If I said to you that I had a sore arm what would your immediate thoughts be?
Why are you telling me?
I don’t know much about arms.
What if just talking about it makes your arm feel worse?
What if I say the wrong thing and your arm falls off?
If I said to you I was feeling depressed, would you worry that you were expected to make a diagnosis or to find a cure? Or would you ask me what it feels like? Would you listen?
Someone once described depression to me as being trapped inside their own head. If a conversation bursts that bubble of isolation and enables that person to make a connection, they are being helped. Listening with compassion and empathy, and without judgement can be so powerful.
And yes, Laughologists can be depressed. Anyone can experience a mental health problem. Our mental health fluctuates, just as our physical health does. It is influenced by internal and external factors.
There is a conversation that has stayed with me for twenty years. A friend noticed that I was depressed. He had a physical disability and had just had a bereavement. I felt guilty feeling the way I did when I hadn’t been through anything like what he had, and I told him that.
“What a load of rubbish,” he said. “The way you feel right now is real. What I’ve been through doesn’t make it any less real.”
He was right. And this realisation in itself has been so helpful. Whenever I struggle instead of fighting or denying the way I feel, I accept it and I am kind to myself, and this makes it easier to cope, and to get better.
Sometimes mental health problems are triggered by circumstance and sometimes our mental health dips for no apparent reason, which might lead to unhelpful views such as: “I don’t have anything to be sad about.”
Or there could be views from others: “I’d love to have depression. I don’t have time.”
Nobody loves to have depression or anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder, or bipolar. Mental health problems are not personal weaknesses to be indulged.
Backstage at a stand-up gig earlier this year, another act who doesn’t know me that well stopped me mid- sentence and said: “Kerry, are you OK?”. I wasn’t. She gave me a hug and told me she’s a very good listener if I ever wanted to talk. I wasn’t ready to talk at the time, but she connected with me, and it helped. I was still good at my job. I went on stage and made people laugh, because I know how to, and I am good at it. Whilst depression might mean doing my job requires more conscious effort, it doesn’t make me any less capable.
A new survey of 2000 workers which was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation for World Mental Health Day (Tuesday 10th October) has revealed that 38% of British workers wouldn’t talk openly about a mental health problem for fear it would affect their job prospect or security.
Just as with physical health, sometimes a mental health problem may be so impactful that a person requires time off work, but often this isn’t the case and is less likely when there is a mentally healthy culture in the workplace. Work provides a daily routine, a focus and a sense of purpose, as well as social network that helps keep us mentally healthy. It provides that connection.
Creating a Mentally Healthy Environment
- Ask how people are and mean it, and listen*.
- Find out what resources you have at work. Do you have any in-house counselling available, or a helpline number? Often organisations have these resources but not all employees are aware of them.
- Find out what local resources are available and make this information visible and accessible on posters and on your intranet.
- Is there a quiet place where people can have time out? Do people know it exists? Do they feel like they are ‘allowed’ to use it?
*How to Become an Even Better Listener
- Be present – screens off; no distractions.
- Don’t interrupt. This can include not interrupting a silence. It can take a few moments between sentences when someone is sharing something they find difficult to talk about.
- Be mindful of projecting your own experience. It can be more useful to say things like: “That must be really difficult for you,” rather than “Oh I know just how you feel.”
- Clarify that you’ve understood what the other person is telling you by summarising. If you’re unsure what they mean, say so, and let them know that you want to understand.
- If the other person doesn’t want to talk, let them know you are available for when they might be ready.
Kerry Leigh - is one of our most experienced and sought-after consultants and facilitators,