He who shares his story of…

Stigma…The Mark of Disgrace!

The Story

I am a leader. I have been told I am a good one. My team appreciate me, I get what needs to be done, and I more than often exceed the goals set by the business. My manager has discussed a great future for me in the organisation. I enjoy my job and I have a lot of motivation to exceed expectations.

If only things in my personal life were just as positive. I have a lot going on in my life and in my mind. I have often cried myself to sleep and I have been admitted to hospital on two occasions for having attempted to end it all. It is dark at those times, but I have come out of them with a lot of energy and desire to not return. I am positive each time that this will be the last time that happens, but I can’t be completely sure.  I can go back to that place a lot faster than I would like to control. But…I have mechanisms and exercises that can help me to get out from that lonely place. I am better today than I have been ever before.

Over the last few years I have seen my business, and others around them, put mental health on the agenda. They have had it reach the strategy document. People I thought wouldn’t ever talk about it are now talking about it. I am one of the champions standing before my team and promoting the messages of mental health that come through from our corporate office.

Messages. Words. Just…messages…and……just…words. That’s what I find it is. I hear how people…how leaders…of our business really feel about people with mental health issues. I hear how they say they feel they need to be dealt with. “They are screwing the system”.  “They are putting it on”. “They seriously can’t be for real”. “I hear they are a looney”. “They can’t run a team if they can’t sort out their own life!”

I really believe it would be better if I could comfortably speak to my manager about the issues in my mind. Give her some insight into who I really am so that when I need that time to work through it, she will understand. If it wasn’t for hearing how they genuinely feel about people with mental health issues, I would say something. It doesn’t happen often and I am not “screwing the system”.  But there are times that I could do with a moment to sort through my mind and to be able to say to my manager “today just isn’t a good day for me”.

Oh to be able to say that without concern that it will influence the job that I am told I am great at today, or the one that I know I can excel in next.

They call me a high performer today…I have been dealing with my mind for many years. It isn’t new to me. It will be new to them to know. It won’t be me who has changed at that point, it will just be that they know now. I will be one of those people they will talk about! Why does it have to feel like a mark of disgrace to be living each day with what I do? I live with what I do each day and I am still that high performer they know.

Why do I have to continue smiling through times that I genuinely feel pain? I smile to make them feel more comfortable.

The Message

Work can play a significant part in the recovery of someone with mental health issues, providing structure, a sense of purpose and social interaction.

Unfortunately, say the words “mental health” in most businesses and many leaders start to feel uncomfortable or go straight into protection mode as they can sometimes feel as though the term is being used to threaten them in some way. Or in many cases, people don’t say the words “mental health” because leadership haven’t built a psychologically safe working environment for people to feel comfortable to speak openly about mental health matters.

In spite of the prevalence of mental illness, there is still a stigma surrounding admitting to mental health challenges. Despite being just as legitimate as physical illness, many people are still unwilling to confront their own struggles head-on. People are often worried about how the information may be used during appraisals, promotions or other decisions around career opportunities and this will only change when organizations put more emphasis on mental health.

What is important, is that businesses have inclusive leaders who know how to foster an environment of trust and open communication where people feel able to be themselves and not hold back. Commitments to mental health need to be more than motherhood statements sent from a corporate office and read out in toolbox talks. Your team members will know when it is just words on a page. It needs to be something that is more genuine and put into practice.

The Call to Action

Keeping mental health issues secret can stand in the way of recovery, preventing someone from getting help and actively holding them back. By admitting to your feelings and experiences, you can take a very important step forward toward finally getting the care you need.

When you need to take time to collect your head… you need to take it.  And leaders need to accept that and treat people in their team who are open about their challenges with the same respect as they do others.

Leaders set the standard regarding attitudes and behaviours around how mental health issues are addressed. They also need to build transparent relationships where colleagues are comfortable in sharing their experiences before the situation becomes overwhelming.

For individuals to feel comfortable sharing their concerns, the key is building trust and you as a leader have to continue to work on that. The most effective means of addressing mental health requires leaders to get ahead of the problem by demonstrating their own vulnerability, sharing experiences and conversations. Without inclusive leadership, team members may go on fighting mental health in secret, having detrimental impact on their ability to recover.