Those closest to me are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, parental neglect, and rape. Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, cPTSD, depression, anxiety, and ADHD have been documented in files and on reports for those I love. Being the partner, parent, sister, and friend to those struggling with these conditions can be hard. My tendency has always been to be there for others, while putting my own emotional needs aside. As a result, I have not always been successful at maintaining my own mental health.
Let's take a step back for a second and align on some definitions:
Mental Illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, behavior, or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others. (1)
Mental Health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. (2)
To clarify, having mental health struggles is not the same as being diagnosed with a mental health condition. In addition, the support needed is often distinctly different for those struggling with a mental illness compared to those struggling with their mental health.
So why do I bring this topic up? Wasn't World Mental Health Day just last month?
To address the latter question first: National Mental Health Awareness Day is in October and Mental Health Awareness Month is in May. But why I bring it up now is this: like your physical health, mental health doesn't get "fixed" for the long term with one trip to the gym or one trip to the therapist's office. Discussions around mental health should occur more often. And especially at this time of year, while many of us, myself included, love the food, the drink; dealing with our families, the travel, the unhealthy choices, can take a toll on us.
It's not new information that the holidays can bring a lot of stuff up for people.
For those struggling with mental illness, like those closest to me I mentioned before, the difficulty of this season can often be compounded with past traumas, decrease in daylight, lack of physical exertion, bringing up old family patterns or wounds, etc.
So what do we do about it?
As individuals we can:
Better understand our own mental health. When you talk with friends and family about being healthy, you are probably referring to your weight, your blood pressure, or your exercise level - all components of physical health. Take a few minutes and think about your mental health - ask yourself:
How am I feeling today?
What's been worrying me lately?
What am I doing to bring myself joy?
Give yourself grace. Mental health is a spectrum that can ebb and flow (we're not all able to go out and run a 5k on a whim either, right?). Understand that you will have great mental health days (or moments) and terrible ones too. That is ok. Give yourself the grace to not be perfect all of the time.
Be the creator of joy. A few weeks ago I wrote about how to take even just a few minutes to be the creator of your own joy - whether that is a delicious cup of coffee or a walk outside. If you haven't read this, take two minutes and check it out here.
As leaders we can:
Bring the conversation into the workplace. Melissa Doman is an expert in this area and has a phenomenal book about how you can, and should, bring conversations about mental health into the workplace. Check it out here. (No, this is not a paid advertisement, but as I have shared before, if I am not the right person to help you or your organization, I hope to point you to someone who can.)
Share your experience. Being vulnerable can be scary. It is also a great way to build trust. The leader of a construction organization recently shared to his entire staff that he often struggled with taking too much on himself and not using his teammates around him. And that he wanted to get better at that. The response was overwhelmingly supportive, and even better, his sharing enabled others to speak up about their own challenges.
Give your employees grace. While your employees may not have a mental illness, they may be supporting someone who is. Regardless of how close you are to them, they are facing challenges you know nothing about. (Trust me, none of my previous managers had a clue what I just shared with you at the start of this post.) Check in with your employees, ask them how you can best support them. Then give them a little grace if they are struggling.
Regardless of whether you are working on your own mental health, supporting those around you, or leading an organization, there is work that you can do. And it is the good work. The work of making your life, and those around you, better.
Can you think of a better gift to give yourself this holiday season?