Mental health is often ignored, misunderstood and misdiagnosed, but I’m tired of that crap. We need to raise awareness, increase understanding and to research this complex and wonderfully weird thing that is our mind.
“Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” C. G. Jung
Some still see mental health as a bit of a taboo subject, and it’s a part of society often purposefully forgotten, but it’s time to start rattling cages and stop skirting around such an important topic. Especially for men, and especially at work.
We are pretty good at hiding our emotions and bottling things up, but this can have dire consequences in the long run. We need to have the self compassion to open up and be able to tackle our issues head on, especially if they are impacting your home and work life. Come on, we are adults so why not deal with this topic in a grown up way?
So let’s get straight to the point. Why is it important?
Right now 1 in 6 workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. Research shows that work is the biggest cause of stress in peoples lives, more so that debt or financial problems. So, it’s highly likely that someone you work with is suffering from a mental health problem. You may even be suffering from mental health problem yourself.
Mental. Health. Problem.
3 words that people try to avoid. 3 words that can strike fear into the heart of a man. But really it’s 3 words that we have nothing to be scared of. They are just words. Yes they are tied strongly to emotions and fear but does that mean we should not talk about them?
Nope. In fact the opposite is true. It’s scary so let’s talk about more. Let’s put it out there. Cards on the table and all that.
What do the words actually mean? What are the types of mental health problems that exist?
Unfortunately there are quite a few, probably more than you first thought. They generally get broken down into the following categories:
Types of depression
Stress and Anxiety
Suicide and self harm
Eating and body image
Types of personality disorder
Psychosis, hearing voices and schizophrenia
Other (including OCD, Drugs, Phobias)
Here’s a good resource if you want to find out more about any of these.
Whilst there are varying levels of severity, how does it feel to suffer from one of the most common ones like depression?
From the outside it may look like malingering, bad temper and ugly behaviour – and who can empathise with such unattractive traits? Depression is actually much more complex, nuanced and dark than unhappiness – more like an implosion of self. In a serious state of depression, you become a sort of half-living ghost. Other negative emotions – self-pity, guilt, apathy, pessimism, narcissism – make it a deeply unattractive illness to be around, one that requires unusual levels of understanding and tolerance from family and friends. For all its horrors, it is not naturally evocative of sympathy. Apart from being mistaken for someone who might be a miserable, loveless killjoy, one also has to face the fact that one might be a bit, well, crazy – one of the people who can’t be trusted to be reliable parents, partners, or even employees. So to the list of predictable torments, shame can be added.
This is part of an extract taken from a powerful article in the guardian a couple of week back titles ‘What does depression feel like?‘ by Tim Lott, to highlight depression awareness week.
It paints a pretty painful image, but having this awareness of what it can be like is super important.
It’s super important to know if you feel like this that you are not alone and you are going through something that can be diagnosed and treated accordingly. It’s mega important to be able to help recognise this behaviour in others in our work and home lives, so that you can be understanding towards their situation and symptoms. It’s uber important not to brush it under the carpet.
This is real life people. Sometimes we go through hard times. Sometimes we crash and burn. Sometimes the world seems to close in around us. But after the dark comes light.
I can personally relate to this for a couple of reasons. 1. I have suffered with depression and anxiety problems a number of times in the past 15 years. 2. A close member of my family suffers from bi-polar disorder.
When mental health problems pop up and things are not discussed openly and feelings shared, then a downward spiral occurs. It’s like telling a white lie that you have to stick to that ends up escalating and escalating and getting bigger and bigger, until something dramatic happens and everyone finds out what was going on anyways.
“The good part about having a mental disorder is having a valid reason for all the stupid things we do because of a damaged prefrontal cortex. However, the best part is seeing someone completely sane do the exact same things, without a valid excuse. This is the great equalizer of God and his little gift for all us crazy people to enjoy.” Shannon L. Alder
So – what can we do about it?
I think there 2 clear things here whether you are going through it, or a colleague close to you is. First – talk about it.
The sooner we acknowledge the situation and tell the truth about what is going on the better it is for everyone. You might not feel better straight away, but at least it’s out in the open, and you and others can work together towards a better place. This is especially important at work. You spend a significant amount of time with your colleagues, and you are all working to a common goal after all, so you are empowered to be honest and open about what is going on in your life. About these little things called feelings.
In the last 2 years; a programme manager told me he can’t drink coffee because it sets off his anxiety issues; a sales woman told me she can’t fly due to severe panic attacks; a colleague told me he had so much pent up aggression that he felt like stabbing a colleague in the eye with a pencil; another colleague told me he didn’t want to socialise after work because his brain can’t handle big crowds.
Did hearing this make me feel any less of these people? No way. I admired them for being so open and showing the courage to tell me what they were going through. They were letting me in. They were giving me the choice of how to react and how to build a deeper relationship with them.
I openly admit to colleagues that I exercise as much as I do because it’s as important to my mental health as it is to my physical wellbeing, and since then I never get challenged on going to the gym for a break most days during working hours.
There is no shame in telling the truth.
The second thing to do is laugh.
Sounds hard right? Especially when you feel like a zombie in your own body. But here’s the thing – laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, conflict, and depression. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded and focused.
“With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health” Mental Health Advocacy Inc.
Here’s a few more reasons to embrace it:
Laughter relaxes the whole body – a good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
Laughter boosts the immune system – laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural feel good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart, by improving the function of blood vessels and increasing blood flow, which can protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
So where possible tell jokes, spend time with colleagues who make you smile and laugh, or just browse the internet for silly images like this:
or youtube videos of babies laughing
So next time you are going through a tough time, or your colleagues seem to be suffering in some way, deal with it head on.
Be adult and mature (and human) about it and put yourself out there. I’m sure you’ll be amazed and delighted with the response that you get. Not necessarily from everyone, but there are good people out there. You just need to let them in, or show others that you are one of them.
Finally here’s some advice from a top psychologist:
Dr. Neil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started. So I looked around my house to see things I started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Kaluha, a packet of Penguins, the remainder of bottle of Prozac, Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Cheesecake, and a box of chocolates. You have no idea how good I feel.