Shawn Lesser

Shawn Lesser – Mental Health In The Workplace

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental Health


Leaders are often left behind when it comes to discussions about mental health in the workplace. But there is no shortage of stories and anecdotes of leaders simply breaking down and crumbling because of internal and external pressures. We hear one such story in this episode with Shawn Lesser, who shares how his personal mental health journey led him to become a trailblazer in mental health advocacy. Shawn is the founder of The Real Mental Health Foundation, an initiative that uses the power of conversation and community to promote mental health and wellness. Join in and learn more about Shawn’s compelling story and his equally compelling advocacy.


Shawn Lesser – Mental Health In The Workplace

First, I’d like to introduce to you our panel of members that we have here. First is Howard Nizewitz, who is a Senior Compensation Advisor and Strategic HR Consultant with over 30 years of experience. We also have Sumit Singla. He is also an HR consultant dedicated to helping small to mid-size enterprises scale up globally. He’s a global HR practitioner. We are glad to have Sumit here as well. Also, Char Miller is a human resources consultant and also has been a Chief HR Officer and a business owner. Welcome, Char.

Finally, my name is Sam Reeve. I’m the Founder of CompTeam, a global compensation and talent management firm. I’m glad to have you all here. I’d like to introduce our guest, and we’re honored to have Shawn Lesser. He’s a true trailblazer in mental health advocacy and the founder of The Real, which is a mental health foundation. Shawn brings not just his expertise, but also his personal journey to the forefront of the conversation about mental wellbeing in the workplace.

His dedication to breaking down barriers and fostering genuine dialogue has created ripple effects of support and empowerment among the people he interacts with. We’re glad to have his expertise as we navigate the complexities of mental health, particularly among leaders within their families. Shawn’s insights are more vital than ever. Here, let’s learn about how we can cultivate a culture of openness, support, and authentic connection. For leaders, this discussion promises to illuminate the path to a healthier and more resilient workplace and I think that Shawn’s going to lead the way for us. I’m glad to have you here, Shawn. Welcome.

Thanks, Sam. I appreciate it.

Yes. First of all, Shawn, I know that a lot of what we’re going to be discussing now navigates around your personal journey, but before we jump into those details, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself, how you started out in your professional career, and what your ambitions for life were at that time and then we can build into what happened in your mental health journey.

Let me give you a little bit of my resume and then the story later off my resume. In my resume, I was born in Brooklyn. I grew up in Long Island. I went to Syracuse University. When I graduated, I did international institutional equity sales. What that means in English is I used to sell stocks to banks overseas throughout Europe, the Middle East, a little bit of Asia, and South America. I enjoyed that. I got to travel quite a bit and meet people from all over the globe. I did that for fifteen years.

In 2007 with a partner of mine, we started the first impact investing investment bank called Big Path Capital. We co-founded it in 2007. We did that for sixteen years. What we did there was a couple of things. One, we were an investment bank for impact and sustainable companies. Two, we were what you call placement agents for impact and sustainable private equity funds. We worked with over 200 impact private equity funds more than anybody else in the world.

We also put on investor convenings. We put on about 60 or so, mostly in the US but some in Europe. We also had an online investor portal. We had about 1,000 or so investors at any one time, which we call LPs or Limited Partners. On the other side, we call GSs, General Partners, or fund managers. We have somewhere around ten managers on there at any one time. That is my resume to start, Sam.

It’s so funny because I’m going to tell a quick story about Steve. Steve is my best friend and my barber calls me Steve to this day. I’ve been going to the same barber for probably ten years. I’m Steve to him, which I’m fine with. He never gets it right. It’s always a pleasure because I think of my friend whenever I go to get my haircut. I feel good about it.

Thanks for turning that around.

It’s all good. Let’s dive in. As you mentioned, we all know about the financial services industry, which Howard and I have a background in. We both met at Barclays Bank. I was at Barclays Global Investors for a while in BlackRock. It was a high-pressure game. We have people that go in there and they burn out and so forth. I know that there are plenty of times when I felt like, “This is a lot.” As you were going through your history there with your professional career, there’s a lot of things going on. You’re a busy man. How did this all lead up to your journey with mental health? Can you dive into that a bit?

