Erin Skillen, Co-founder and COO of FamilySparks

Erin Skillen is the co-founder and COO of FamilySparks, a social impact company providing mental health support for individuals and families. Their digitally driven, clinically based products and services are designed to meaningfully change lives. They are a previous Douglas Magazine 10 to Watch award winner.

How is FamilySparks coping right now?
As a mental health company, we’re busy in a good way. We closed our office to in-person therapy sessions, but are still able to offer video, chat and phone counselling. As the days go by, more and more people are reaching out for care. We’re aware how this situation could trigger or exacerbate mental illness and are ensuring we do all we can to support people through this. We’re also checking in on our team to make sure the caregivers are cared for as well.

How has the crisis affected your business, and how do you anticipate it will affect it?
While we absolutely wish this wasn’t happening, it has been positive for our company. We’ve been able to provide meaningful, timely care for our clients and they’ve expressed their appreciation. They’re seeing how much better positioned a local social impact company is to support them rather than a faceless major corporation. We already had strong relationships with our clients, and this has only made us each more grateful for one another.

What is the opportunity in the challenge for you and the business?
We have been getting new clients as a response to this crisis, so it’s an opportunity for growth. At the same time, receivables are trickling as clients and their accounting departments adapt to remote work, layoffs, etc. so we must keep an even closer eye on cash flow. This is a chance to really demonstrate our strengths and care for our community at the same time. It’s hectic, but powerful.

What advice have you applied or are you applying from previous experiences coping through crises?
Our company, under the leadership of our CEO Dr. Jillian Roberts, managed the crisis response during the tragic loss of the two little girls in Oak Bay. We created a team of counsellors that kept calm, provided clear information on how to cope and spent many, many hours listening and empathizing. We are doing the same now with our team of therapists. Crises are moments where the community come together and focus on what really matters. This virus is another chance for us to carry and hold one another – metaphorically of course as we stay home and distanced!

What are your resources right now? Do you have a mentor supporting you, peer group, books you read?
Right now, we are very much in demand as a resource ourselves, helping companies and the public manage their mental health during this uncertain time. Each day we get requests for information on a range of topics – how to talk to children about it, how to lead a team through it, how to cope with self-isolation. We’re deeply grateful to be able to help people through this and take our role seriously.

What advice do you have for others experiencing this alongside you?
This is not business as usual. Don’t expect the same volume of work from your staff that you normally get. These are extraordinary times and society has taken extraordinary measures in response. Not everyone will be able to work at 100% remotely, especially if your staff suddenly have kids at home who would normally be at school. Be compassionate, understanding, and accommodating whenever possible. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings and we all have unique life circumstances impacted by this situation.
We have articles available our website at including:

The Employer’s Guide to Your Team’s Mental Health During COVID-19 (PDF)

Our Guide to Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety

7 Ways to Create Joy During Isolation

Maintaining Your Mental Health During COVID-19 (PDF)