Thursday, July 27, 2017

Let's Talk About Mental Health

You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength.
-Marcus Aurelius
When I was 14 years old, I dislocated my patella while playing basketball. Naturally, it took a while to recover, and I was in a full leg cast for about 5-7 weeks, and crutches for a while after that. I remember finding it very easy talking about the incident whenever anyone asked - I naturally (and correctly) assumed that they would understand.

"Oh yeah, I dislocated my knee. Should be fine soon, though! I just need to take some time to recover."

Fast forward a few years later - I found that it wasn't that easy to talk about my experience with depression. In the spirit of being open, and vulnerable (and let me tell you that I'm not too fond of being vulnerable), because of some conversations I've been having recently, and given that it's been more than 4 years since, I decided that it was about time to share.



It was my junior year of college that this happened. We all have downward spirals sometimes - it's just that this one time, I kept spiralling, and had no idea how to get out of it. Fuelled by a fear of what the future would hold (or not hold), things seemed to get harder, not easier.

Luckily for me, my experience was on the milder side, I had the support of an amazing counsellor at Sewanee, and friends who made sure I was okay - and eventually, I was.

However, the experience was (and still is) hard to talk about. I remember waiting to tell close family and my best friend up until the summer I was back in Kenya. Sometimes, when I did talk about it, the conversations went something like this:

"Oh, we've had hard experiences too! Maybe we have more of a reason than you to be depressed, right?"

"But you're always so happy and positive! You can't have been depressed."

"Yes, that's all very well - let me tell you about the hard times in MY life now."

Nowadays, even if I feel a 'normal' downward spiral coming on, I take care to push my mental health at the top of my priority list. There are certain things that I need to do, including regular exercise and sleep among others, to ensure that I'm emotionally healthy. Partially because I know that I have no active desire to experience again what I did those years ago - and also because I know that it's important to look after mental health, no matter who you are and what you do or do not suffer from.

We're in the 21st century, and prioritising, taking care of, or even talking about mental health is still a taboo. This is especially true in the culture and country that I come from, where vulnerability is frowned upon.

Two weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague about the importance of everyone looking after their mental health, and reasons why people didn't, and I also read a great article online about a CEO who went out of his way to commend a colleague for taking a mental health day at work - and in doing so, sparked conversations across the globe about what we can do to make work environments more mental health friendly. I highly recommend that ALL of you read what the CEO had to say.

I especially loved this quote:
It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.
What do I hope we'll take away from this? There is nothing wrong with taking care of your mental health. There is no stigma in talking about mental health. Sometimes, people suffer with mental health issues - instead of stigmatising their experiences and alienating them, we should support them to the best of our capacity.

Let's start up conversations with our friends, in our workplaces, in our homes, to remind those around us that mental health IS important and should NOT be neglected, and let's be sure to support those who are already championing this vital cause.

Leaders especially have the power and the responsibility to role model this behaviour, and to encourage their peers, networks and organisations to carry on this conversation. A HUGE kudos to Ben Congleton of Olark, for doing exactly that.

Do you have stories of colleagues and leaders who have encouraged the prioritisation of mental health, or a time when you yourself felt empowered to do so? I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to share in the comments below (anonymously if you so wish), or on the Facebook post below:

1 comment:

Maimuna Hassan said...

Very impressive description! Thanks for sharing! I hope to see more posts real soon.

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