It’s Time To Change Our Approach to Mental Illness in the Workplace.
Have you noticed that more often these days we are waking to ‘breaking’ news that our mental wellbeing is not being addressed within the corporate structure.
Today is one such day, with the bold title from the BBC: “Mental health sees 300,000 people leave their jobs each year.”
So what is the solution? Companies are being advised to put better measures in place to track the mental state of their employees. They are asked to have provisions in place, such as a “wellbeing portal” for their mentally ill employees to engage with.
But aren’t these well meaning advisors missing the point here?
It’s my belief and from experience, that when you are suffering the symptoms of depression you are NOT going to seek the support off the person who can determine whether you keep your job or not. You are NOT going to admit to having an issue, if the very nature of making this admission leaves you watching your every move at work, fearing that you will be passed over for promotion or even worse that you will loose your job.
And there is the problem.
How do you create an environment where employees feel secure enough to approach the Human Resources department and ask for help?
How do you install a culture of caring that is truly felt across the organisation? Where this caring is embedded into the mindset of every manager at every level of the organisation?
A recent YouGov poll suggested that less than 30% of employees actively engage in schemes that are run by their company. Doesn’t that suggest the above two questions haven’t been answered effectively yet by the majority?
Albert Einstein famously quoted: “You can’t solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.” And I believe that’s exactly what’s happening in this new wave of awareness of the issues employees are facing.
The problem is trying to be solved in the same way that every other human resource concern has been addressed. Yet this one is different.
No other HR concern to date has impacted whether someone felt safe opening up at work. And no other HR concern has highlighted the subconscious prejudices of managers, perhaps since Diversity became a Board Agenda item.
What if we approached this differently?
Rather than condemn people with a label as socially damaging as being “Mentally Ill” - we recognised the cause of their discomfort? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we don’t aim for tolerance and acceptance. That would be an ideal world where we all are tolerant of the differences and challenges others face, but we all know we are far away from that. You only have to look at the prejudices and discriminations that are still prevalent in society to know that this unfortunately will not be any different.
In the meantime, let’s look for different solutions.
What education is being shared about possible causes of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, rather than spending millions on promoting drugs to suppress the symptoms? And if there are different opinions as to the cause, let’s share them with the overall aim to support those who are living with these symptoms. Too often, the real life experiences that people have gone through to heal themselves are shunned by the ‘established’ medical professionals. There almost becomes a witch-hunt to discredit any alternative approaches or ones that don’t fit the ‘norm’ — whatever that is! The ‘established’ medical profession demands years of research and documentation to prove the validity of these alternative solutions, when simply assessing the results would speak volumes. And consider also that many pharmaceuticals have not withstood years of research and documentation, and yet they are ‘approved’ for consumption with the implied notion that they will heal. Let’s not forget that there are many approaches that have worked, and they didn't have to be created in a science lab to have positive results. A science lab is not the gold standard for credibility or for guaranteed results. I also find it interesting that on a Facebook Page that I am a member of for people looking for support for depression and anxiety — a huge percentage openly admit that anti-depressants are not working, and many state that they make them feel worse. And yet NICE is openly trying to condemn approaches that have offered positive results to many.
I recently offered Reiki to the community where I live, as I used this as part of the approach that enabled me to heal from the symptoms of depression and anxiety. I was surprised by the vitriolic reaction when I spoke about my experience. I was told to change the words I used, I was contacted to take my post down. One person told me I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to say I’d healed myself using an approach that had, according to him: “no scientific evidence of it’s ability to heal.” What about my experience and many other peoples? We can always find evidence for our own opinion, and this is not justification to monitor and filter the experiences of others.
What are the different solutions then?
Maybe we ought to encourage people to understand what’s caused them to feel depressed? After all we aren’t born depressed, so there must have been something that caused it.
Could we show people how to locate what it is about their life that is causes them to feel anxious, and then demonstrate how to lessen the impact of this?
Let’s support people to understand what’s happened in their past that has caused them to feel that they can’t cope.
Let’s recognise that people suffering from the symptoms of depression are likely to have already suffered a huge loss in some area of their life, condemning them with a damaging label won’t help them move forward.
Perhaps we could apply some simple techniques to show them how to stop ruminating over past events and their fears of the future.
Let’s empower them to understand why their body is reacting in the way it is, and show them how to mange these symptoms, without the need to self medicate.
Or we could continue in the way that we have; creating more fear that their life is spiralling out of control and reaffirming that there is no way out, not unless they want to be popping pills for the rest of their life.
I’m with Einstein - it’s time we adopted a new way of thinking to solve this problem.
Louise K. Shaw
The Body Whisperer & Wellbeing Advisor