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.