Shawn’s Mental Health Journey

That was my resume, and then there’s more of the story of what happened. It was one September and I was depressed. I was having trouble eating. I was having trouble sleeping. I lost 40 pounds, which is amazing but I was not on a diet. The depression was growing, especially not eating and sleeping well. It was on December 14th, it was a Wednesday, and I was on a Zoom investor call and I had what I call a full mental breakdown where I was not functioning correctly. I couldn’t talk and was way off. I was also suicidal telling my wife, “I don’t want to be here anymore. Please freaking kill me.” Most wives don’t want to hear that, Sam. Some might but my wife didn’t.

That’s got to be quite a shock when you hear your spouse say there is, especially when early on in our relationships, we think of each other as our rock. You hear of something and it creates a sense of fear. Is that what happened to you?

I think there was a total sense of fear for myself but for my wife. I also have children. When you’re in that kind of head and it’s a dark place, it is fearful for everyone, including your family and friends. It doesn’t discriminate. There’s, “What’s going to happen next?” Let me tell you what happened next. When I was in that state, it grew. It wasn’t just like I was in that state. It just happened like a balloon popping. What do you do? Who do you talk to? Where do you go? Where’s the manual?

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental Health

Workplace Mental Health: When you’re in a dark place, it is fearful for everyone, including your family and friends. It doesn’t discriminate.


We went to the emergency ward. I live here in Atlanta so we went to Emory. We went to the emergency ward, and then they rolled out someone on a Zoom machine. They were talking to me and they said, “Do you want to go to the psych ward?” I don’t know what a psych ward is. Maybe a little bit from TV, but I was like, “I don’t know. I just want to go somewhere. I need to go somewhere.” I ended up checking myself into the psych ward in Atlanta. That’s an interesting place.

The thing is that when you’re walking yourself up an institution like that, you don’t know what to expect, only what you’ve gotten out of pop culture. Also, what’s going through your mind at the time is that you just need help. If you wouldn’t mind, before we go on with the story, let’s talk about what your family was experiencing up to this moment because I can’t imagine that this was just a snap. I imagine that there were a bunch of behaviors that built up. As you reflect upon this with your family, what were they experiencing up until this moment?

I wasn’t too involved with the family. I was isolating a lot and keeping to myself. I couldn’t sleep so lots of times I’d be up at 4:00, 3:00, or 2:00 in the morning by myself and I didn’t want to interact with folks. That was hard. When you talk about the rock, my wife throughout this whole thing handled every single thing literally like a rock. My kids, it was hard for them because I’m pretty interactive with my kids sports, this, that, or the other thing but I was in my own kind of space alone. I think that also when you’ll talk about it, but I think a lot of the getting better was realizing that even though I was feeling like that, and when you feel like that, you’re thinking, “I’m the only person in the world that feels like this but what I’ve learned is it’s the exact opposite but that’s how we were feeling. Sam.

I can imagine that your family was feeling disconnected. You were there, but you were working.

My brain was working.

Let’s continue with the story. Now, you find yourself in a world of hurt. You need help. You’re at the institution. What happens next?

The first thing that happens is they check you into the institution. You go into this nice room. There’s a woman there. It seemed like my second-grade teacher and I was like, “This is going to be okay. I am very comfortable.” They then take you to the next room and the people are very nice but then the police officer comes and another woman there. They’re like, “We have to search your bags.” I’m like, “That’s fine.”

Again, I wasn’t sure where I was going and they’re going to search you for any forks, knives, or anything dangerous that you have and I didn’t know what to expect. I used to sleep with an eye mask. I had my eye mask. They’re like, “No.” I had a sound machine and they’re like, No.” They’re like, “Do you have a string on your sweatpants?” “No, you can’t. A little bit of a shock when I got in there and then I got into the facility basically. It’s like a hospital but sectioned off. I remember I was in this bare room lying in the bed thinking, “What am I doing here? How did I get here? What is going on?”

