Today is World Mental Health Day and I want you to know that you’re not alone – we all have an inner critic that gets us down.
I know what it is like to wonder if the world would be better off without you. I struggled through a pretty nasty case of depression and anxiety in my late teens. I also come from a family where there is a strong history of mental illness, so I have watched and supported people who I deeply love fight through very challenging times (mental illness really does feel like a fight!). It is for these reasons I strongly advocate talking openly about mental illness. I feel very proud that I live in a world where the stigma and shame associated with mental illness is reducing and that I am able to play a role in opening this conversation in our workplaces.
Sadly, we still we still have a long way to go. While stigma may be reducing, mental illness is on the rise. We know that in Australia at any point in time at least one in five Australians are diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and that in all of these cases, people are likely experiencing acute and/or chronic stressors in their lives. While we all may not have suffered from mental illness, statistics would say that it is almost guaranteed that you will have lived or worked with someone who has. In fact, it is likely that multiple people close to you are likely struggling in this way right now. Yet, sadly too many still suffer in silence unable to access the support they need.
I was lucky enough to stumble into a psychology class in my first year of University (I thought I wanted to be a doctor) and had an awakening. We actually know so much about how to live a life of fulfilment and how to manage that inner critic; the voice in our heads that is inextricably linked to mental illness. It is through my work as a psychologist, coach and facilitator that I have learnt that we all have an inner critic that judges ourselves, others and the world (I was thrilled to learn I was not alone!). This voice creates self-doubts, drama, fears, pain and suffering. We also all face life wobbles from time-to-time – experiences that cater bolt us into moments of crisis where we feel lost, overwhelmed or want to give up.
At this point in time we know a lot about the skills and tools to support all of us manage that inner critic and ensure our bodies, brains and minds (which are shown to be very deeply linked) are functioning at their best – significantly reducing the likelihood of mental illness being able to creep in. Yet so much of this work is not accessible to the masses.
So, today on World Mental Health Day I encourage you to open up this important conversation – with friends, family and colleagues. Today is a day for us to unite in our efforts to improve the mental health of people around the world. We can not address this issue if we hide away our challenges, experience and learnings. Connection and belonging are built in movements of openness and vulnerability. Connection and belonging are beautiful antidotes to pain, shame and suffering and an integral ingredient to making seismic shifts in the global mental health crisis we currently face.
The theme selected for this year’s Day is suicide prevention, and in an effort to raise awareness for the scale of suicide around the world and the role that each of us can play to help prevent it, the World Health Organisation encourages everyone to take “40 seconds of action” today to improve awareness, reduce the stigma and let people who are struggling know that they are not alone.
As a manager or leader this World Mental Health Day (and everyday), you can:
- Speak openly about mental health in the workplace and encourage others to do the same.
- Promote a positive working environment by minimising workplace risks to mental health, such as job stress. We know that we need to give our brain and body rest in order to be at our best; advocate for greater flexibility in your workplace. There are so many benefits for the individual and the organisation in offering workplace flexibility, I wrote about this topic recently.
- Approach and have a conversation with an employee you are concerned about. This circles back to one of our four universal needs as humans, meaningful connection, which you can read more about in a recent article I wrote.