Marisa Henderson: Wellness Manager Helping People Heal and Thrive 

Mental health awareness is a crucial aspect of our well-being. In the past few years, there has been a rise in mental health conditions due to an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle. Mental health conditions can have a substantial effect on all areas of life, such as school or work performance, relationships with family and friends, and the ability to participate in the community.

Depression has emerged as a common health issue and a leading cause of disability and underperformance. Despite progress in some countries, people with mental health conditions often experience stigma, discrimination, or even severe human rights violations. It is essential to increase awareness and reduce stigma around mental health, increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments, and identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental disorders. Africa-based Mondia Healthcare is doing just that – offering treatment options and raising awareness.

Mondia Healthcare offers treatment and support for people struggling with mental health and addiction challenges. All people go through difficult times at some stage and the team believes that– “It is OKAY not to be OKAY and ask for help”.

Led by its CEO, Marisa Henderson, Mondia Healthcare exists to make it possible for psychiatrists, psychologists, and other clinicians to combine their efforts efficiently and effectively. In doing so, they aim to consistently achieve good outcomes for people brought into their system. Their goal is to offer people a treatment program/services and environment that supports and builds on their mental well-being. They strive to cater to the specific and unique needs of the population that they serve and therefore have the concept of wellness at their core.
Wholesome Wellness
Wellness, explains Marisa, is a multidimensional concept that encompasses eight dimensions. These dimensions are interconnected and influence each other. They are:
1.    Emotional Dimension: Understanding and respecting your feelings, values, and attitudes; constructively managing your emotions.
2.    Physical Dimension: Caring for your body to stay healthy now and in the future; recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and adequate sleep.
3.    Social Dimension: Maintaining healthy relationships, developing friendships, and contributing to your community.
4.    Intellectual Dimension: Growing intellectually, valuing lifelong learning, and expanding knowledge and skills.
5.    Occupational Dimension: Preparing for and participating in work that provides personal satisfaction and life enrichment.
6.    Financial Dimension: Managing your resources to live within your means, making informed financial decisions and investments, and preparing for short-term and long-term needs or emergencies.
7.    Environmental Dimension: Understanding how your social, natural, and built environments affect your health and well-being.
8.    Spiritual Dimension: Finding purpose, value, and meaning in your life with or without organized religion.
Marisa and her team believe that if they work together and share the same approach, values, and behavior, they are in the fortunate position to make a difference in every person’s life they treat. It will lead to changes in how people think and behave in their communities, thus also contributing to creating a change in the country to enable people to have a better understanding of themselves as well as other people, be more equipped to handle situations, and make better choices to thrive. As Marisa says “Choice is the one thing that nobody can ever take away from you. We all make thousands of choices each day, both consciously and subconsciously”. Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom,” according to Viktor E. Frankl.
What matters most for Mondia Healthcare is for people to have the opportunity to thrive instead of just surviving day by day. This entails equipping them to manage and take responsibility for their challenges, together with their support system. They offer services to individuals with a variety of diagnoses and stressors which include but are not limited to Bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, burnout, trauma or loss, PTSD, substance abuse disorders and addiction.

A lot of therapies focus on getting rid of sadness, anxiety, anger, etc., but that does not produce a happy person, it leaves a person empty. Hence the team is focused on building skills that improve relationships and enhance meaning and engagement in life. This creates the platform for change as the focus is on building enabling circumstances of life that can foster a wellness lifestyle. 

Choosing her Path

A nurturer at heart, Marisa wants the best for everyone – something that has both been her best friend as well as a worst enemy over time. She has always liked to help other people, assisting them in solving problems, dealing with issues, and supporting them. After completing her studies as an Occupational therapist in 2004, Marisa worked in various areas including Namibia to gain experience and figure out which field she wanted to settle in. She returned home from Namibia and started working as a locum at a Mental Health facility.

She presented sessions daily and saw the difference it made in people’s lives to gain a better understanding of who they are, where they fit in, what challenges they face, as well as which strengths they possess. She believes that by utilizing a wellness model, people have the opportunity to learn effective coping skills and take joint responsibility for their healing process, which enables more permanent change and the ability to thrive instead of just survive. In 2013, the facility where she worked was bought by Riël du Toit, who owned various hospitals – physical rehabilitation as well as mental health in the country, and that is where her journey of growth and development took on a new level. 

