Who are you, and why did you decide to share your story?
I am a woman in my mid-thirties and I work in the humanitarian sector. During a recent long-term field assignment, I experienced what I later discovered to be burnout. At the time I had little knowledge about this mental health issue, so for a long time I simply ignored the signals my mind and my body were sending me.
By sharing my experience, I’d like to shed light on burnout, its symptoms and its consequences. In my sector there is still a lot of stigma around it, so I think that reading about others’ stories may be of help to those going through (or suspecting they are going through) the same experience.
While I’ve often talked about the negative circumstances you can encounter in the workplace and how these contribute to mental health problems, it’s also important to talk about the positive experiences to counterbalance that. After all it’s not all doom and gloom and there are plenty of experiences to show there is hope when it comes to finding a workplace that is good for your mental health.
Previously I talked about the idea that mental health is bad for your career, in fact busting the myth wide open. But along with this commonplace myth come a load of other issues. Enter: secrecy around mental health at work.
While the topic is gaining momentum, we’re still not in a place where people openly volunteer information about their mental health in the workplace. Thanks to COVID19 I’ve seen the media and employers paying far more attention to mental health, which means companies are looking for ways to address the issue and bring mental wellbeing to the forefront of their agenda. I couldn’t be more excited!
One of the main challenges with mental health and people feeling comfortable speaking up is that there is still a lot of stigma around it. We’ve definitely made progress but we’re not yet in a place where you can openly say to your employer “I suffer from depression” without being afraid of getting fired.
So today I want to address this common myth that mental health is bad for your career and break it down. Why do we believe this, what are the fears and most importantly, how do we overcome it?
This topic is close to my heart as I’ve been unemployed, and have experience with the ups and downs that come with it. Now due to coronavirus things are different: many people have lost their jobs unexpectedly, perhaps overnight or without much warning. This creates difficult conditions in which to be searching for a new job, not to mention the mental health struggles that come with it.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post on the topic of mental health at work. Understandably a lot of other things have happened the past few months, but this remains my core area of interest and where I want to break down barriers. I decided it was time I got back to it, and was listening to Esther Perel’s podcast “How’s work” when this topic came to mind.
Today I want to share another chapter of my mental health journey. This one happened towards the beginning so it was still early days and I didn’t know how to deal with this type of situation. Not to mention that nothing like this had ever happened to me before so of course, novel territory on all accounts.
Back in November 2019 I attended the Women in Tech Regatta and was inspired by several of the talks I attended. One of them was around “Integrating career and parenthood” and as I was sitting there, I felt that it touched upon some of the tensions we face in the workplace when battling with our mental health regardless of whether we are parents or not.
This got me thinking of the work-life balance again, and how we can create work environments that are favourable to managing the different roles we have in life.
There’s a lot of information out there about burnout, but have you ever stopped to think about what it really means? What is the message being sent to you from your mind and body when you burn out?
We can talk a lot about the circumstances that lead to burnout and in fact it’s easy to blame others, particularly employers. They overwork us, they don’t see us for who we are, etc. etc. But let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what the burnout was trying to tell us. This is something we don’t talk about so often, and yet it’s crucial if we want to be better able to understand and prevent burnout.
Editor’s note: at the end of September, I attended a talk run by Creative Mornings Amsterdam where Alex spoke on the topic “Muse”. He ended up talking quite a bit about mental health and I was really inspired by his presentation. Afterwards, I decided to ask him if he’d be willing to contribute to my blog, and you can see his thoughts below.
In previous blog posts or videos, I’ve talked a bit about a toxic work environment. And while I worked at Impraise, I got to study a lot about what makes a good company culture. Yet it only occurred to me not so long ago that there is more than one type of negative or toxic work environment, which is what I’d like to talk about today.
I used to believe that a toxic work environment was the classic “Devil wears Prada” or “Horrible bosses”: people getting yelled at, intimidated, and whole bunch of fear tactics.
In my last two blog posts I’ve been talking about our relationship with work and how it affects our mental health. Generally speaking, the workplace has a huge impact on us – including our mental health. Working in a negative environment can be really detrimental. If everyone around you is demotivated or unhappy in their jobs, or if everyone is extremely stressed… no matter what it is, it will affect you.
A topic that’s been on my mind for a while is our definition of success, particularly when it comes to our professional lives. Ultimately, I believe it’s the source of a lot of stress, and can end up being the cause of burnout and other mental health issues we experience at work.
I often joke that I have PTSD from some of my previous assignments, but if I’m honest with myself, there is some truth to it.
Of course it’s not as extreme as for example, for war veterans or victims of abuse – but I genuinely believe that you can leave a work experience feeling scarred. The negative experience and consequences you carry with you can feel traumatic and affect your behaviour in your new workplace and with colleagues, which of course, you don’t want. So today on the blog, I want to tackle the topic of workplace trauma.
Cue: this ridiculous stock image is certainly not the right answer.
One of the reasons we’re still struggling to address mental health issues, is because of the stigma that comes with them.
In the past (and probably still today), telling someone you were seeing a psychologist was often met with raised eyebrows as if to say “oh no! They must be crazy” or “they must have serious issues”. Same with the word depression, people have a concerned look and are worried your’e suicidal, don’t know how to respond, take pity on you or are worried you’re going to become a burden.