately they’re no longer instant repair. There aren’t instant repair solutions to them.
ALISON BEARD: So now you’ve moved from wearing two hats, mother and your title is chief ingenious officer. But now you’re the founder and leader of LifeLines. So are you going to help balancing all three, juggling all three?
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: I fully am. And Doug thank goodness is my accomplice all as soon as more with LifeLine. So he is shouldering so great of that as properly. But yeah, in fact I handle every three so great. I mean, obviously I get joy out of being a mother, I handle nothing more than growing toys. It’s literally handle my salvation and there’s nothing more profound than connecting with any person that has constantly felt on my own. It brings such bomb to my soul. And I shout with these folks. I mean, to impress any person that’s within the darkness surely feel handle any person has considered them, to me there’s no increased reward. They generally whine that to me. I mean, they’re sobbing and they whine, “Attain , I haven’t felt considered in,” about a of them whine, “10, 20 years.” And also you tag why they’re so depressed. I mean, they’ve generally untethered themselves from any construct of human connection. So I surely feel liable for all these broken souls that long to search out light however proper can’t pretty resolve out where to dig for it.
ALISON BEARD: Yeah. Successfully, I’m joyful that you’ve stumbled for your light. I’m hoping that many more manufacture. Thanks so great for being with me at the new time.
MELISSA BERNSTEIN: Thanks, Alison. Which manner so great to me.
ALISON BEARD: That’s Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of the toy firm, Melissa & Doug and leader of the initiative LifeLines. This episode was produced by Mary Dooe, we get technical wait on from Place Eckhardt, Adam Buchholz is our audio product supervisor. Thanks for paying attention to the HBR Ideacast. I’m Alison Beard.