Mental Health in the Workplace: Choices and conversations
Welcome back to Consider Yourself Hugged! Click here to listen to Episode 105. (***Disclaimer: I provide these notes as a skeleton for the show - nothing fancy 😄)
I have such great stuff to share with you today but first let me give you a little preview of what will be coming up for the next few episodes.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that I went into a funk during the pandemic and how I am coming out. One way I know that is that I am starting to crave knowledge and inspiration again. I have been listening to podcasts and ordering books!
I mentioned one last week in a Facebook group post, Victor Frankl‘s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Of course, I’m extending that to include woman’s search!) If you’re not familiar, Victor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who spent 3 years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
I was actually listening to a podcast that referenced it in a number of ways, so I ordered it and started it yesterday. It’s tiny tiny, like 150 pages and 4” x 6” . So I can’t say I’m going to do one episode or two or three I just don’t know yet. In fact, I’m not 100% certain that it will start next week, but let me read this one thing to you that struck me almost on the very first page.
Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the ‘Shema Yisrael’ on his lips.
I'm excited to get going with that soon. The pic has a link to Amazon if you want to buy and join in.
Then this past weekend I was in Pittsburgh. If you are in our private Facebook group I asked for prayer about a meeting that may give me the opportunity to spread my message about stress to those who need it. Thank you for your prayers - the meeting was great, and I believe great opportunities are going to develop from that. But more importantly it was the camaraderie. I made new friends, and we talked about society and gender and emotions and mental health. It was amazing! And I ordered two other recommended books that I will start after Frankl‘s. So amazing!
One final thing: I’m going to be giving you some tips and some phrases to use today and I put those in a document. Click below check that out.
So that’s that. Now let’s get into today’s topic, Mental Health in the Workplace: Choices and conversations.
I don’t usually do this, and really I should have been. In fact, when I’m done recording I’m going to update all of the text of my show and website. Here it is: the information in this show is not intended to be therapy or to address your individual situation. It is information based on my experiences, opinions, and research. If you need further help, please reach out to one of the resources mention in the show notes.
On we go!
Usually I am addressing you and your mental and emotional well-being. Although this will speak to you, today I want to help you if you work alongside someone who might be struggling with their own.
I am going to approach this topic from a couple of different perspectives. First, from my own lived experience as a person with mental health issues in the workplace. Second, as a researcher.
Two quick stories to share from that first perspective. And if you are reading or listening and you were involved in the stories in anyway, I hope I will make it clear that I am in no way blaming or offended or anything like that. In fact I am grateful for every experience that I’ve had in this realm.
So the first story is actually a combination of stories but this is what made me think of it. I was doing a webinar on mental health in the workplace a few weeks ago and someone asked a great question: I have an employee who just returned from a stay in a mental hospital. I want her to know that I support her but I don’t want her to think I’m looking over her shoulder constantly. What do I do? This struck me because I remember coming back into the world after my mental health hospital stay and I knew people felt very uncomfortable around me. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know what to ask. I know this was in the 90s and I would like to think we’ve come a long way. But no doubt, it is a difficult topic.
And no matter how much we would like for mental health to be treated as any other type of physical health, it is different. The actual story I wanted to share starts here. There was a time when I had a very close friend who I knew was drawing away from me. It felt rather sudden but truth be told it had been coming for sometime. I assumed it was related to my divorce. You know how sometimes you lose friends through that. About 10 years later I received a message from her. She told me a lot of things in this message, but her ultimate point was to tell me she did not know how to be my friend during those years of my deep mental health issues. We talked on the phone after that and she said it was just hard for her to understand how I could not just accept things, deal with life, and move on. It is hard for many people to understand mental health struggles.
Now, keep in mind what we are talking about here was my mental illness, my mental disorder. Remember we have talked in the past about the fact that we all have mental wellness or mental health on a spectrum. And so when you encounter people in the workplace it could be that someone is simply having a bad mental health day, that they are struggling with their mental wellness, or that they are dealing with a mental health disorder that needs treatment. But for those who do not struggle to this degree, it can be very difficult to understand. Even a counselor who saw me twice before my mental hospital admission said to me You’re having all of this over a job? Then just don’t take the job!
So, you see, trying to understand someone’s mental health is more complicated than trying to understand that they need some juice because their blood sugar has dropped. That does not mean that I am not advocating for better mental health conversations because I absolutely am! But I think it is disempowering and destructive to act as if it is exactly the same thing as physical health, because it is not.
My second story happened five or six years after my mental hospital stay when I was teaching high school. (So, yes, through all of that I did wind up teaching for 10 years.)
I was attending a science teachers conference in Orlando with two other teachers. We were sharing a hotel room and I went into the bathroom. What I heard broke my heart, brought me to tears, and elicited quite a response. One of them said to the other about me Yeah, she took the job but then for some reason quit at the last minute and we were left six weeks without a teacher. It was awful!
