The Big Mean Black Dog Shows Up at Work

Empathy Respect Well-being


Key Point: We can all benefit from increasing our personal understanding of mental wellness and illness. Today, we recognize that good mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Nor is it absolute – some people are more mentally healthy than others, whether mentally ill or not. In the work place, mental illness/wellness is becoming an increasingly important matter. Absence away from (and during) work, related to mental illness is dramatically increasing, along with the use of prescription drugs. In some cases the ending is tragic as highlighted by the recent untimely death of Oscar winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, which of course involved the daunting mental illness issues connected to addiction, opiates and other substance abuse.

Those of us fortunate enough to not be ill with an affliction in our brain, often have a difficult time understanding what it feels like. It is almost like back pain (not really obvious from the outside but aggravatingly painful at its best and totally debilitating at its worst). Depression is an example. Please watch this “Black Dog” video by the World Health Organization. It does a great job communicating the sense of dealing with depression.

After watching this, why would anyone intentionally want to feel like this? They do so because they are unwell.

We need a multi-pronged and systemic approach to confronting mental wellness/illness. Education and awareness will help. We do not expect people to hide or offer an apology when stricken with cancer, diabetes, and so on. Hoping mental sickness will go away and somehow people will just individually cope is not a solution. And for those of us not mentally sick, usually with the best intentions, we often just want people to “suck it up,” “get over it” and “grow up.” Or in our high achieving, revved up leadership mode, we just want to fix it for the other person.

Character Moves:

  1. Educate yourself and encourage the open discussion of mental wellness and illness. Help people with these issues get professional treatment.
  2. Promote or seek a balanced approach to treatment. Positive psychology is useful and it complements rather than replaces traditional therapy. While we need to work on reducing unhealthy thoughts or behaviors, there is scientific backed data on the merits of building happiness as well. As researchers noted in a recent Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, “Troubled persons want more satisfaction, contentment, and joy, not just less sadness and worry.” In addition to “fixing what’s wrong,” the researchers say, professionals can help “build what’s strong.” With encouragement, even people who are clinically depressed can still form healthy relationships and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  3. MAKE IT SAFE. Become aware of the signals that indicate the possibility of mental illness and how to connect professional help. Be supportive when the connection is made. If you are unwell mentally, also have the courage to seek help.
  4. Promote mental wellness and understand that you can work on improving mental fitness just like you can with your cardiovascular system.

Mentally well in The Triangle,