Manager uses experience to talk to employees about mental health

Warning: This post discusses depression and suicide.

TJ Ellis is no stranger to struggle.

His grandma raised him, but she died from breast cancer when he was 11. After that, he couch-surfed so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the back of his mom’s van. At 16, he juggled school with a full-time job. And at 19, feeling overwhelmed and alone, he tried to take his own life.

Now the general manager of a Best Buy store in suburban Seattle, TJ uses those life experiences to shape how he cares for his employees — especially the ones with whom he can empathize.

“It’s important to talk to somebody who’s been in that situation,” he said.

TJ said he’s impressed by Best Buy’s commitment to creating a strong culture of support surrounding mental health. The company has worked to reduce the stigma associated with mental health by encouraging open conversations, providing education and offering access to resources.

“It’s been surprising and also very refreshing to see the amount of support we get,” he said. “We have the freedom to support our employees and find support for ourselves.”

Someone to talk to

TJ encourages his team to take advantage of Best Buy’s mental health resources like the eight no-cost counseling sessions we provide to all employees, per issue and per year.

Talking to someone is one of the most important things you can do if you’re struggling. And as a GM, TJ takes that seriously — especially with his younger employees who might not have the support they need at home.

“Sometimes we’re their parents. Sometimes we’re their therapist,” he said. “We play multiple roles.”

While TJ acknowledges that he’s not a trained mental health professional, he said it’s important to be there for his 112 employees if they ever need to talk.

And sometimes they do.

TJ has shared his own story with employees. He has also worked with his market human resources manager to set employees up with the support they need, including options through Best Buy’s Workplace Accommodation program.

Access to resources

Those accommodations are among the many resources Best Buy offers employees to support their mental health. Last year, the company doubled the number of no-cost counseling sessions provided to employees and their family members and introduced a digital platform to help employees gauge and address a variety of mental health conditions.

One in five adults experience mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That includes any condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood.

“None of us are immune to mental health struggles. If you need a place to turn, please reach out to someone for help,” said Kamy Scarlett, Best Buy’s chief human resources officer. “The heart and soul of Best Buy is, and will always be, our people. It’s critical we take care of each other.”

TJ’s in a good place right now, but he knows his struggles are an ongoing battle that he needs to stay on top of. He processes his thoughts and feelings through writing, running and reaching out to a therapist when he needs to.

But his biggest piece of advice for anyone struggling is to talk to someone. He said talking to someone when he attempted suicide as a 19-year-old saved his life. Eight years later, he’ss able to pay it forward with his own employees.

“You don’t get a second chance,” TJ said. “That’s the one thing you can’t rewrite if you’re not here.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 for immediate support.