As a leader, I’m imagining a lot of our leaders that are reading this and thinking, “The first thing I’d be thinking about is, “How is that business piece going to handle when I’m here? Who’s going to pick that up?” After you had time to think for a moment in that room, did you feel like you made the right decision?

I think I didn’t have a choice at that point so I think I did make the right decision. At that time, I would say, “No. I did not make the right decision. What the heck am I doing here?” I was thinking about more, “What are people going to say? What’s going to happen at work?” This was close to the year-end so it wasn’t a super busy time, but it was like, “What’s going to happen with the team of ten people? What’s going to occur? Am I handicapped for life? Is this it type of thing?”

I can’t imagine. Having that additional pressure on top of you when you’re already dealing with so much. How long ago was this, Shawn?

It’s very fresh. I think that when we’re thinking about mental health and the past years in perspective, I think that there have been leaps and bounds in how people perceive mental health compared to what we perceived it as many ago as a sign of weakness. It’s going to have a huge impact on you and you are never going to work again in the same capacity. I know you mentioned, “Am I going to recover?” That piece came in and then there were the reputational elements that concern you.

One hundred percent because I’m also a co-founder, but I’m also been in sales all my life. I don’t know if you want to project strength, but you’re in control of what’s going on. At that point, I was not in control. I was not useful. I was having trouble talking. That was another thing. I was like, “Is my brain going to bounce back?” It’s because thoughts were not processing. It was very strange.

I think it’s changing, but our society makes it hard to admit that you’re having those kinds of issues and that you’re not performing. You’re not the rock for your family that you’re supposed to be. You’re coming up against all those norms that are supposed to be this way and you’re bucking against it.

No, for sure. You’re thinking that way in your mind and that’s also what I’m trying to do with the foundation is to break that down. Let’s use an example. Let’s say I broke my arm. I go to the hospital. I come back. People would be signing my cast. I’m going to say in simple terms that I broke my brain and now, I got to go hide in the corner. Why? Both temporary things, both parts of your body and things break down. This is normal.

I’ll just add. Talking about this is normal. On this journey, I’ve had probably now close to 400 conversations with different people, all makes and miles of folks, a lot of finance people especially. Mental health is never one degree away. It’s always half a degree or zero degrees away from everyone. If it’s not that specific person, they’re going to tell me about their coworker or their child, mom, dad, or whatever it is. It touches everyone and it doesn’t differentiate between age, race, or career. It doesn’t care. That’s what I’ve seen.

Mental health issues are never one degree away. They’re always half a degree or zero degrees away from everyone. Share on X

What are your thoughts there, Sumit?

I think that’s a very apt example of a broken finger or a broken hand versus mental health. One question I have is, “Do you think it’s also because we throw around words related to mental health very easily.” I’m anxious or I’ve got terrible anxiety that my flight would be late, or I’m depressed about the fact that my favorite football team lost last night. When somebody is diagnosed with anxiety or depression, they probably don’t take it as seriously because “Everyone’s depressed. Go out for a drink. You’ll be fine.”

Sure. “Just suck it up.” I get it. That’s part of it. There’s a discussion going on around, “Do you talk about mental health or do you talk about mental wellness in essence? Do you change the term where you frame it more that you’re doing different modalities or whatever for your brain?” It’s like going to the gym. Is that more digestible? I would take it even a step further because I think there’s a difference between men and women and how they react to these things and how they talk about these different things. Both have issues. Let’s not sugarcoat that.

However, for example, we have some people say, “It’s about guys talking about their feelings.” When guys hear that word, “It’s guys talking about their feelings,” you cringe a little bit. I could see it on you guys’ faces right there. It’s cringey. If you frame it like, “Guys, we all go through some stuff.” I see the nodding of the head. “Yeah. We all go through some stuff.” It’s how the words come across and I think in the different genders, it’s looked at a little bit differently.

I totally believe in that but to build on this, when you’re thinking about or you’re talking about mental health versus mental wellness, what were you doing before the episode to manage your mental health? What was going on then?

The Comparison Trap

I wasn’t doing tons of different activities. Exercise-wise for sure, I would do some meditation from time to time, but I think it was more my thought process in my brain that was adding stress to me. One thing that I love to do and I’ve done it. I’ve been doing it for over 50 years. I call it the comparathon. The comparathon is comparing yourself to others.

That’s especially rampant in the finance world. It’s the, “How big is your bank account,” type of thing. I would do that constantly with every single person that I met. I’m comparing myself and you never win. It’s a never-win situation. That’s more of not having an activity in terms of yoga or meditation. It’s changing how you might look at things.

You never win when you constantly compare yourself with others. Share on X

I think that is magnified based on our current culture that we have right now with social media as well. We’re scrolling through. We have a way of so and so, or “They’re having it so good. Am I doing enough,” but it adds that additional layer of pressure.

Let me add to that. On the side of social media, sure and you could look at it from being adults or also from children. It’s even tougher for children. It’s tough for adults too, but it’s even tougher for children because you’re scrolling through whatever it is and you’re seeing the highlights of people’s lives but these aren’t highlights.

These are fictions of your imagination. They’re pictures that they’re posing for. Especially for younger folks, it’s hard to differentiate what’s going on. You see a lot of depression and anxiety in that area. For myself too, that was an issue but even more for, “I should be able to analyze it and make that data that’s different,” where the younger people, they’re learning from the scrolling.

I don’t know what to think about how they’re framing social media, mental health, and so forth. However, when I put this in the context of physical health, it’s like when you’re out on a run and you’re running flat out as fast as you can go. You can feel your lungs work. You can feel your heart pump. You can feel the fact that you’re maybe coming out of breath and you’re going to have to stop. Your body’s simply going to force you to stop. Before this episode happened, did you feel anything that gave you signs? We’ve all been stressed.

What caused this? I was a combination planner is what I like to say. One was I had depressive episodes throughout my life and they would come and go. I would take antidepressants. I’d be on them and then I’d be like, “I’m feeling good. I don’t want to be on this antidepressant anymore.” I’d go on. I go off. At this specific time, a couple of things happened. One, I happened to have COVID right before. I don’t know. I think it’s one of the factors, but who knows? I also wasn’t taking any antidepressants. I think getting to be 50-ish and kind of looking around and saying, “Who am I? What have I done? What’s going on?” Also, my kids also getting older.

From a business standpoint, you always look at yourself and like, “You’re trying to do the comparathon against other people. Entrepreneurs, that’s what they’re trained to do. That’s what everyone tells you to do. What are the comps here? Looking at those different things, lots of times you think, “I’m not living up to that standard,” or whatever. That’s never-ending either because there is no specific standard. I would say also my kids getting older and going to high school.

It was a combination. It wasn’t like something happened in my family like my mom passed or something like that. I would say the icing on the cake there that made it explode was I was not sleeping well. Sleeping is super important. I was not eating well. You add those things together and eventually your system, or at least my system is like a balloon popping.

I know that everybody is thinking, “There are times when I’ve been feeling stressed. I feel my heart in my throat. I feel that there are those times when I couldn’t sleep and sometimes for days. They made me start using some medication, alcohol, or something like that to calm myself down, and then doing that over and over again.”

Certain people used different medications and so forth but I think we’ve all felt stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. I guess the big thing is that we don’t know when too much is too much. There are no lungs about to explode that say, “You need to stop now. You need to take a break. You need to go on vacation.” Let’s jump back into your story. Now, you’re getting help. How did they help you cope with this?

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental Health

Workplace Mental Health: We just don’t know when too much is too much.


Getting Help

Let me jump backward for a second from what you said. I was at a ten. I was at a very bad spot but everybody at some point in their life is at a 2, 4, 6, or whatever it is. That’s human nature. The psych ward is not a place where you get bitter. The psych ward is a place where you get into a car accident and they put you in the emergency room. They try to stabilize you. That’s fine. They’re going to stabilize you so that you are not a threat to yourself or a threat to others.

What helped me in my journey and this is also a big part of the foundation and it’s what we do around conversations and community. There is no instant fix, but those were two parts. What do I mean by that? I was in the psych ward, but I also went to two other treatment centers. One in Weimar, California, and another one in Hollywood, Florida. I met so many people that are all younger and older who had the same experience that I had.

