In the first quarter of the year, the NationSwell Council embarked on a journey across America as part of a Salon series dedicated to exploring Leadership and Mental Health

The series brought us face-to-face with transformative leaders from diverse sectors, sparking discussions that were as rich as they were enlightening. Our dialogue delved into three critical areas: the unique mental health challenges faced by those in leadership; the significant role leaders play in nurturing the well-being of their teams; and the cutting-edge strategies that have successfully cultivated workplace environments of health and positivity. 

The leaders we met shared their experiences with remarkable openness, courage, and sincerity, leaving us inspired. In the following sections, we’re excited to present a curated collection of profound quotes, essential resources, and the most compelling insights we’ve distilled from these conversations.

Key Insights:

  1. The Conversation is the Solution: Opening up about mental health isn’t just therapeutic for leaders; it also breaks down feelings of isolation by sharing the common struggles many face. It highlights the importance of creating spaces where leaders can gather to speak openly and honestly. These discussions are crucial — they not only offer varied strategies for navigating challenges but also build a shared understanding of well-being and resilience.
  2. We care deeply about each other: Across the board, a resounding theme emerged: there’s a profound mutual concern for mental health among staff and leaders alike. This mutual care extends beyond professional boundaries, touching the lives of families and peers, nurturing a culture of empathy, understanding, and collective well-being. The depth of this care underscores the human aspect of organizational life, revealing a widespread ethos of compassion and concern that transcends conventional leader-staff dynamics.
  3. Universal Nature of Leadership Challenges: Even though leadership challenges might seem specific to each person’s situation or industry, we’ve seen a remarkable similarity in the issues leaders face nationwide. Recognizing these commonalities underscores the value of cross-sector dialogue. It encourages a collaborative approach to addressing these challenges, highlighting how much we can learn from connecting with peers across different fields.
  4. Less cynical, and more optimistic: We found an undercurrent of optimism among leaders and their teams across America, grounded in their real-life experiences and challenges. This wasn’t blind optimism but a resilience and belief in the potential for positive change. Leaders are not only addressing current well-being but are also committed to fostering healthier, supportive environments long-term. This collective optimism, driven by practical actions and open dialogue, underscores a more hopeful and robust societal fabric than commonly portrayed, highlighting the dedication of individuals working towards meaningful change.

What leaders who attended are saying:

Elyssa Dole

I had not realized how heads down I had become before attending the mental health and leadership salon. Jason Craige Harris shared a fact and framework that really resonated with me. First he mentioned that most EDs are hired for their project management skills — getting things done — rather than their leadership skills. He also talked about a framework for company culture where you see your team on a spectrum from empathy to accountability, noting that too much of either side is not ideal. Our culture on The Conversationalist team has always been rooted in intersectional feminist values, but as I set strategy for 2024, I realized I had become more focused on outcomes and needed to remind myself about the purpose of our company to ensure that writers and artists — as well as our team — are people before workers, and human beings before agents of productivity. 

Dr. Isaiah Pickens

Mental health in the workplace is inextricably linked with how we define success. The more rigid definition of success we have, the more pressure we put on ourselves to achieve in a particular way —sometimes in ways that are unrealistic. When we begin to expand our definition of success, more options are available for us to achieve. This alone begins to reduce the pressure and rejuvenate our mental health by making it easier for us to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be.

Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay

In December 2023, my beloved father died the night before I was scheduled to undergo surgery for a total hip replacement. The eight weeks of disability leave, which was meant to focus on physical recovery, turned into a hellish journey of building up my physical strength and endurance while picking up the pieces of my broken heart. Now that I’m back to work, I am aware that I am mentally fragile. To get a handle on that fragility, I am committing to grant myself space and compassion. I’ve always extended those things to those in grief around me, but I never gave them to myself when other family members died. In 2024, I’m committed to my mental health. I will grant myself permission to slow down; not immediately respond to demands of my time and attention when possible; and ask for alone time. These acts will let me get myself together in the moments grief blindsides me. Once I get myself together, I will continue to lead.


