Ottawa podcaster awarded for tackling mental health in the public service

Todd Lyons was recognized this week for his podcast that's been shining a light on mental health in the federal public service. But if you ask him, it's the people who come forward with their stories who deserve an award.

Todd Lyons is urging senior managers to lead by example and talk openly about mental health

Todd Lyons was recognized at the 15th Annual Champions of Mental Health Awards in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 for his podcast about mental health in the federal public service. (CBC News)

Todd Lyons was recognized this week by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health for his podcast that's been shining a light on mental health in the federal public service. 

But if you ask him, it's the people who bravely come forward with their stories who deserve an award. 

Lyons, a social worker turned public servant, received a Champions of Mental Health Award at a ceremony held at the Shaw Centre. He was recognized alongside six other individuals and organizations working to help end the stigma surrounding mental health. 

His podcast, aptly named Toddcast, touches on all aspects of public servant life, but a recurring theme that arises is mental illness.

Early on, Lyons would read letters from public servants talking about their problems. Eventually he recruited others to voice the stories, adding "a lot more realism to it," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning in April when the winners were announced.

"It's still unfortunate though that we don't exist in an environment where people feel that they could say those words with their own voice," he said. 

Senior managers must speak out

While his podcast has certainly started a conversation among government workers, he said more needs to be done.

Lyons recalled sitting next to a director general minutes before the executive was about to give a personal account of mental health struggles to a group of people. Lyons glanced over and saw the executive strike several lines from the speech with a black Sharpie.

"It was still moving, but it didn't speak to the depth that this person had survived," Lyons said.
Todd Lyons said he believes federal public servants don't open up about mental health because they fear it will hurt their careers. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

"It lost a lot of the emotional gravity as a result. And we really need people higher up in senior management to come out and really expose the depths of what they've undergone and still manage to come out the other side as a successful person. 

It gives permission for everyone that also has that story. Not that they would necessarily tell it on a podcast, but even to have that conversation with their manager, their co-workers, so that they feel like it's a safe environment."

Most people don't open up, Lyons said, because they see it as a potentially career-killing move. 

"On the one hand, people are concerned that if I let them know what I am experiencing it's going to hold my career back. People won't trust me to handle the pressure of the big project or the promotion. But more fundamentally, it will affect the way that people interact with me," he said.

Other recipients of the 2017 Champions of Mental Health Award include Brian Hansell, Stone Hearth Bakery, Arms Bumanlag, Dr. Phil Tibbo, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and Lauren Whiteway.