I’d hear their stories and then there’s something about hearing their stories and you can relate. It didn’t matter if they were 18 or 98, you still can relate to their stories. A big part of that was having that community and now having that community at home. That’s what we’re trying to do with the foundation is bring people together in a community because if you have a safe place where people can talk about these things, you don’t feel like you’re judged because a lot of times you’re like, “I can’t talk about this.”

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental Health

Workplace Mental Health: The psych ward is not a place where you get better. They put you in there to try to stabilize you.


That was a big part. Again, it was hearing the conversations, and from the conversations came the community. What happened next was I was in the treatment center. I got out. I went home. At that time, I was 54 and my wife was home. My kids were there. My mom’s 82. She came down from Long Island. They were all on Shawn’s watch for 24-hour or 12-hour shifts. It was January 3rd. I was like, “I’m feeling a little bit better. I’m going to go back to work right.” I had two partners at the firm and sometimes things don’t work out with partners. I got bought out of my firm and that’s nice.

I got some money but like a lot of people, entrepreneurs, or leaders there, or at least my whole identity, my whole life, my whole existence was based around the company. When that went away, I was already in a depressive state. That was almost another shock to the system. That knocked me down because I was like, “Who am I without my company? What am I? I’m a loser.” It’s because your whole identity is wrapped up in that. Even that happens with athletes too. They retire and you think it’s great, but they’re like, “I’ve been doing that for years. What am I now?”

I had a friend that I went to high school with, and he centered himself on athletics and excelled. He was always at the top of his game and he was a number one wrestler. You can’t be number one forever. One day that goes away, and then you have to redefine yourself and he didn’t make it. He ended his life. How did you turn the corner? How did you redefine your sense of self, your new sense of purpose? What was the thing that you grabbed onto that helped you?

For me, it was more throwing the reel was a big thing. However, the reel might go away and that’s going to keep on going. How do you feel that you are complete with yourself? If you’re complete with yourself, it doesn’t matter what goes away or what’s taken away. It’s trying to understand that I’m already enough with this or without this.

If you're complete with yourself, it doesn't matter what’s taken away. Share on X

I think another big thing is your brain is a thought machine. Thoughts are popping up in our brain and I heard 6,000 to 30,000 a day. I’m not sure what the numbers are, but those are all rabbit holes that I used to love to run around in those rabbit holes. However, you have to realize that those are just thoughts and they’re not necessarily correct. They’re a little bit like clouds and they’re passing by.

It’s these things you have to do more of training, at least for me, my brain to look at life a little bit differently. I think also this whole thought that more is always better. It’s nice to have more. It’s nice to have nice stuff, but is that the essence of our existence? I don’t think so. Those were some things. More changing my thought process, Sam, than, “I’m going to do more exercise and eat well.”

Those are table stakes but it’s also kind to look inside your mind and look at things a little bit differently, which is not easy. I’m not saying that I’m a guru and I could do that, but I have that and start to think, “What is this you’re thinking about, Shawn?” “Timeout. This is just a thought. It’s just passing,” because you get scared about something, you get nervous about something, and those are some of the feelings.

Just from hearing your story and you yourself, I can tell Shawn, especially knowing where you came from, the field that you’re in, and what it takes to become a person who’s advising thousands of others on how to do well with their lives. You’re a smart man. You’re very intelligent. As a leader, you achieved the level that few people can achieve and you’re running hot during that entire time. I feel like I’m very happy that you’re doing what you’re doing now. You’re helping other leaders. You’re helping other men and professionals realize how to think about mental health differently.

If you think about some of the misconceptions that leaders have out there, what are the things that you can advise some of our readers about the importance of mental health and where to step in to start getting, not just to maintain wellness? It’s not necessarily asking for help, but it’s starting to exercise mental wellness. What guidance can you give?

The Power Of Vulnerability

I would say for leaders of companies and entrepreneurs, you think that vulnerability is a weakness, but it’s the exact opposite. When you embrace that and you tell people the truth, what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, it’s amazing how that gets reciprocated and that also makes you more human to the people you’re working for, working with, etc. because we all are human. We’re not robots.

