Why Our Stories Matter in Mental Health Awareness
In recent years, the awareness around mental health has grown exponentially as more and more individuals reveal their struggles about their own. For a long time, I’ve had to grapple with my own mental health; sometimes I was triggered by traumatic events, and other times, I felt like my issues crept up on me during the most unsuspecting times. Most recently, my journey with mild depression and anxiety was sparked by interpersonal issues and exacerbated by the pandemic. At first, I didn’t realize it because I tried to push through by relocating to paradise—that haven for me is St. Vincent and the Grenadines. When I returned to the States, what was very clear to me is I did not feel like myself. I didn’t feel normal, whatever that means. I just knew something was off, but unlike my usual ability to put a name to my feelings, I was unable to identify what exactly was off. It didn’t matter, however, because I began to change, and the feelings manifested themselves externally through new behaviors.
What’s interesting about this is the changes I was experiencing were painfully evident to me. For others, not so much. No one knew about the turmoil or the battles I was fighting daily unless I told them. For some, I’m sure it was confusing and unbelievable to hear—I was still laughing all the time, was able to show up for others when needed, and was successful at work. Because I was always accessible to key people in my life, they didn’t notice when I didn’t always answer a phone call or text, and they certainly weren’t aware of how many unanswered calls and messages I had for people other than them. There were friends and acquaintances outside of my inner circle whom I would usually correspond with but had now ghosted. My practice of keeping warm relationships in a remote work environment faltered. Beyond that, my weight seesawed, I barely left the house to socialize, and every day, I couldn’t wait until the next time I would have a chance to go to sleep.
You may ask yourself, Why this is important? How is this relevant, especially within an organization? I want you to walk away knowing, if you haven’t already, that depression doesn’t always look like a “low mood.” It doesn’t always look unproductive. It doesn’t always look like irritability. There are people among you who are wrestling silently with disorders like depression and anxiety who are also high-functioning and able to portray an exterior that wouldn’t cause you to question their mental health.
How can you be supportive? Believe people when they tell you their stories. It seems simple, but the fleeting reaction of skepticism that sometimes shows up is discouraging. It can lead people to question their own feelings, which are valid, and can potentially dissuade them from seeking help if they don’t have any already. Express genuine interest and concern and, if able, offer to be a support in the safe ways they need. If you’re a leader or people manager, sometimes it can be as simple as listening. Someone may not explicitly come out and tell you every detail about what they’re experiencing, so it’s paramount to create a psychologically safe environment for your team or staff so they can come to you if they need. Lastly, leaders who have high stress tolerance can potentially miss when those around them are stressed or overwhelmed. Having a culture that prioritizes slowing down to connect with employees around capacity and feedback can also go a long way.
This month, as we reflect on how crucial mental health is, it is my hope we continue to make strides in supporting one another. With the lines between life and work blurred due to many organizations remaining remote, it would be helpful if assistance were available to those who are experiencing difficulties in a place where a lot of their time is spent. May we further our knowledge around mental health and commit to implementing that knowledge to benefit those around us.