As a leader, I am committed to incorporating movement through my daily routines, as I have recently dived into the long-term health effects of sedentary jobs through the introduction of the seat and laptop into society. I welcome walking calls with colleagues when possible and am employing phone-free walks 2-3 times a week to alleviate mental stress and mitigate information overload. This health-inspired shift helps to hone in on our own personhood and relationships, creating a thriving wellbeing community around us and the people we work with.

Ali Borowsky

This year I’m going to focus on the power of the little things to enhance the wellbeing of those I lead and serve. I’ve been starting to think of those small acts of kindness almost like a love language and trying to show up in those little ways more consistently. I also need to practice what I preach and start putting my own emphasis on those seemingly small moments of self-care — knowing the monumental effects they can truly have.

Angelica Marcela Frias

This year, I’m focusing on boosting my team’s and my well-being, inspired by the Salon’s insights. Current plans include outdoor activities,  including meetings and volunteer days, to promote health and community engagement. Additionally, I’ll block out time for quiet reflection, emphasizing mental wellness. These steps aim to cultivate a supportive, vibrant work environment that values well being alongside productivity.

Tina Atherall

Recognizing that wellbeing is a deeply personal and diverse concept, I am dedicated to reinvigorating my practice of an individualized approach towards enhancing the welfare of those I lead and serve. Significant impacts stem from the smallest acts of kindness and attention. Meaningful conversations, showing genuine interest and curiosity about their lives, and acknowledging their unique needs and aspirations is what counts. It’s about making a difference one person at a time — valuing quality interactions over quantity and understanding that sometimes, the most minor gesture can light up someone’s day.

On a personal front, I am committed to fostering my own wellbeing by allowing myself to be on the receiving end of support and care. It’s easy to fall into believing that leadership revolves around giving, but true growth and balance also involve embracing the benefit and strength found in receiving. This year, I aim to cultivate a culture of mutual support.

Vanessa Bishop

For many reasons mental health struggles are becoming an increasing threat to the wellbeing of both our staff and the students we serve, so this conversation was extremely important and also was only able to scratch the surface of what we can do as leaders — not only for those we support, but for ourselves. One of my biggest takeaways from the discussion was the power of discussing these challenges with anyone who will listen in order to connect and share resources. Another was the connection of burnout to mental health and the amazing suggestion to regularly review and reflect on what both you and your staff are doing, asking questions such as, “What am I/we doing that if we stopped doing it, no one will notice?” 

Susan Mason

As the campaign manager for a congressional campaign, I’ve been organizing meet and greets with constituents. One lesson learned from the salon I attended is the importance of selecting ADA-compliant and accessible venues. I’m prioritizing intentionality beforehand rather than realizing the need for changes afterward. Thank you for the invitation — I consistently gain valuable insights from NationSwell events that I can apply in both my personal and professional life.

Pamela Nathenson

 My biggest takeaway from the event, besides wishing to have such an event weekly, is the responsibility of leaders to build the team’s ability to understand each other. When we start the leadership journey, especially for a cause, we may be familiar with the subject matter, but we don’t realize at the outset (or necessarily have every tool ready for) the responsibility we hold for our team’s journeys. We need to be thinking about our teams often, and specifically about where they are on their journeys. 

Michael Pope

The event was a powerful reminder of the essential need for empathetic leadership. It reinforced my belief that creating an office environment where every staff member feels seen, acknowledged, and valued is, quite literally, the role of leadership. The discussions highlighted the importance of tangible support systems that allow individuals to embrace and share their unique perspectives and experiences. As leaders, we must challenge ourselves and our teams to foster inclusivity and to see staff as whole people. The takeaway for me was clear: leadership is about empowering others to bring their whole selves to our shared mission, thereby enriching and expanding our collective impact.

Resources shared: