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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

“It is all about balance”

24 September 2020

Recap of the Q&A with Luciana Carvalho Se

Interview with Luciana Carvalho Se

Luciana is the Co-founder of Mindcheck, Founding Director of Realities Centre London, Ambassador for the European Digital Society and Women in Immersive Technologies Europe and on the boards of the VR/AR Association Portugal & Series Q.
Connect with her on Linkedin

Introduction

 

On 27 August, we organized a member-to-member Q&A on our Argonauts Community Platform with Luciana Carvalho Se. COO of Legacy Mentors and guiding member from the Argonauts, Tiffany Harnsongkram spoke with Luciana about mental health, career paths, self-acceptance and coping strategies in an increasingly uncertain world. Luciana is driven by a desire to use technology to help people and is passionate about mental health. She is co-founder of the app Mindcheck and has won several awards, including Evening Standard’s Progress 1000 Most Influential People in Technology, British Interactive Media Association’s Top 100 Rising Stars, Code First Girls’ 25 Ones to Watch, and Top % Female Role Models in the Tech Industry, and Virtual Perceptions ‘Heroes of VR’.

L

uciana, your CV is amazing, can you give us a couple minutes synopsis of how you got to where you are in life, career-wise?

Since I was a child, I played with computers and tech stuff. When I was 8, I actually coded a website about Friends, the TV show. But I always thought that it wasn’t a viable career path for me, so I went into law as my primary degree in Cambridge. 

I ended up at Harvard Summer School, an extension school, where I met my first mentor, Marcus Bozito, who got me to re-evaluate where I was, the stuck-ness and why I was not happy in law. I felt like something was missing. And with him, I did a dissertation about overexposure to technological stimuli and how that was changing our brains, which was my catalyst for going to do a business degree, where I worked primarily around innovation programs with startups. 

My driver was always thinking about how to make and disrupt things and how we can leverage tech to make us better humans. This led to working with a lot of social impact work for equality. I’m very passionate about diversity and inclusion and demystifying stereotypes. And also, unsurprisingly, mental health, which is what led to the co-creation of MindCheck. 

How can we leverage tech to make us better humans”

Luciana Carvalho Se

MindCheck is an app for a mental health check, a topic you are very passionate about. Can you explain your passion a bit more? 

My mission is to help everyone and anyone to understand that we all have mental health, and it should be treated the same way we treat physical health in understanding what our triggers are, what the factors are, and how to weave it into our daily routine. We should also think about the ways in which, for us, our mental health can be nurtured, so we can prevent getting to stages of burn out or crippling stress and anxiety.

I have a history of mental health – poor mental health. I battled depression, anxiety, a crippling eating disorder and that was an area of my life that I thought would never be part of my professional life. I started to work with HR departments in devising mental health strategies for the workplace, and I found that I had to “come out” with my mental health. The more openly that I talked about mental health, the more that it enabled others, including leaders, to speak about it more openly also.

I’m also gay so I had to come out twice. But I see a lot of parallels between my own journey in acceptance – in battling stereotypes, and getting my family, my workplaces, etc, to listen to my experience and see things from my side – in acceptance with mental health. It is a similar battle in accepting oneself and getting to terms with where you are, asking for help if you need it, and I think it’s a beautiful journey. 

Accepting oneself and getting to terms with where you are, asking for help if you need it. I think it’s a beautiful journey.”

Luciana Carvalho Se

We’ve seen that during times of crisis, and in the current pandemic, mental health issues spike. How can we keep mental wellness during these times? 

Taking a step back is important as we often react to crises in different ways. To keep your mental wellness, you need to check in and understand what that means for you. There was a brilliant infographic that showed responses to the crisis through the four Fs. The fear, flight, fight, freeze. By knowing your own reaction would then inform what strategies you can put in place. 

Dealing with uncertainty is one of the biggest topics right now, it’s a huge thing that can often lead to paralysis because you just don’t know where to start. My suggestion is to accept what is in the locus of control. You can choose to eat well, you can choose to take a walk, you can choose to maintain your individual health and your loved ones, and your partners, and your nucleus of controls. 

Another strategy is to do a digital detox to help with Zoom and screen fatigue. It isn’t always possible, because that’s our way of working and communicating, but I’ve found that intermittent fasting from technology has been really crucial during COVID.

For me, a huge takeaway from dealing with a crisis like this, and helping others, was compassion. Compassion and kindness; not just compassion towards others but being kind to yourself. You have to constantly reiterate that you’re not working from home, you’re working at home during a global pandemic. This helped me to contextualize why, at times, I felt I wasn’t able to focus. 

It is about taking a step back and forgiving yourself for being not as productive and as on top as you’d like and taking more time off to switch off. Giving that kindness to myself was a massive enabler of wellness during the crisis.

 

How can you check if you, or someone else, has good mental health? And how can you discuss this, including within the workplace? 

There is an array of different psychology assessments, psychiatry tools, and assessments, for different subsections around mental health. There isn’t one globally recognized, certified method. MindCheck takes into account different sections of one’s life and the way mental health evolves over time. By taking the test, you get a combined mental health index, where you can see your mental health. And the idea is that you are able to go back and redo the test and see how you’re faring, so you can keep yourself in check. Still there isn’t a quick-fire way of analyzing one’s mental health. Typically, we’re relying on self-reported assessments, self-assessments, and taking into account a holistic view. 

In terms of mental health in the workplace, there are a few areas that become a bit tricky: how do you balance the blur between personal and professional lives? For instance, we’re working quite a lot with diversity and inclusion within companies and I’m working with minority stress and underrepresented groups, which can often lead back to childhood trauma. Then you’ve got a bit of conflict between leaders of companies, HR and management saying, okay, to what extent do we deal with it in the workplace? 

We see that peer support groups can help. These could be more formalized and be an area where anxiety can be lessened if it seems that you’re in a community going through those struggles together. 

Ultimately, however, I want everyone to know that it starts with you, your own self-assessment, understanding your own levels of mental health, understanding your triggers better, understanding what works for you, and then sharing that with others if it makes sense.

When working with companies, we found that there wouldn’t be that much engagement when you talk about mental health, when you’re referring to it as health or mental. But as soon as you mention it in more actionable terms like mental resilience or mental fitness, then the conversation changes. “

Luciana Carvalho Se

How do you handle the stigma around mental health? How has that influenced your own life? 

 

I suffered a little bit thinking it would create judgment for me in the workplace, or I would be seen as weak, or not capable. That’s a serious concern that we see with employees that like to keep it separate from the workplace because they fear that it would impact negatively on their work life. And that’s, unfortunately, a real issue, but it’s something that hopefully is changing.

It is important that we can understand and talk about the issue of mental health and mental illness and not be stigmatized as “crazy.” There has been a huge improvement in the language around mental health. When working with companies, we found that there wouldn’t be that much engagement when you talk about mental health, when you’re referring to it as health or mental. But as soon as you mention it in more actionable terms like mental resilience or mental fitness, then the conversation changes. 

I think the biggest struggle that I’ve had with it has been my own judgments, which, in both my professional and personal life, was possibly what stopped me from being able to talk about these things more openly and engage in activities and get the support that I needed at the right time. And that might be true for quite a lot of people. It’s certainly true for the folks that we work with, from junior to senior level positions. This is something that you might be struggling with and that you need help with; it’s about getting from awareness to acceptance.

 

Thank you so much for your time and input Luciana!

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