What she said was absolutely true, but she did not know the details or that the reason I quit was because I was having such severe panic attacks I could not even leave my bedroom. In fact, it was a few days later that I was admitted.
Your words matter. I am not trying to pressure or guilt you, but I think what I’m about to say goes for everyone not just mental health: Just don’t talk about people behind their backs. Sure, I am guilty too. But at a minimum we need to admit that it is wrong and attempt to stop ourselves, even in the middle of it.
I burst out of that bathroom crying, telling them what happened. Of course they felt awful but some damage was done.
One difficulty of mental health being more in the forefront is that if we are going to talk about it, how do we talk about it? How do you deal with that coworker that might have symptoms that come out as anger? What do you do when someone seems to be withdrawing? For you leaders out there how do you know if it’s mental health that is causing someone’s work to slow down or maybe they’re quiet quitting. If you don’t know want that is here’s the link to my last episode about quitting.
Now let’s move on to 4 simple pieces of advice I want to give you for mental health choices and conversations in the workplace. Actually it’s four questions to ask yourself:
1. Am I willing to devote time to this person?
I’ve probably mentioned in the past that every person in my family has battled mental health issues. Am I willing to devote time to help them? Absolutely! They are my family. It almost goes without saying. There is a bond there. There are deep attachments there. There is a tie that binds there.
But what about coworkers? Employees? Managers? Are you willing to devote the time? By that I mean do you even care to help them? Or do you just want to do your job and get out with this little interaction or difficulty as possible? You may think there’s judgment with that last question but there isn’t but it’s a real question to ask. Another level of time is, if you decide to engage someone with a conversation about their mental health are you willing to turn away from your computer, put down your phone, cancel a meeting, stay late? Because if you ask someone a question about how they are you may get more than you bargained for.
2. Second, am I a counselor?
This might seem like the weirdest way to start this tip, but if you have taken this much time to listen you probably are willing to take the time. And if you are willing to take the time you probably want to help. And if you want to help there’s probably part of you that wants to fix. So let me go ahead and say this
You cannot fix anyone and you should not try.
Even counselors know they cannot fix people but most of us want to be able to say something that will take somebody else’s pain away. At least, again, if you’ve listened this far that’s probably something you’d like to do. I want to take that burden from you. And I also want to tell you that person doesn’t expect you to fix them or to even say anything extravagantly insightful.
3. How do I know if someone is struggling?
Honestly, you might not. But the deeper your relationship, the more you might know. Here are some things to look for – mostly if it’s out of the ordinary:
a) Withdraws from group
b) Misses deadlines
c) Shows up late or misses more
d) Work quality suffers
e) Increased conflict
f) Cries more
g) Talks about feeling sad, worried, overwhelmed
Remember, you can’t fix, but you can notice. You can be concerned.
Finally, if you’re willing to invest the time, you realize you can’t fix, and you thought about what to look for, The fourth thing is
4. What can I do/what can I say?
Let me start by saying if you think someone is in need of urgent help or is suicidal, reach out for help. That might mean using your EAP program if you have one, someone you trust in HR, or calling a crisis line.
Here are some important numbers:
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE)
National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 (HOPE)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 OR the new line 988 (WUV)
If you can’t recall these, call 911.
You can also visit the National Institute of Mental Health for more resources.
Circling back to earlier I mentioned the person who said they didn’t want their employee to think they were hovering but what could they say. Back to my story of panic and anxiety. Honestly most people never knew that I was battling anxiety and panic disorder. They didn’t know that I was on Zoloft. They didn’t know I was taking Klonopin, similar to the Xanax, sometimes just to show up and make it through the day. They didn’t see me crying in my office or having a panic attack every night. But honestly this was 1996, the conversation wasn’t as welcome as it is today. So here are a few choices and phrases:
a) Are you ok today? Are you really?
b) Would you like to talk?
c) You seem like something is bothering you
d) What’s happening in your life?
e) We all need help sometime.
f) If it’s an anger issue and you feel threatened, leave the situation and report it as per your policy. And the phrase. Your words and loud tone of voice are making it difficult for me to understand. Let’s talk again when you’re ready. Here are more phrases from one of my favorite books, PowerPhrases
Try NOT to say:
a) Well, it’ll get better
b) Just keep your chin up and stay positive.
c) Gosh I know, I’m stressed out too.
d) Calm down
It’s actually quite simple, if you can remember you can’t fix it:
c) Follow up
Thanks for joining today! As we’ve always asked in the past, please pass the show link along to your friends and subscribe, download, and review wherever you are listening. If you’re a woman and you haven’t joined our private FB group A Place for Women, please do that now! It’ll be your source of encouragement.
And until next time, Consider Yourself Hugged 😘🤗