Imagine a world where you could share about your mental health challenges with your boss and coworkers, and not worry about side glances, or worse, workplace discrimination, afterward. Where sharing led to compassion and support and brought your team closer together. Where the words “career-limiting move” never crossed your mind. Where you could safely be you.
We live in a culture that has engrained some pretty whack-ass notions of what emotional strength, fragility and success look like. Even when it doesn’t serve us, it often feels less risky to pretend everything is fine, hide what’s hurting us and push through. Mental health is an awkward subject in the workplace.
An organization called The Stability Network is shifting the narrative. It sends out speakers who live with mental health conditions to tell their stories in workplaces around the world, and to demonstrate that it’s possible to have an episode, recover and continue to thrive in all manners and ways. TSN’s tag line says it all: Changing the way we talk about mental health, one story at a time.
Twenty years ago, I took a five-week medical leave from my job because of depression. My immediate teammates were amazingly supportive, but I remember feeling anxious about what the rest of the office thought about my absence, and whether I would retain the respect of my peers when I returned.
On my first day back, I heard many kind greetings, but the reason for my absence was carefully avoided. You know how when someone returns after a surgery or a heart attack, everyone has a similar story to tell? Either theirs, or someone they know? No one had a story to share with me. Stories of mental illness recovery just weren’t the kind of thing people talked about.
Unsurprisingly, I felt shame around my illness. For the next 15 years, I played my mental health cards close to my chest, until I understood that greater power came from speaking the truth. Changes in perception don’t come from statistics and reports, they come from seeing, knowing and hearing from people with lived experience. Discomfort is dispelled when the people with the lived experience make it okay to talk about it. Silence begets more silence.
I’m grateful to The Stability Network for its commitment to creating a space for mental health stories in the workplace, and in partnership with them, I’ve committed to telling mine. As a speaker for TSN, I hope to stand in front of audiences large and small and show that any dodgy vibe from me is completely attributable to the fact that I’m a Pacific Northwesterner who likes neither sushi nor salmon—utter heresy—and not because I live with Complex PTSD and depression.
If you would like to help us create a world where workplaces are supportive of people experiencing mental health challenges by inviting a speaker to yours, you can let me know, or you can click here.
Standing and applauding! Well said. I have experienced depression, but wasn’t working outside the home at the time. It was post partum depression complicated by my own childhood abuse. If I’d gone to a therapist they probably would have diagnosed me with PTSD on top of the depression. My mother was bipolar and was so ashamed that she almost never talked about it. I wish she had, because I would have recognized my own depression years sooner, and would have gotten help. I eventually stumbled into energy healing, which transformed my life and has given me some powerful healing tools.
As for living in the PNW and not liking sushi or salmon (or coffee for that matter), I’m right there with you. Yuck!
Laura Zera says
Thank you, Susan. I scrolled a bit on your blog and so I also want to extend my gratitude to you for writing about your experiences and healing journey. I’m so glad you’ve found tools that are working for you. But wait, you don’t even like coffee? SUPER WEIRD.
Belinda Pollard says
So important. One day, it will be as easy as talking about a sprained ankle or gallbladder op. We’re not there yet, in Australia at least, but it’s closer. Often when I talk about it, people say with relief, “Oh, me too.”
Also, I don’t like sushi, but I do like salmon, so I guess I’m half-acceptable???
Laura Zera says
Hello there, Belinda! Oh, how I look forward to that day. And yeah, you could pass in the Northwest with that. I’ve been thinking about you and my other friends in Oz with the stories I’m reading of these record temperatures. Hope you’re managing in this new reality. xo