After the 17-year-old son of The Shipyard Chief Strategy Officer Dave Grzelak took his own life in 2018, the Grzelaks were willing to talk about their son’s battle with mental illness, a brave and unusual response to suicide.
Rick Milenthal, chairman and CEO of the digital marketing agency, has his own experience with this — his wife’s father committed suicide early in their marriage.
“Dave and I sat down about six months after [his son’s death]. We’re a communications company, we’re a marketing company, we’re in the business of persuasion, and we felt that we could help do something about it,” he says.
While what medical professionals do is critically important, communication is another key factor.
“We are in the business of words, and words matter. Words can unite, and words can divide,” Milenthal says.
A natural fit
When the producers of Cleveland’s LaureLive music festival reached out to see if Milenthal was interested in helping to launch a similar music festival in Columbus, he and Grzelak found a vehicle to further elevate the conversation.
The first WonderBus Music Festival, held in August, drew a crowd of 11,000, significantly more than anticipated. Milenthal says a portion of the proceeds went to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. Wexner also had a display about mental health under the theme of LaLaLa, or listen, ask, love, act, link, advocate.
He says it was natural for the performers to talk about it on stage, including writing songs during a time of anxiety, challenge or depression.
“It was primarily a music festival, but mental health was naturally integrated throughout the weekend,” Milenthal says.
Keeping the conversation alive
The Shipyard and its employees plan to help put on WonderBus for years to come, as well as work on other initiatives to destigmatize mental health. For example, the company is involved with Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s On Our Sleeves campaign to transform children’s mental health.
“People don’t necessarily want to talk about it. If you have a loved one that’s in depression and maybe has suicidal thoughts, you don’t generally talk about it,” Milenthal says. “You want to respect their confidentiality, so it’s very difficult to enter a conversation about it. But, in fact, that’s the worst thing to do.”
Both Milenthal and Grzelak have heard from many in the community, who are grateful to The Shipyard for bringing the issue to the forefront.
Take a moment
CEOs know their employees rely on them for strength, leadership and decision-making, Milenthal says.
“As a result, many times, we’re not sure that we can talk about our own vulnerabilities,” he says
But it’s critical to remember that employers and employees are people first.
“When you’re in a workplace and something happens — maybe someone reacts to a business situation differently, somebody’s less patient, somebody isn’t showing up to work like they should — we all need to take a moment and think about what’s going on with that human being,” he says.