It’s 5:30 a.m. My heart is racing, my thoughts are scurrying, and I experience an impending sense of doom as I ask myself, “What the hell am I going to write in this blog post?”
Should I include key statistics such like “1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness”? Should I make it more personal? If I make it more personal, am I going to be judged or treated differently, or will my reliability be questioned? Will this make my coworkers uncomfortable?
Today, as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve been on the internet at all, is Bell’s annual Let’s Talk day — a way to get people talking and raise awareness about mental health as it affects Canadians. So… let’s talk.
This is not the first time I have woken up with anxiety. In fact, it’s pretty common — certainly more common than I would like. I have suffered from mental illness since I was about twelve years old, and in the past couple of years I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder.
When I was a student, I was able to manage my symptoms to the best of my ability. On my darkest days, I would just skip class to avoid the possibility of being singled out, and avoid the possibility of another student trying to talk to me. Luckily, I was one of those students who did not need to go to class every day to get good grades. But after school was finished, that’s when I struggled the most.
I got engaged, moved into a brand-new condo, and scored myself a co-op position in Human Resources with the possibility of being hired on permanently. All of these things deserved great celebration, but all the while I couldn’t help asking myself “How the hell am I going to cope with the pressures of adulthood?”
I toughed it out for a long while. I was hired on as a full-time employee and even got promoted within my first two years of employment. Things were looking up. However, just a few short months after my promotion I began experiencing deep lulls of depression and anxiety. There would be many days where I just could not drag myself out of bed. I would just lay there, numb, tearful, feeling hopeless, worthless, and helpless.
How was I to communicate this to my manager? In the past I had the courage to tell a former manager about my mental illness, and was told to “just get over it” and “just put an end to the things in your life that make you feel that way.” I didn’t want to tell my current boss or my coworkers the truth about my mental illness because of the stigma coupled with the overwhelming mixture of shame, failure and inadequacy.
This also prevented me from seeking the help I needed, which eventually — inevitably, really — led to a major breakdown. Things got so bad that I had to take a short-term medical leave from work. When I returned, unfortunately, things did not improve. I ended up being a one-person team having to take on a major work load. The company was not willing to spend the money to hire another resource. Also by this point I had exhausted my benefits coverage and the five free counselling sessions offered by my employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). That just added more stress that almost led me to another mental health crisis. Finally, I made the decision to move on to a smaller company with a less corporate feel. A place where I wasn’t just an employee number.
That turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
My new employer, TextNow, is a local based company with many wellness offerings that aim to improve both the physical and mental health of its employees. That’s great, don’t get me wrong, but TextNow also has a culture that is supportive of mental health and relatively free from stigma. I was able to create a mental health Slack channel (Slack is our internal communication tool) for employees to share their thoughts, research, and personal experiences when it comes to mental health and mental illness. A few employees I have spoken to really appreciate TextNow’s support of mental health — these specific employees felt that they were fully supported by their manager and their team, especially when going through a difficult time. They felt that, in some way, TextNow had their back.
From a personal standpoint, I was able to host a mental health Lunch n’ Learn where we went over how mental health is defined, current stigmas towards mental illness, and the mental health resources available. TextNow also covered the cost of a Mental Health First Aid training course I took offsite, and that has strengthened my position as an HR Professional and, as a nice side-effect, has helped me better understand my own mental illness.
The TextNow office itself provides quiet working spaces. That doesn’t sound like much, but it means you don’t always have to be sitting at your desk — one of my favourite places to work is in one of the small cubbies in our collaboration hub. These quiet spaces not only allow employees to improve their mental health, but it also allows employees to focus on their productivity.
Since I started at TextNow, I have become somewhat of a mental health advocate, which is probably why I was asked to write this blog post. (You think? — Ed.) I still experience bad days, heck even bad weeks. I know mental illness will likely affect me for the rest of my life. But I also know I’m fully supported by my team, my boss, and my company. As a mental health advocate, I hope others can relate to this blog post and I hope it helps alleviate the stigma that is still present in a lot of workplaces.
I hope other companies can learn from TextNow and provide their employees with more than just an EAP and limited benefits coverage. It takes a great culture, flexibility, and programs focused on employee wellness to ensure the mental health of a company’s employees. Before all that happens, though, your employer needs to care, and have awareness of the very real issues surrounding mental health in the workplace. Posts like this are just the beginning.