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental Health

Workplace Mental Health: When you embrace vulnerability and tell people the truth about what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling, it’s amazing how that gets reciprocated.


I’ve seen that so many times where people say to me after I tell them what I’ve been through “Shawn, I never told anyone this, but.” It’s scary in the workplace because you’re like, “What are they going to think about me? What’s going to happen? Is this going to hurt my position?” However, the truth of it is that everyone is feeling how you’re feeling especially the leaders coming out and talking in this way.

It’s going to make the whole rest of the company a little bit more feel at ease. To me in business, it’s always about the relationship. If you have a good relationship with someone, you can talk about things and things can go bad. Things can go well. It doesn’t matter. If you’re vulnerable, it’s going to build your relationship stronger with your team and they will reciprocate to you.

Char, I’d love to hear your perspective on this because I know that you’ve advised many leaders out there. As you’re advising leaders, I know that you’ve come across a situation where you see people who are running hot. They’re stressed. Maybe they’re lashing out at others. What do you think about encouraging them to join a group like The Real? What are your thoughts there?

As an HR business partner and every other title under the sun in HR, oftentimes, I spent a lot of time with the leaders and employees, but a lot of times at the leaders, hundreds at any given moment, and understood the underneath of what was going on. I had to keep that fine balance of confidentiality and HIPAA and all of those things but at the same time, I was fully aware more than the executives or their superiors to know what was going on behind the scenes.

Where leaders would feel very stressed or frustrated with what was going on in their personal lives, but also how they were being treated at work and not supported and accepted through the process. In my career journey, we used to throw out EAP or Employee Assistance Program pamphlets. If there was a suicide in a department, which believe it or not, every year we had maybe 2 or 3 suicides in our company or family members of suicides.

As a junior HR business partner, we go out and throw a pamphlet out. It was not very compassionate, even though we felt like we were being compassionate. When I went through my very major personal tragedy about four in one month in 2016, I also went through that same type of experience. I could do a whole Oprah show on that, but I’m not going to. Fast forward, when I started my own business, I had a different insight as a former corporate HR person moving into being an entrepreneur and seeing my employees going through with their, for example, college-age student that’s suicidal or struggling or mental issues for themselves.

Also, I had a very different approach because of my own personal experience, and I wanted to create a company that embraced and supported our employees with those things. At any rate, I think it’s important, and I don’t think that it’s about being a more mature person in your career. However, I think that having a life experience and going through that, then being an entrepreneur and realizing the deficit in mental health and supporting your employees is an amazing experience to become an entrepreneur.

Back to your original point, Sam, absolutely. I had some resources like that instead of an EAP pamphlet to refer my managers, my employees, and various people. This foundation, Shawn, looks like a great process. I think that more of us are becoming more accepting of mental health in the workplace and how we support our employees. Hats off to you. Have you seen more entrepreneur executives or senior leaders coming to your foundation, Shawn, and seeking your support? Have you seen referrals to your organization from HR?

We just started so it’s pretty new, but it is starting. I also want to take it in a little bit of a different direction in the sense that, “This is the right thing to do,” but let’s also look at it from a strict ledger nuts and bolts what’s also good for business. If you look at a trillion dollars lost productivity last year and depression and anxiety, twelve billion workdays were lost. There are dollars here. How are you going to run your company to attract the talent? I didn’t take the twelve billion days, but I took a lot of the days off. It’s more than, “This is the right thing to do. It’s empathy,” and all those different things, but having a successful business, you’re dealing with people who are your main resource. It makes business sense to also look at it from that point of view, at least to me.

That’s why I agree with you 100%. My colleagues here know what I mean when I say HR with a heart. That’s what I mean because productivity, all those things that the financial people want to see is all these measures and all these. Underneath it all, no one’s going to be very productive or be present at work when they’re dealing with some emotional trauma or mental issues. HR, the heart is needed because even in HR, we can become part of the bureaucracy and the politics and we can lose our sense of compassion and support for our employees. Honestly, that’s devastating in our society or globally too.

