Monday 18 March 2013


“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, 'There now, hang on, you'll get over it.' Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”   ~ Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

In my last post I spoke about attending the Canadian Mental Health Association's Bottom Line Conference on Mental Health in the Workplace. It was for me, an inspiring event. To be surrounded by people committed to learning about mental health issues was pretty wonderful.

Yes, there were many kindred souls in attendance but here is the surprising thing - there were some who were not exactly on board with the whole idea of mental illness as "illness". And they weren't really buying into the concept of workplace accommodation.

Surprise! At a conference focused on raising awareness about mental health issues impacting Canadian society and the workplace today, there were "non-believers". Hmm. I guess our insular community was just reminded as to why we were there after all.

I spent day two of the conference in an all day session called Advanced Strategies led by Laura Allen. The session was about how to have conversations about mental illness in the workplace. It's an important topic and not an easy one to address.

If you see an employee show up at work with a cast on a broken arm, it's pretty easy to have a conversation about it. If you think that someone you work with is suffering from a mental illness, well, that's a whole other kettle of fish.

As the participants in the room began to discuss the topic, I was surprised by some of the things that I heard. A shop steward from a large union said that employees having performance issues as a result of mental illness deserved a "slap upside of the head."

When discussing possible workplace accommodation scenarios for those returning to work, another participant said that other employees would want to "get depression" so that they could have it easy at work, too. "Get depression." Oh, boy. One thing that I can say with 100% certainty is that there is nothing easy about depression.

I have also had some interesting conversations with colleagues at work lately - some very open, honest conversations about their perceptions of me and of depression. I have heard some things that I am less than overjoyed about but here's the thing that I am happy about: we are talking.

I made a commitment to myself that I would be open and with that comes the good and the bad. The less that I shy away from tough conversations and the misconceptions and alternate opinions that others may have, the better for the conversation. And the better the conversation, the sooner we raise awareness of mental illness as illness, because that is what it is.

Back to the classroom and the conversations that we were having as a group. The number one concern amongst the group was fear: fear of starting these conversations, fear of not knowing what to say, and fear of not having the answers. Yes, it is scary to talk about mental illness but we can't keep shying away from it.

Make no mistake about it, mental illness is a huge cost both from an economic standpoint but also from a human standpoint. People die from depression just like they die from cancer. We cannot accept that.

So start talking, ask questions, and keep talking. Put your judgements and preconceived notions aside and listen, just listen. I bet we will all learn something.

KB xo


  1. Wow, Kristin! I marvel at your patience! The attitudes you have described are just the kind of bully-boy thinking that contributes to higher suicide rates. I find this very, very scary.

  2. It's tough to hear, for sure. But this is exactly why we need to continue the conversation, so that we can eliminate the misconceptions and stigma. It kind of just inspires me to keep going! Thanks for your comments!

  3. I'm also impressed with your patience but thank goodness for events like this that are reminders that even among 'our people' there are still people who we need to keep talking to about our experiences!

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. People often fear what they don't understand. Fear can generate reactive responses, especially when the person has learned to dismiss feelings. All learning is preceded by struggle. Thank you for your work toward letting in the light of awareness and understanding.


"Eating Disorders: What Are We Truly Hungry For?"

    For two years in my 30's I had an eating disorder: bulimia. It took me ten years to admit that to anyone, even my doctor. I f...