It’s a bit like walking down a long, dark corridor never knowing when the light will go on.
Neil Lennon, Manager, Hibernian Football Club on depression
Monday 16th January 2017. Blue Monday.
It’s the day marked in each year that tends to be the most difficult for people having a hard time. It’s around the time that the cost of Christmas kicks in, before pay day, when the sun isn’t shining and the winter weather takes its toll.
Of course, it isn’t the day that it always happens for everyone. For some, every day is difficult and entails a struggle to get out of bed, get ready for work and family pressures and crack on with a normal day.
And yet, so many of us find it hard to talk about.
We fear the stigma that is so often attached to mental health issues, wondering if we will ever be trusted again if we let on that sometimes life is tough.
In business the bravado of long hours, taking on and surviving heavy workloads and competing to shine amongst peers contributes to cultures that make it the norm to appear strong at all times.
And it breaks people.
Behind a smile there may be tears. Despite portrayed energy, exhaustion may be lurking. High performance may not mean that all is well.
As business leaders we have a responsibility to enable our team to be open and honest about what is really happening in their world. This should not be a cursory and heartless ‘so HR said I should ask how you are.’ Rather it should be a culture in which you know your staff well enough to understand when something has changed, and they know you well enough to speak about how things are going.
For me, that comes from authenticity and openness about my own experiences with depression. Mine came at a time when I had a degree to complete and a busy and responsible role as well. It was a period in which I achieved a huge amount, so it came as a real shock to those around me when I finally admitted I was unwell.
I was lucky.
I had the support of peers around me, professional support to get me through and a doctor who I was able to trust in managing my recovery.
And I did recover, in fact, I thrived and came out of it to build a stronger, brighter future. Because, you see, with the right support it is possible to learn about why depression takes hold, develop methods to respond and become more resilient. I was so, so lucky and I know that I would not be the person I am now if I had not had that experience.
It will always be part of me, a risk that could reappear but in the real world so could pneumonia, or complications from a broken leg for anyone.
In the world we have now, the workplace is changing and there are so many ways that we can make working lives much easier to manage. It begins with talking about it, maybe having a coffee and a genuine chat about how someone is feeling.
It could just be the moment that brightens their day. It might even be the moment they realise they have support and can start to find their way back from a blue period.
Sandra’s story is far from unusual, depression and anxiety account for around one fifth of lost work time according to the Mental Health Foundation. Health and Wellbeing are important elements in a balanced strategy for responsible business. Talk to us about how we can help you define your way forward and join our mailing list for more stories like this.