No one's going to be very productive or be present at work when they're dealing with some emotional trauma. Share on X

It’s challenging for HR because there’s a lot of rules and regulations. It’s a tricky slope in general how to navigate all those different things. You’re also looking at the bottom line. There’s no, “Take this pill. This is the fix for mental health.” Drugs are great.

A lot of people don’t like HR, but they don’t understand the struggles we have. It’s because we know the underbelly of the organization. That’s what I always felt. We know what the expectations of the executives are. Also, many of us are worried about our own jobs if we don’t walk that line appropriately. We become experts at political correctness and how to say things nicely and all that jazz when underneath it all, it’s a struggle for HR professionals, which is why I think a lot of HR professionals have a lot of burnout. Also, go through resignations like many of my colleagues did.

Shawn, I’d love to hear a little bit more about the program, The Real. I know that you have a podcast. You also have groups that you run and I believe you’re developing an application as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how people can exercise their mental well-being by being part of your program?

I would say we’ve only been doing this for a few months. It’s a little bit of a work in progress. I don’t want to overhype it like we have the answer, but I will tell you what it’s based on and what we’re doing. We wrap the foundation around four Cs. The foundation is about helping people get better in mental health through conversations and community, which is a piece of the pie. The four Cs are conversations, community, contributions, and change.

The conversations, I was giving you a little bit about what we call The Real Talk is what happened to me, and that’s great. I’m going to do that and give that talk. I gave it across the US. I’m going to take it globally and that’s wonderful one guy telling his story but how about 10, how about 100? How about 1,000 of all makes and models of guys to start? Think of the domino effect that that has. We’re wrapping that around our brand. We think of it almost like a TEDx Talk style with our own style for The Real. That’s one. The more conversations you have, the more the stigma breaks down.

Secondly is the community and what you were talking about with the app. What is the community for? The app is nothing special, but it has four special purposes. One is to have a safe place where people can talk about these things and not feel like they’re judged. Two, we didn’t get into it, but I also had a guy named Brent Herd. He became my mental health sponsor. It’s almost similar to AA where you have a sponsor so you can find or become a sponsor.

Three, when I was in that situation, who, what, and where? I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or who to speak to. It’s a place where eventually you’re going to find those answers. Also, people are interested in different modalities from yoga, to meditation, to mindfulness, host a podcast so that they can find information on that.

We also have different events. We do a thing. For example, we’ve done it in Atlanta. It’s called The Real Walk. It’s complicated. We walk around the park. We’re expanding that to Brooklyn, to Austin, Texas, and other parts of the country where guys are getting together and they’re just walking, talking, and hanging out. Those are some of the things that we’re doing with the foundation.

Thank you for sharing those. For the people who are reading, what’s the best way to get ahold of you and your organization to learn more?

The best way is to go to or just find me. I’m Shawn Lesser on LinkedIn. Send a message to me.

Thank you so much, Shawn. I’m glad that you’re doing this. You’re delivering this message, your greatness, and telling your story. Also, being authentic in how you can help others. I think that’s so important for this new year and the year ahead to make sure that we’re framing things and we know how to be resilient going forward.

Thank you.

Take care. I’m looking forward to learning more about your organization and getting the word out.

Stay real.

Take care everyone. We’ll see you next week on the show.


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About Shawn Lesser

People Strategy Forum | Shawn Lesser | Workplace Mental HealthShawn is an influential entrepreneur and mental health advocate with a distinguished career spanning over 30 years in impact investing and finance. He started with founding Sustainable World Capital, then co-founded Big Path Capital in 2007, the first investment bank dedicated to impact investing, bridging finance with positive social and environmental change.

In 2023, Shawn launched The Real Mental Health Foundation, drawing from his personal mental health experiences to foster open conversations and community support for those affected. His advocacy efforts have seen him speaking on global stages, including DAVOS, to promote mental health awareness.

Renowned in the impact investing realm, Shawn has connected over 200 impact funds with more than 1000 limited partners, earning recognition as a pivotal figure in the industry. He has also orchestrated key events like the Impact Capitalism Summit and the Diverse Private Equity Fund Showcase, significantly advancing the impact investing field.

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