Are we overcomplicating workplace mental health support?
She woke up feeling well and content for the day ahead. It was a Monday, so she felt naturally tired. It had been a funny weekend just gone with mixed moods, so she was excited to get out of the house and into the office to get the week started. The evening before, she had experienced familiar feelings of unknown sadness, it hadn’t been the first time, but just figured she needed to take some time out. She let herself shake it off as she knows when morning usually comes, the feelings dissipate as well. But, for one reason or another, this morning would become an exception.
Her usual routine was to walk to the office to get herself energised for the day ahead. After all, every Monday was her day to facilitate the firm-wide induction. She sent off a few emails before leaving the house and headed down the road towards the direction of work. As she moved one foot in front of another, she could feel the familiar feeling of sadness envelope her body. To her, it almost felt like a split-second change. She went from what felt like a normal morning to suddenly feeling of deep anguish questioning what the point it was to be here.
This was by far not the first time she had felt this, she knew the feeling well, and she knew potentially what would happen next. The tingling in her hands started, the intrusive thoughts began to tumble, the feeling of worthlessness coming next. Over her time of recovery during the past few years, she had learned her ways to work with her mental health, and so she kept moving one foot in front of the other, hoping to shake the feelings once again.
The feelings weren’t budging though. Before she could consciously call what was about to happen next, the tears started to fall one after another; unintentionally and not from a want inside. She pulls her hat down to hide her face. She is determined to still go to work. I cannot let it win again, she thinks to herself.
As she keeps walking, the tears are getting faster and the intrusive thoughts are becoming louder. I don’t know what to do, she begins to struggle grappling with this unexpected visit from her thoughts. It has been years of dealing with this, but it isn’t normally this bad. She begins to argue with herself, and the fear starts to settle in. What if it’s all happening again?
She calls her manager.
She doesn’t know what to say, but she somehow begins to speak.
“I am not doing well this morning, mentally, you know…I want to still come to work, but I might need some extra support this morning from someone.” She can feel her body cringe at the response at what her manager could say next.
“No problem at all, I’ll give a call to the team and get someone to meet you when you arrive.”
No question of what was specifically wrong. No judgement in her voice. No moment that made her feel hesitant for being honest about what was happening.
She arrives to the office and the tears have stopped now, but she can feel them sitting right behind her eyes, ready to be triggered again. After she heads to her locker and grabs her things for the day, she heads to a colleague’s desk that her manager had let her know who was going to help her this morning.
Unsure of who or what to expect, as soon as she arrived at the colleague’s desk, the tears were not far behind. The colleague gets straight up, hands her some water and leads to a secluded area of the floor.
She can feel her hands trembling, sitting next to this colleague that she didn’t know well, worried that she had no idea what was going on. She still didn’t want to go home, but she wasn’t sure she would be able to make it through the morning without someone to support her.
But then her colleague begins to speak…
You don’t need to tell me what’s going on. I have felt upset before too, and I know how it feels. Whatever you decide to do this morning, I’ll be here for you if you need anything. You just give me the look and I’ll be there to help.
As she sits there, looking into the eyes of this perfect stranger, she feels an utmost level of support, of no judgement, nor any moment of hesitation.
She realises in this moment that sometimes all you need, even in the darkest moments, is a glass of water, a few tissues, and a person to sit next to you reminding you that even the darkest hour only lasts 60 minutes.
So much of the time when we think about supporting someone in their mental health in the workplace, we vastly overcomplicate it. We make it out as though we need to be a magical human with a first aid certificate or a psychology degree, but when really, a lot of the time it isn’t really about that.
I’ve dealt with mental health my entire life and there are definitely some days that I need to run back home, get into bed and rest it out, but there are many more days that I still want to go ahead with what I had planned in the first place – be that work, hanging out with friends or chilling by myself. But, for many of us who sit alongside someone who isn’t doing OK, mental health feels like this complex beast that many of us have, at some point, grappled to deal with.
Have we overcomplicated it though? Is it about how many staff we can put on our wall that have a mental health first aid certificate, or about being aware of the all the signs that mental health can offer? Or is it about upskilling our employees to be real humans, to be emotionally intelligent and to understand that every so often it is OK to not be OK?
Dealing with mental health in the workplace doesn’t necessarily need to be from a manual; it doesn’t necessarily to be a policy or procedure to be written; perhaps it just needs to be a little bit more human, a pinch of support and a whole lot of understanding.
Tags Mental health