Stigma is an interesting word. On the one hand it’s a mark of disgrace (an example given in the dictionary is in fact “the stigma of mental disorder.”) On the other hand it’s a mark of divine favor (stigmata, the plural form, appearing only on the holiest of saints like St Francis of Assisi.)
This duality perfectly reflects our feelings around mental health issues in the workplace.
On the one hand we are ashamed and won’t admit to the problem. Employees will invent physical ailments rather than admit to mental ones. It’s ok to have a flu virus but not ok to have depression. Flu is down to other peoples’ germs, whereas depression is ‘our own fault’ – that’s where the shame comes from.
On the other hand the workplace frequently has a culture that rewards the sociopath. Narcissism is passed off as ‘Self Confidence.’ Aggression is frequently associated with leadership. Stress is a badge of honor denoting service in the field.
The stigma of the victim and the stigmata of the hero.
It is said that one in four people suffer mental health issues at some point in their life, but many people are now saying this statistic is more like four in four. After all, it would be preposterous for someone to say they don’t have (or have never had) any physical health issues.
Mental stability/instability is not a black and white scenario. We all have a body – which sometimes goes out of balance and we all have a mind, and that sometimes goes out of balance as well.
It would be more appropriate to accept the situation, be open about it and promote ‘wellness’ programs. Many work places have embraced programs to promote physical health – gym memberships, showers for people who cycle to work, healthy food in the canteen. So why not have similar programs to ensure that mental health is optimized?
Oh, I forgot. It’s the stigma.
It’s time for a culture change – one that reflects the age of energy we are now living in.
In this new age of energy, we will be less interested in what appears on the surface, and more concerned about what’s going on under the surface. It stands to reason that though waves are interesting and visually distracting, there is far more power in the depths of the ocean!
In the age of energy, we will have greater transparency – energy is invisible… we feel it rather than see it.
Take the average office. There are at least some people who are failing, stressed or anxious. Rather than flagging this up there is a tendency to ignore it, citing insufficient time or “they’ll muddle through… after all, we had to…” etc. There might be judgment – direct (blame and shouting) or indirect (eye rolling and heavy sighs).
The help that is offered is usually surface – training or techniques in focus and goal setting.
Under the surface there is an awful lot of misplaced energy. The ‘victim’ will trigger repressed feelings in their colleagues – of times when they felt bullied, isolated or under valued.
Because nobody taught any of us how to have feelings while retaining the ability to function, we believe feelings in the office are at best inappropriate and at worst disastrous – after all, if we all started feeling our feelings, nothing would get done.
But this isn’t true. Teaching people to be accountable for their emotions and teaching different methods for processing these emotions effectively, ensures that problems can rise to the surface, where they can be quickly dispersed. They wouldn’t sink down into the depths to become potential tsunamis.
Our out-dated lens of perception.
We have become so unbalanced that we associate an arrogant, controlling person as someone who “knows their own mind”. This is actually the opposite of what is true! They are so uncomfortable with certain aspects of their own mind that they deny, repress or project these aspects onto others.
Someone who truly knows their own mind knows they have the potential for the full spectrum of inspiration, creativity, genius, rage, fear and despair. And they can sit comfortably with all of that. Which means they can also sit comfortably with that in others.
It’s not an effective strategy to get to the light by denying that the dark exists, or by facing one way with blinkers on, but by bringing the light to the darkness.
People with mental health issues don’t need to be marginalized or stigmatized, they just need torch bearers to light their path. They need to be included so that they can contribute their gifts to the whole – because the gifts they bring are often quite extraordinary. There may be demons in the depths, but there is also the divine.
It’s time to turn the workplace from the dated metaphor of the battlefield into a creative garden in which everyone can flourish. After all, it’s the diversity that adds the richness, the color and the contrast.
It’s time to encourage the war of art – not the art of war.
About The Author
Eleanor O’Rourke is a writer and creativity coach. She is the author of 40 Days 40 Nights – One Woman’s Quest to Reclaim her Creative Mojo and is currently finishing up her second book which explains Geometricity – how to live in a world made of energy. She believes that creativity is the birthright of every individual and that if we don’t learn to tap into that, the human species will have a tricky time evolving to the next level. You can visit her website at www.EleanorORourke.com or contact her on twitter @geometricity