In our three decades of business, we’ve employed upwards of 50 people.
I used to count how many of their names ended in ‘a’, including my own. Along with other mental collections of little use, could such an interest suggest a very mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Are there variations in mental health as there are in physical health? A sniffle, a cold, a nasty cold, a shocking cold, flu, dreadful flu, flu that wipes you out, pneumonia, bronchial pneumonia and . . . you get my drift.
Shutting stuff out
If my behaviour and thought patterns are a little OCD at times, it’s understandably invisible to you. But I still have to skip lines in the pavement, jump onto the footpath at least two steps ahead of a passing car in the distance, touch wood frenetically every time I have a bad thought, and put my fingers in my ears if someone talks about plane crashes. Normal? OCD? Anxiety?
Mental health is about the functional wellness of the brain. Health is about everything else in the body, even when the brain is playing silly buggars with it. Or that is as I wish to understand it, although the terminology police might have it otherwise.
We worked for many years for a prominent mental health institution. Meetings were torturous as everyone battled to avoid what they thought was demeaning language. One word was suffering. That was a no-no of the first order.
Really? When I’m hit with a bout of depression or have a panic attack, I suffer. So do my family. Even if these moments are episodic and short lived, the impact can be ghastly.
For that time, my world is catapulted into a very dark place. Accompanied by its sister in horror, anxiety and its physical symptoms, – vice-like bands about my head, constricted throat, thrashing creatures in my stomach – there is a breathless need for escape because it feels as if there is no way out.
I have untold empathy for the people who live with these conditions permanently.
So by comparison the depression or the panic attacks I ‘suffer’ might be likened to having an illness of short duration. They are not chronic and they don’t lead to permanent damage, but they certainly render me less equipped for work then when I am well.
A friend once said a little bluntly, “you don’t have depression. If I gave you $250,000 you would cease to be depressed immediately”. It made me reflect, but not necessarily agree.
One in five
During our years in business, our many employees suffered variously from mental health issues. Two had bipolar disorder, two depression, two, and I suspect four, had severe anxiety, two mild OCD, and alongside this we saw substantial alcohol and substance abuse.
My husband coined a line about mental health: ‘One in five are affected by a mental illness; five in five can help’ which was, in our experience, true.
We made no distinction between an employee with a bout of flu or a bout of depression, as we believed it should be in all workplaces.
Cold or flu, bad mood or depression?
We did expect a little stoicism from those with a sniffle and often reflected that some would complain they had terrible flu when all it was, was just a cold. Similarly, a bad mood did not warrant the same approach as an anxiety attack.
Being aware of and recognising the symptoms of your own mental health when it’s not in top form is helpful when the condition is mild, especially for those close to you.
Clearly, if a person is very unwell mentally, they need care and treatment without any stigma just as a person with a physical illness or disease. Why I’ve often pondered, should we respond differently to a diagnosis of diabetes for example to one of bipolar disorder?
As a business owner today without employees, it is only my own mental wellness I need to attend to. Do I have a list of suggestions for you on how to do that? No. It would be arrogant to prescribe a solution for how to keep someone else’s brain well.
While I know that exercise, meditation, a good diet and sleep are useful in keeping me mentally fit, they don’t help much in the moment when my brain changes pattern, stamps on its endorphins, and renders me unwell.
What I can say is that it helps me to write. I know that journaling is encouraged during some treatments for mental un-wellness, as the recuperative power of writing is well known. So perhaps we can blog our way out of the gulf. I’d like to add that to the already very long list of the benefits of blogging.