There has been a lot on the news ever since Robin Williams death about suicide and depression. We often hear about people “going off the deep end” (where did this expression come from anyway?). In general however, mental illness is a secret illness, one that does not garner the attention of ALS, with people dumping ice over their heads; the elite esthetic of breast cancer; or the macho bravismo of a month of facial hair for prostate cancer. But that is fine, fundraising campaigns wont erase the stigma that is attached to a mental illness and that is where I have a bone to pick.
Don’t ask, Don’t tell. It is amazing how different medical and psychiatric illnesses get treated, not just in the workplace. I think some of the problem is that all too often because it’s an invisible illness and people tend to the stoic, its hard for people to believe that so and so could be suffering in such a way, and often its seen as escapism or a weakness. 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems in their lifetime, not everyone needs to miss work, not everyone finds themselves in a hospital and some never even find their way into treatment but regardless, suffering is suffering. And chances are that person you are whispering about feels worse about their illness than you do about them try to be nice, supportive and recognize that their stay for depression, bipolar, eating disorder, schizophrenia, is the same as if they had appendicitis. You would be surprised how many top employees suffer, their resiliency keeps them going but does not make it easier.
As a manager, I know that there is a good chance I have employees and colleagues who have dealt with mental illness and in fact in the past tense people do tend to be fairly open about it. Current tense, as in “my job performance is suffering, it is because I am dealing with clinical depression” is more rare, the person suffering is liable to say something more along the lines of “I am so sorry I am falling behind in my work, I haven’t been sleeping well, my kids are exhausting, so I am really tired, I am going to get back on track” This is entirely plausible so why dig deeper? I could but I have learned that in my role I cannot be both someones boss and their therapist, despite my clinical background. We have an EAP, and I regularly refer people to it. The service is there, but that does not mean that the attitude is, or that stigma doesn’t exist. I have heard lots of derogatory terms tossed about in regards to psychiatry. Negative implicit attitudes towards people who are or have been off for psychiatric reasons. I will be the first to admit, I do not think that psychiatric conditions, true mental illnesses rather than a stress reaction, with the exception of PTSD should be workers comp claims, but not everyone on sick leave is paid by workers comp.
What people do not often realize is that the best and the brightest often have traits that make them extremely susceptible to mental health problems. But it is also what makes them good at their jobs. It is also what keeps them from admitting to the problem, sometimes until it is too late.
What about parents, particularly parents of older children, there is so much information and resources about postpartum depression and some about postpartum psychosis. But there is very little about depression in a parent of an older child, and what is available from academia anyway is very discouraging, all of a sudden not only does the parents whole world seem black and dark and hopeless, they feel like they have doomed their children to the same life because research seems to indicate the child of someone with a mental illness, the offspring of depressed mothers, are at higher risk of depression and mental health problems. This is scary stuff.
Yet, mental illness is still taboo. It is still stigmatized, even within the health care community. No one wants to hear about it. They will bring flowers, cards, gifts and loving attention when your heart, lungs or other vital organs are compromised, but the psychological, which does FYI come from an organ, the brain, a pretty essential one too, that well that just gets a quick uncomfortable “get well soon” and to get back to the workplace the risk of losing ones job.
What/whom do you think of when you hear Mental Illness?
I am sure you are not picturing your role model, favourite celebrity, childhood hero, boss, employee or best friend. But it’s entirely possible that they have or are suffering from one of the many mental illnesses that lurk invisibly among us.
It is time to change your perceptions.
As a thank you for listening to my views on a very serious problem, here is a delicious recipe of sunshine and happiness. Tabbouleh is my happy food. I am still trying to mimic the tabbouleh of my childhood, true Lebanese tabbouleh, the kind I can still only get in sit down expensive Lebanese restaurants Daou and Ezo. This recipe is not part of that process however, it was an attempt to make a quick lunchbox for the kids that would be fresh and delightful. It turned out wonderfully, took only 15min to toss together, and the fresh ingredients photograph beautifully so here you are:
And its another allergen-free special.
Serves: 4-6 Prep time: 15min Cook time: NONE
1 bunch parsley (just the leaves, remove all stems)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1 small red onion (for milder taste use a green onion)
1 19oz can of no-salt added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
Remove the leaves from the parsley and mint, discard the stems. wash and dry well. Put in food processor with the red onion (roughly chopped) and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped. put in bowl and add the chickpeas.
Mix the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and allspice together and pour over the salad, mix well.