Sunday, 26 January 2014

"Let's Talk at Work"

Winston Churchill #quotes

What do legendary politician Winston Churchill, Olympian Clara Hughes, and me (sixth grade Summit Elementary Citizenship Award winner) have in common? We all chose to tell a story, our own personal story. That story? Of depression.

In my last post I spoke about how difficult it can be to open up and speak about illnesses that remain, for the most part, shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding. It's uncomfortable to talk about mental illness, both for the majority of people who have one and certainly for those who don't.

For the most part people have been kind and empathetic towards me. They have wanted to understand what my journey is and they have wanted to provide comfort. But they often felt so uncomfortable with the idea of saying the wrong thing and upsetting me, that they didn't say or do anything at all. I understand that - absolutely. But we will never truly conquer stigma if we don't make ourselves just a little bit uncomfortable. And when I say 'we', I mean people on both sides of the story. We need to be more willing to listen and to share.

I am going to approach the 'Let's Talk' idea from a workplace perspective. It's a natural one for me since my chosen career is in the field of human resources. Oh, and workplace mental health issues typically account for 30% of disability claims and are rising. Kind of a big deal.

I was recently invited to chat informally with a small group of managers in my organization. I wasn't there as the 'Official Human Resources Expert On All Things Mental Health Related'. I was there simply as a person sharing a human experience. There weren't many questions and I think that's because the discomfort is still fairly high - we don't always know where or how to start. But there was one excellent, stand out question: "How do we have these conversations with an employee who we think is ill?"

Don't wait. Don't wait until you think that person is ill. OK, don't panic! I am not asking managers to hone their psychic abilities and predict who will become ill and when. But if you want to support that person, there are a few things to do first.

Build Trust
This is a big one that is not always easy for managers; however, without it you will never be able to really talk about this subject in an effective way. An employee will never share their diagnosis or struggles with you if they don't feel that they will be respected. I am going to let Forbes explain how to build trust effectively with five really great tips.

Talk About Mental Health
Did you notice that I said talk about mental health? Start in the shallow end of the pool. Speak with your employees about wellness and mental health before diving into the deep end of mental illness. Normalize the topic and make it something that you and your team feel comfortable speaking about on a regular basis. Here are some ways to do that:
* Add a standing agenda item on your team meetings where you talk about wellness.
* Start a wellness challenge amongst your team.
* Dedicate a bulletin board in the office to facts and tips about wellness and mental health.

Provide Resources
An organization's employee and family assistance program (EAFP) is often an underutilized resource. We often associate an EAFP with something that you use in a really difficult situation: illness; death of a loved one. But many are actually a lot more than that. Yes, there are some great resources to help you through the most challenging of times, but there are also resources to help you throug the everyday stuff: how to have difficult conversations in the workplace, how to manage your physical health, and how to support your mental health. Employers invest a lot of money into an EAFP - it's time we got more out of them. So promote, promote, promote - with one caution for managers. Don't do it in a way that the employee feels that you are just washing your hands of the 'problem'.

Admit What You Don't Know
If you have never experienced mental illness you likely don't know what it truly feels like. And that is OK. In fact, even though I have experienced anxiety attacks and three major depressive episodes in my 20 plus years of mental illness, I still don't presume to know exactly how someone else feels. So let's start there. Try saying something like this, "I see that you are going through something. I don't know what it is or exactly how you are feeling but I care about you and I want to support you." It's amazing what a bit of empathy, compassion and honesty can do in this world.

Yes, I am among some very esteemed company. The interesting thing about this club to which I belong is that it does not discriminate. Mental illness doesn't just choose white females who were born on a Sunday. Nope - it chooses Olympians, actors, writers, politicians, moms, kids, rich and poor. It includes 20% of Canadians. So let's stop avoiding this topic and let's start talking about it.

On Tuesday, January 28th please join me and many others as we take the conversation to a new level on Bell Let's Talk Day. For more information about this great initiative, please click here.

KB xo

Sunday, 12 January 2014

"The Power of Words"

#inspiration from the #dalailama.  #quote #strength #struggle #hope #wisdom #efuneral

January is an important month for mental health advocates in Canada. Well, every month, every day in fact, is important for us - but January is special. Three years ago Bell Canada established the Let's Talk campaign. Bell isn't asking you or me for money - they'll look after that part themselves; they are well on their way to their $50 million dollar commitment. Bell is asking us to do something really simple: talk.

