Mental health is really important. There is a lot of attention and talk around the importance of de-stigmatising mental health. Of being able to discuss it and provide support and understanding in the workplace. There is also a lot of people discussing it outside of work. How do we enable those conversations?
The most important thing you can do to help someone is to listen. That’s the first thing. Show empathy and understanding. But to listen, they have to be talking. That’s the barrier to breakdown.
Anxiety and depression are largely driven by negative thought processes in your mind, being trapped inside your own negative feedback loop in your head. That’s why talking about it and bringing an external viewpoint in can be so important. But also so difficult.
People always see your public face. They see how strong and successful you are. They see the best you that you are projecting. If they are struggling, it’s hard for them to show their vulnerability and be open to you. That’s a massive wall to get through.
You can know that people care about you, and would listen. But you just can’t start the conversation.
Brené Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulernability was really eye opening to me. Being vulnerable with others allows them to be vulnerable with you.
I had already been vulnerable with many of my team in 1-2-1 conversations, as I’d an inkling they needed to see that to be able to have a proper conversation with me about addressing their challenges, but having watched that TED talk and then read some of Brené’s books, it’s really impressed on me the importance of that as a way of taking the barriers down, and I’ve been actively seeking the opportunity to be open about these things to help conversation both personally and professionally since.
I posted on Facebook recently a long post about my personal issues and struggles in the past, explaining I was now in a better place now. But at the time I was really struggling, it was really hard for me to talk to anyone about it. I found it really hard to access help. Even though at the time I worked with a lot of Mental Health trusts as a software supplier and knew where the help was, how it worked and how to access it.
I did eventually get some help from the right services, did a whole bunch of self-help using the resources and things I knew about. I also spoke to a couple of people, but as I posted on Facebook:
I had a couple of people I could talk to, I’m not sure I was really honest about how bad it was with anyone.
After I posted that, I had a lot of response from the people who could see the post, some via direct message, some as comments on the post. Some people were worrying about how they missed how bad it was for me at the time and what they could have done to spot it. People were offering very supportive comments and being prepared to talk if I ever needed it again.
Most importantly, a few people reached out to discuss how they were struggling. It sounded so familiar. Struggling in private, unable to talk to anyone. Unable to get over that barrier.
Sharing your vulnerability is a great way of opening up so that people can start to talk about their problems. Once you start talking you can keep talking. People know that to lead you need to be strong and confident. But you can also be strong, confident and show vulnerability. If you do it in the right way, it’s incredibly powerful and enabling.