Nearly 16 years after his twin and only sibling died, Kevin Smith still chokes up at the memory.
His sister Karla was vibrant and poetic, a creative counterpoint to Kevin’s math and business mind. “She taught me another side of things; she had such a zest for life,” recalls the Accenture Technology managing director based in St. Louis.
The twins grew up in Oklahoma—often joking that they were such an average family, “with nothing unique in our life.” That all changed during Karla’s sophomore year at Oklahoma State University, when she started missing classes and her grades slipped.
Then, tragedy struck. Karla attempted suicide, later disappearing onto a cross-country train with no belongings, or money, only manic ramblings. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The good news was that her family rallied around Karla, and, with the right medication, she stabilized, going on to earn a 4.0 GPA and editing the university literary magazine. “She was thriving,” Kevin recollects.
A couple years later, Karla decided to help others by sharing her story of mental illness. She titled her memoir “Glue” for the medications that held her life together. There was only one problem: She had been doing so well that she couldn’t remember the details of her manic states well enough to write about them.
So, she went off her meds. Six months of ups and downs later, Karla died by suicide.
This family tragedy could have destroyed Kevin and his parents. Instead, they dedicated themselves to helping families cope with mental illness and suicide through the Karla Smith Foundation and were thrilled to open the Karla Smith Behavioral Health Center in the St. Louis area in January 2018.
At Accenture, Kevin brings that same passion for showing that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. He directs the Disability Employee Resource Group, which now commands 1,700 employees in the U.S. alone and provides support for a range of disabilities.
“People can share their stories. We make it okay to talk about disabilities, visible and invisible. It’s about being inclusive of all people and creating a work environment where everyone can feel like they are contributing,” Kevin says. “They are not afraid to talk about some of the challenges they face in their work life and in their home life. That’s what makes working at Accenture a special place.”
Kevin is especially proud of the Accenture Mental Health Ally Program, in which designated employees listen and point anyone who asks for help in the right direction for assistance.
“People across Accenture now found support from a place they never thought they could before: Your colleagues who are sitting right down the hall from you,” he says with a smile.
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