Is talking about mental illness simple? For me, it's pretty easy. But I have been talking about depression and anxiety for a long time. I have had a lot of practice at it. For others it's not so easy. It's not simple at all.

I have seen a shift in the perception and understanding of mental illness in the 20 or so years since I was first diagnosed. When I first began to struggle with depression I knew of a family member who had been diagnosed and perhaps a family friend or two. But that was about it. I certainly had no idea if any of my friends or colleagues were ill. Almost nobody admitted to it.

Admitted. What a word to use to describe disclosing an illness, huh? I recently read an article by Shaun Proulx that resonated with me deeply. In the article, Mental Health: Express Yourself Don't Repress Yourself, Proulx spoke about the choice of words and the use of the word admitted. When you admit to something, it's not usually a good thing. A thief admits to stealing a car. A student admits to cheating on a test. Words are powerful. Words can perpetuate stigma.

When we have an illness, regardless of what type, we should not feel ashamed. Sadly, there are far too many people in this world who are still ashamed and embarrassed to have a mental illness. More people will talk about it than they did 20 years ago or even five years ago. But that's still not good enough. I don't want people to just 'admit' to having a mental illness. I want people to feel comfortable acknowledging and openly talking about illnesses that affect their lives.

So how do we start the conversation? I have some ideas about that but I think I will save them for my next post coming very soon. In the meantime, think about the words you associate with mental illness. Can a person have an illness? Can a person be an illness? We often say that Joe is bi-polar. Do we say that Jane is cancer? Why? What is the difference? Hmmm.

Words can perpetuate stigma - yes. But they can also help us to eliminate stigma. Which side do you want to be on?

KB xo

P.S. PLEASE! If you haven't taken the Partners for Mental Health Pledge yet, please do so. It only takes a second and one click of your mouse to commit to supporting the improvement of mental health in Canada.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

"To Infinity and Beyond"

Be brave.

Do you ask for things in life? Do you understand and recognize your value? Do you set limitations and see imaginary boundaries in front of you?

It's very easy to fall into a rut in life. Driving the same route to work every day, planning the same vacations with the same friends, reading the same type of book over and over again. Eating chicken on Tuesdays and sushi on Fridays. Are you living life in your comfort zone? That's OK. It's called a comfort zone for a reason - comfort feels nice. But do you want more from your life? Do you even think that there is more to life? Do you think you deserve more?

Here's the truly great thing about experiencing severe depression (yes, I said truly great) - it brings with it lessons and messages. The catch is that you need to be open to them, have the courage to listen to them. That's often a hard thing. I speak from experience.

One of the big lessons that I have learned in the past three years of living with depression has been that I am far stronger than I ever knew. I am at a point in my life where I have found that inner strength to stand up for not only what I believe in but also for ME. I am less inclined to go with the flow and more inclined to ask for what I need in life. That feels pretty good. Actually, that feels great.

I have no new resolutions for 2014. I resolved long ago to put my health first and I am not straying from that path. I will continue to cultivate my own cozy little comfort zone but with an eye to not letting it get too big or too cozy. Sometimes life needs to feel uncomfortable in order for us to grow and to be truly happy and healthy.

I am still learning, through trial and error, which comforts to keep and which ones to let go. The question that I ask myself is this: does this serve me in my life? Is it holding me back or moving me forward? Something that was a comfort in the past might not be healthy or useful for me now.

In the darkest moments of my depression I felt that I wasn't worthy of good things. That I deserved all the hard times. That's the trick that depression plays on a person - not so nice, that old black dog. But I don't believe that lie anymore. No more excuses. I have the courage now. I am asking and I am receiving. To infinity and beyond!

KB xo

P.S. It's been awhile since I shared one of my favourite songs so here's one that always leaves me "Feeling Good", sung by one of my favourite singers, Michael Buble. Enjoy!

"To New Beginnings"

Christmas and Hanukkah are over. The new year is just around the corner. Most of us are considering how we are going to get back on track...