For years I’ve delivered workshops on a whole range of topics related to mental health; resilience, managing stress, building healthy relationships, resolving conflict and the like. Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing more and more interest in these topics. The realities of the pandemic, has brought the interest level up for these topics and discussions, exponentially. I have many conversations about how significant mental health issues are due to the pandemic. While it is true that there is an increase in reported mental health challenges, we were well into a mental health crisis in Canada long before the pandemic. What the pandemic has done, is focused more attention on an already major issue.
Mental health can be better understood
Calls for workshops and interventions on mental well being topics have increased. We’ll deliver yet another one tomorrow, teaching leaders how to support staff experiencing mental health challenges. One of the things we really want workshop participants to be able to do, is to make an honest assessment regarding their own mental health. Mental health is a thing, just like physical health is. You don’t have to be a physician to do a general assessment on your physical health. You know what it’s like to feel healthy, and you know what it’s like to feel ill. Similarly, from a mental health standpoint, you know what it’s like to feel healthy, and what it’s like to feel ill. The gap all to often is that individuals just don’t have a language to use.
The mental health continuum
The Mental Health Continuum is a tremendous resource that you don’t have to be a clinician to understand. When we workshop the mental health continuum, I lead participants in the room, through an interactive exercise, to populate the continuum. They don’t realize that is what they are doing at the time, but later I reveal the continuum and point out that there is not one single sign or symptom at any point in the continuum that they don’t recognize or understand. Just like you don’t have to be a medical doctor to know the signs and symptoms of a cold or flu, you don’t need to be a therapist or psychologist to recognize signs and symptoms of poor and declining mental health or a mental health problem.
The stigma of mental health issues
Stigma of course plays a role as well, as too often individuals are reluctant to talk about their mental wellness due to fear of judgement or reprisal. Fortunately, as much as we have a long way to go in combatting stigma in Canada, we are making huge strides in a positive way, reducing stigma and creating more space for open honest dialogue.
A main point I want to make in the piece, is what I state in the title; it’s okay not to be okay. Reality is, we can move from the left (green) to the right (red) on the continuum. However, we can also move from right back to the left, with the right support and treatment. However, it starts with you recognizing you’re not in the green and that it is okay. It is okay to have a cold, it is okay to have another illness and it’s okay if you’re not okay from a mental health standpoint. Your response and reaction is likely a normal reaction to a set of abnormal circumstances.
Be willing to really do an honest self-assessment to determine where you are on the continuum. If you’ve moved off of green, it’s okay. What’s not okay is to ignore it and not take action. There are all kinds of things we can actively do to help us stay in the green in the face of challenges, as well as to move back to the green more quickly, if we’ve moved to the right. One of the most important ones is to be careful not to self-isolate. We have a tendency to pull away from others and become less socially active, when our mental health is declining. Yet, this is the time we need social connectedness more than ever.
Cameron’s Call to Action
- Review the continuum, and notice there is nothing on the continuum you don’t understand. There is no clinical or diagnostic language at all.
- Do an honest assessment for yourself and notice where you are at.
- If you are moving to the right on the continuum, remember that’s okay, but it’s not okay to ignore it.
- If needed, at very least reach out to someone in your network, and possibly even a professional.
- As a leader, seek to observe and become aware of where your staff are on the continuum, so that you can take steps to support them and promote help seeking if needed.