“How are you?” How many times a day do we ask someone this question throughout the day? Probably every person we come in contact with but let’s be real – it’s a rhetorical question. If someone stopped for a minute and answered honestly and you stopped for a minute and listened openly, their answer honest answer might break your heart but it also might make a real difference.
We’re trained to ask the question, and we’re trained to say “fine” or “good” then add “how about you” without thinking or even waiting for a response. It’s too bad because many of us are struggling – we all do from time to time – some more than others but we smile and try to pretend we’re not falling apart inside.
And one place we’ve really learned to wear our armor is at work. We can tell if someone is physically injured, and we don’t hesitate to offer help but most of the time people who are struggling with their mental health put on a brave face and carry on. It’s a shame because if you work full time, you spend a good part of your day at work pretending you’re okay and hiding your problems and shoving your feelings down as far as possible so they don’t bubble up and overflow.
It’s impossible to separate what is going on in your personal life from your work life. If you or someone you know or love has struggled with depression or anxiety, chances are you encountered the shame and stigma that still surrounds mental health issues. And if you’re concerned about experiencing shame and stigma in your personal life, then you’re probably terrified about facing it at work. Can you, should you tell your boss? Should you push through or take a leave from work? Is it safe to go to HR for help? So many uncertainties…
If we thought isolation and loneliness were issues before, the last couple of years really made us sit up and take notice that these are real issues, and we cannot look away when we see someone suffering. Some of you were running a daycare, a school and a business from your homes all the while trying “white knuckle” your way through the day hoping nobody notices that you’re barely hanging on. That’s the façade we need to destroy; that’s the wall we need to tear down.
At least pre pandemic you might see someone in person and know that they didn’t seem like themselves and maybe you would have a chance one on one to check in with them. With these last couple of years, many more people battled their mental health issues alone - in frightening numbers. With so many of us working remotely full time, the line between our personal and work lives wasn't just blurred - it was completely obliterated, and yet we were still expected to just push it all out of our minds and perform. What is refreshing is those just coming into the workforce want empathy from the companies they work for in a way I've never witnessed in over 30 years in Corporate America.
Some companies don't want to address employees’ mental health – it is too sensitive a topic or they just don’t where to start and yet others have entire teams dedicated to it.
Best in class companies cover mental health in their benefits package but they offer so much more - Employee Assistance Programs for employees and their families, mental health days, bring your dog to work days, flexible workdays and locations, - some even offer yoga and meditation onsite, Zen rooms, free access to meditation apps, peer engagements and so much more. CEOs are taking notice and hiring resources to take them into unchartered territory.
Most companies are just starting to realize that their success depends on their employees’ mental wellbeing as much as their physical wellbeing. And more than anything, people want to hear personal stories from their colleagues and their leaders – to know it’s okay to not be okay. We spend so much time at work - we need support from our employers and colleagues now more than ever.
I had the opportunity to speak about my family’s journey through depression on an “all hands” call at work – there were around 1,000 colleagues from around the world. I spoke very frankly about what we went through, what helped us get through it and how we were doing now. After my talk, a representative from HR talked about all the resources and benefits our company offers.
I’m passionate about talking openly about mental health so sharing our story is comfortable for me but I never expected the response my talk got - the comments were so honest that many brought me to tears. It really resonated with people – they could see their family in my family, they knew I wasn't holding back, and they appreciated that the company cared enough to put the topic on a business call.
We all know that it’s the people behind the numbers that make a company successful – and they want to be seen, heard and represented. In sharing my family’s story, people didn’t feel so alone in their journey and they could relate to what we went through. Many reached out to me directly to thank me for being so courageous to share my story with my colleagues and to share their story and continue the conversation. These were the most meaningful conversations I've ever had at work. I was vulnerable and took my armor off – and in return, people were kind, tender and open with their responses and their questions.
It was really an incredible experience and what led me to creating my website and working with other companies. Each time I share our story, I do it to reach someone who needs our message of hope, to change how people think about mental health and to spark conversations that will normalize talking openly about mental health!
The highlight of my work was when my son joined one of my events and people were able to see him and hear from him directly. They asked him thought provoking questions and he was open and honest with his answers. It was so incredibly powerful!
Afterward he told me how much it meant to him to be part of it – a full circle moment for us both. Just a few short years ago he could barely speak about what he was going through and now he’s helping other families. We kept saying, if we just help one person, one family, that’s all that matters.
I’ve learned that people want to be themselves – they don’t want to fake it all day – they just need to feel comfortable opening up. When we show people kindness and compassion it can change their day and their lives. We don’t have to be so hard and stoic – it’s okay to be human - even at work. In fact, it’s not just okay, it’s necessary.
Whether you're just starting your career, you're a long time veteran or anywhere in between, please, keep insisting that employers see you and take care of you – physically and mentally.
Together we can be sure that companies take notice and offer help. Together, we can make a difference for one person, one family and that truly is all that matters!