The quality of conversations with Line Manager’s during episodes when our Mental Health is challenged can make a difference.
If you are reading this blog you are likely to know I am a Resilience and Mindfulness Coach, and may have read previous blogs about performance, presure and how Mindful Resilience can give us the space to Lead ourselves and others. I am privileged to work with my clients helping to build their Resilience capabilities and be at their best.
I am often asked how I became resilient, what interested me in this topic, and on the anniversary of my Mum’s suicide last year I decided to share some insights about why I am passionate about pro-active Resilience versus reactive health management.
I was not ready to talk about my own family’s experience with suicide for a long time. As part of our support for it’s Time to Talk day tomorrow – I want to share some my personal experiences – as well as some guidelines from our training programmes aimed at Line Managers – in the hope it will help us all start to think about what a good conversation around mental health can look like.
In the 8 years of running my own business, the financial challenges alongside those of parenthood I experienced an episode of mild depression in 2017. I also suffered with some extreme anxiety symptoms following a serious accident my daughter had in 2017.
One of the key things that have sustained me in order to Bounce-Back is the knowledge that these challenges to my mental health have caused me issues, but they are surmountable with the right support. I know from living with a parent’s extreme mental health challenges, the difference between a natural human reaction to stressful life events, and a more serious and potentially life threatening one. I knew I would come through the other side; I reached out to a small number of trusted colleagues and friends and upped my daily Mindfulness practices to give me a greater cushion of support.
It was through my own period of physical illness 10 years ago that I became really interested in Resilience within a performance context. Those who know me or have worked with me describe me as hard working, resilient and ambitious but that does not mean that I am immune to mental or physical health challenges. I may have externally seemed to cope well with the sudden death of my parents, but a sense of loss still invades me – and having campaigns like its Time to Talk and National Grief Awareness Day’s provides a platform to start to talk about those natural human emotions.
To give some brief context to my challenges and how this impacted work and home – I had been Mum’s main carer for 16 years following my Dad’s unexpected heart attack. I rarely spoke about either my Dad’s death or the challenges I faced caring for Mum at work or with friends. During those times when Mum’s mental health was in crisis my career was taking off, I found the Resilience to cope and still be a successful employee and at two of my employers I was identified as high potential talent – performing well in the workplace – yet at home I was struggling!
The quality of conversations with my Line Managers during those times made a huge difference. A simple supportive comment the 1st time Mum was sectioned – “you seemed a bit quiet in that meeting – is everything ok?” started a helpful conversation with my Line Manager and gave me the opportunity to talk about the challenges and get some good advice. If you are a Line Manager and want some suggestions to start a conversation these may be helpful starting point:
1 How is this change at home affecting you?
2 What helps you stay resilient?
3 What prevents you?
4 What can I do to support you?
5 Are there warning signs that might help us notice?
6 What could make the most difference to you right now?
The second time Mum’s mental health was in severe crisis I had a much bigger job and having returned from 48 hours of leave of absence organising sectioning Mum, my Line Manager was deeply uncomfortable with the topic of Mental Health and said, “I don’t want to come to your desk as I dread to think what will happen next”. I know from colleagues that she deeply regretted the comment and acknowledged that to me later. In hindsight – she just didn’t know how to start the conversation, and so came out with something blunt and unhelpful because of her own discomfort or lack of training around the topic of Mental Heath.
As a society, we now speak more openly about mental health and suicide. I am sharing my story to role model the openness, honesty and greater disclosure around mental health I advocate for. To help reduce the stigma, show others that it is possible to be resilient through challenging circumstances, and to demonstrate how much impact a Manager can have.
As a Line Manager – knowing some of the warning signs to look out for can be helpful – these could include:
• Maintaining a fast pace at home and at work
• Feeling tired and/or reduced ability to relax
• Loss of clear thinking and ability to focus
• Withdrawing from colleagues and supportive connections
• Focusing on the negative
• Making unhealthy lifestyle choices
• Loss of confidence
• Struggle to motivate self and others
• Struggling for perfection
• Team conflict
If you are struggling with emotions because of suicide or mental health in the family I would encourage you, however hard or scary it might feel, to start a conversation with someone.
An inclusive working environment includes talking about mental health in however small or large way. It is ok to say I am not ok – its ok to start the conversation and it helps to talk. If you are a Manager who has a concern about one of your team – some further tips to start an I’ve noticed conversation are:
• Look for a private setting
• Acknowledge any uncertainty in yourself
• Start with a simple – How are you?
• Or if this feels to broad – Can you tell me what has happened?
• Listen; aim to leave a gap once your colleague has finished speaking
• If the individual is struggling – Can you tell me a bit more?
• What can I do to help?
• What would you like to happen next?
• Have you spoken to your Doctor?
Thank you for reading this blog. In partnership with Dr Chloe Mitchell the Resilience Formula have developed a range of Mental Health Awareness training sessions ranging from bite-sized learning to full Line Manager capability programmes to raise your capacity as an organisation to truly start to talk about Mental Health in a way that will make a sustained difference. Do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.