Dear HR: Is it Really Safe to Talk about Our Mental Health?

 

A year ago, I would have said no to writing this. But last year, I was inspired to talk about my mental health with a stranger after they told me about their struggles, and it was the most liberating life-changing experience.

You see, if you talk openly about your story, you never know who you might inspire and, as a result, change their life. What if that means the difference between someone giving up or deciding to keep going? I’ve had the thought many times…what if that person didn’t share their story with me? Would I be brave enough to share mine?

I’ve been hiding my mental illness out of fear of being stigmatized. And I wonder why employees are afraid to candidly talk about mental health the way we do about our physical health. One in 5 people will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime, but how many people have had a conversation about how they are suffering in silence?

Why does no one talk about how long it takes to manage your illness and become stable? Is it because hearing that it can take an average of 8-10 years makes recovery sound unattainable? It took me more than 15 years, so I know how that feels. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect, and there is no reason to be ashamed.

This is My Life

I live with bipolar. To be clear, I am not bipolar; I have bipolar. I didn’t accept that until the age of 26. At first, there was a fear of becoming dull and a shell of myself if I took medication. Was that a risk I was willing to take? For me, it was the only option if I wanted to stay alive and live a happy and fulfilling life. Acceptance and medication were the first steps to recovery.

The last seven years have taught me that I possess the power to create the life I want for myself. Pills help, but I also have to get enough sleep, exercise, journal, practice gratitude, have a daily affirmation, read self-help books, try to eat well, stay hydrated, see my therapist once a week, and a psychiatrist once a month. I have to put in the hard work every single day, and even then, I don’t always succeed. There are days that I can’t get out of bed, and the only thing I accomplished that day was making it to the couch. There have been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but the journey has made me the strong person I am today.

Keep Going

Fighting mental illness is a daily struggle. My latest battle has been surviving the pandemic—a situation that has been less than ideal for my mental health. It’s a safe assumption to say many people feel this way right now. At times, I’ve felt that I might lose my mental stability and end up at a hospital’s psych ward, again. There are days when I feel unproductive compared to two months ago. That’s when I remind myself that I’m doing the best I can, because the world I used to call “normal” is gone.

My new normal sometimes means being on a Zoom call for work but keeping my camera off because my face is red and puffy from crying with tears still streaming down my face. These are the days when I wish I didn’t have bipolar. If it wasn’t for years of therapy, I wouldn’t be forcing myself to search for the silver linings by reframing my negative thoughts into something positive.

But I’ve also come to realize that some pretty great things have happened during this pandemic. I’ve reconnected with old friends, and am finding new ways to keep my body and mind healthy. I’m also learning to be kind and not beat myself up when I’m not feeling “perfect.” On those hard days, I turn to my inner circle of friends and say, “I don’t think I’m ok. I need someone to talk to.” They will remind me that it’s going to be ok. They’re there for me, and I need that in my life.

What's Next

This pandemic could be the opportunity we’ve been waiting for—creating a world where stigma around mental health is no longer accepted by society, because more of us are opening up about our experiences. It’s ok to not be ok every day, but doing your best doesn’t mean pushing yourself to the point of a mental breakdown.

And you are not “crazy” or “unstable” because you had a bad day. Surround yourself with those people that make you feel happy, and check in on each other. Feeling like someone cares about you can be the difference between suicidal thoughts and finding a reason worth living for.

Keep in mind that things will always get worse before they get better. What if tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life? Wouldn’t that make it all worth it? I never thought I’d reach that point, but here I am, and I can tell you it was worth it!

Share Your Story

I've come out the other end, so let me be the stranger in your life that inspires you to talk about your mental health. Has my life been perfect? Not even close! But I’ve learned that suffering can have a happy ending. It’s made me realize that even though mental illness is part of who I am, it does not define me.

The only way I’ve ever felt free from my illness is when I stopped hiding my truth in an effort to not make people feel uncomfortable. I know it’s easy to wish you didn’t have a mental illness when things are down, but it feels pretty great when you realize that the pain and struggle make you a badass.

Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.
COMMENTS 1

Comments

Thank you for sharing your story. As an HR professional, during our benefits open enrollment this year I shared my own struggle with depression. We were adding a new Employee Assistance Program ,and I wanted employees to know that it is okay to get help and talk about it. I agree I was nervous about the potential career impact, but I felt the opportunity to help outweighed that. So yes, it is okay to talk about it.

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