Marisa has always believed that people should not walk around with a “label” or “diagnosis,” something that happens so often in our society. When people are admitted into a hospital, there is an immediate mindset change for themselves, as well as for the people in their environment due to stigma and a lack of awareness and understanding. “For anyone to believe that they have the potential to thrive, instead of just survive day by day, they need to know and understand WHO they are. They have an IDENTITY, a NAME, ROLES, and RESPONSIBILITIES, they are NOT their diagnosis. They still have to go back and FUNCTION in their environment, it does not matter what race, culture or background they come from – EVERYONE deserves the opportunity to be happy and fulfilled,” she asserts. 

Marisa started her journey to incorporate a Wellness approach into their programs to combat stigma and a lack of awareness and understanding when people are admitted into a hospital. “I believe in coaching and allowing people to get to their own answers, develop and grow to their full potential – this road is much more organic and sustainable than micromanaging or trying to “fix” everything for people. I think this quote from John C. Maxwell probably describes it best “Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another,” she says.

New Role, New Goal

With the formation of Mondia Health in 2021, Marisa was appointed as the COO and started to grow and develop her facility managers at each of the group’s 5 facilities. She decided to appoint people with a clinical background as facility managers, as she believes that people can be taught the financial aspects of a business, but understanding people and having the inclination to connect with people is key to being successful. “Developing our Facility managers, I believe is one of the biggest accomplishments as well as compliments. A team is only as strong as its weakest link, and creating a strong team that is aligned and functional, not only makes my role easier but also enables us to reach and assist more people,” says Marisa.

She has now been appointed as CEO and aims to continue building on some of the key aspects of her role as COO. These include implementing a performance appraisal system for employees based on their values and the GROW model, shaping the culture of the organization, and driving core values to be displayed in employee behavior.

Marisa and her team has started to create an online platform that captures all aspects of the patient journey, streamlining the interdisciplinary team process . This IT platform collects and stores information about the patient journey, from the moment of referral to admission, discharge, and continued care afterward. This will enable a system where the patient is put in the middle to optimize the therapeutic journey. “I want to leverage the use of AI more in the mental health environment for training and development as well as improvement of the patient experience, which is one of our next projects,” she shares.

They also started measuring patients progress with the DASS21 and Flourishing measure from admission to discharge, as well as 2 weeks and 6 weeks post-discharge since 2019. “It is important for me to see if patients gain knowledge and use skills they have learnt AFTER discharge, as that is where change happens. Let’s face it, the majority of patients feel better during admission, as they receive rest, attention, support, medication, etc. BUT what happens when they go back to their environment is where the importance lie.”

The data shows that patients in our programs show progress from admission to discharge, then at 2 weeks, there is a bit of a decline, which is realistic given the fact that they are back in their environments and need to start functioning again. However, at 6 weeks, it shows an improvement again, which indicates that skills are being used and change is happening. This still needs more research, but it is really exciting data.

Facing her Challenges

Apart from the everyday challenges at work, being a young female in a mainly male-dominated world with a lot of passion and “feeling” philosophies instead of facts and numbers, is another challenge that Marisa has to deal with. 

She faces it by focusing on improving her self-awareness and focusing on the bigger vision instead of the perceptions and doubts that often settle in. She also learned to reframe her passion and plans in terminology and action plans that fit the audience to first get their attention in seeing the bigger picture instead of just a lot of “fluffiness”. As Vince Lombardi puts it “Inches make champions”. Small amounts of effort – consistently, lead to big change.

Words of Wisdom

To conclude our interaction, Marisa parts with the following advice for the young entrepreneurs quoting Ullie-kaye. She says:
Consider your Comfort zones –
“In your heart of hearts, you already know. Do not question the still, small voice that is telling you which way to go. You are afraid because things will be different, and feel different, but then again, you are braver now than you were back then and you have learned that strength does not grow from comfort zones. It grows from thorns and high tides and wild wild winds that knock you off your feet.”