Mental Health Awareness

Mental Health Awareness

As you may already know, October is Mental Health Awareness month. I thought it incredibly important to both acknowledge this and also do some sharing, with hopes that others will see this as an opportunity to express themselves knowing that it is okay to do so. No judgement.

Here is the reality of mental health in Canada, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. In any given year, “one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness”. That’s one in five or 25% of people. Let’s put this in perspective, in a family of 5 people, likely one person will experience mental health. This is a significant number, making it even more important to have this conversation. For those individuals who are feeling challenged, the Canadian Mental Health Association offers many resources to people who may be struggling including this mental health meter.

As I look back throughout my life, I believe that at some point in our lives we all have mental health challenges, whether that be anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar, PTSD, or a plethora of other mental health challenges. I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge these people for their bravery and courage as they often suffer with their illness in silence and with feelings of shame. The fact is that mental health disabilities can not be seen, but they are very real and can be the cause of limitation in a person’s daily activities.

I recently met a client for a coaching session, and she shared with me that she has ADHD.  Over the years she had many struggles, growing up she felt “different” knowing that she just wasn’t the same as other kids.  She said she was a day dreamer and often started activities but could never finish because she would lose interest.  The interesting part of this story was that she was not diagnosed until she was 31 years old. She had learned to manage but admittedly not very well.  She had attended college 3 times failing to graduate, close to the end of her program each time.   Eventually, she went through psychological testing which led to the diagnosis.  In disbelief and facing a stigma that was too painful for her to endure, she chose to ignore the diagnosis.

Over the next 20 years she undeniably struggled with the demands of her jobs, day to day tasks, relationships, finances and even alcohol abuse.  She sought help thinking something else had to be wrong.  She received treatment for depression, anxiety, and even bipolar disorder.  Finally, at her breaking point, she remembered the ADHD diagnosis years prior and spoke to a doctor about it.  Once the treatment protocol had been changed, suddenly she started to feel better. She was managing tasks, her self-confidence increased, and she accepted her disability.  She found herself on a positive career path working for a charity that supported the community in enhancing health care.  It felt like the perfect job for her.  Thinking that she was in a safe and supported environment, she confided in her employer as she was struggling with focus in her workspace, as it was configured in a manner that allowed for great distraction. She offered some solutions that she thought would help and was eagerly waiting for their support. Unfortunately, this was the day that everything changed in her world, it was judgement day. She found out the hard way, that her employer was not supportive, and in fact, did what they could to push her out of the organization. She left the job feeling shame, embarrassment and ultimately withdrew her mental health discussions filing them away internally, locked away and to never come out again.

Unfortunately, this story is all too common which is why I am sharing. Whether it be mental illness, sexual assault, gender and sexuality, disability or other circumstances that are tough to speak on, it is critical to have the conversations. For those who are on the listening end, it is critical to be understanding and supportive. It takes a great deal of strength, courage, and trust to share in some of the most vulnerable conversations. Be your best self to listen, care and be supportive knowing that the individual sharing is holding you as a confidante in an area they did not ask for in life but a gift from above that they are trying to understand and manage as best they can.

Are you now wondering what happened with this story? Well I would have liked to have said the story ended with a supportive employer, but in this case, it did not. If I were to re-write this story ending, the employer would have provided a simple modification to her workspace which would have made all the difference.  According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, “it is an employer’s responsibility to create and maintain a safe and healthy workplace”.  As employers we need to be cognizant that requests for accommodation and solutions, be taken in good faith and be addressed in a timely manner.

Creating a healthy workplace where your employees feel supported, included, and heard should be, in my opinion, a goal for all employers. By creating this, you will see employee retention, a positive employer brand with this resulting in talent attraction and employee goodwill.

To end this story, the employer in question, caused the employee a major set back with her mental health.  The good news is, she has since found supportive employment and is feeling amazing.  She has been able to face her limitations and with some career coaching and the correct treatment plan, she has been able to progress positively in life and in her career.

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