Why You Should Hire Someone who is Open about their Mental Illness

4 Mar

workplace mental health

A few weeks ago I shared with my friends, family and the online community my new role as a Community Correspondent with Partners for Mental Health. I received lots of positive feedback and a great welcome from the staff and other volunteers.

I did however receive one bit of criticism that has stuck with me and I knew I needed to write about it. A friend asked me:

“Are you at all worried about potential employers finding your blog?” 

This question surprised me as it was something that I hadn’t considered. I love writing my blog. I’m passionate about mental health awareness, and being open about my own struggles with anxiety and depression has been an integral part of my ability to manage my life. It has also created the opportunity for me connect with like minded people across the world.

I have been so proud of how far I’ve come and my new position with Partners for Mental Health that this question of potential employers seeing my blog  as a negative, as a reason not to consider me for a job, took some serious wind out of my  sails.

My gut reaction to this question was “No! That’s discrimination! I wouldn’t want to work for a company that didn’t support the mental well-being of their employees.” But the reality is that a lot of companies and hiring managers likely see someone with a mental illness as a liability, as unstable, and someone who would cost them time and money. It could very well have already happened that an employer has found my Twitter account and the link to this blog and immediately discounted me for the position despite my credentials and abilities.

After spending some time ruminating on this issue, I realized that the skills I’ve developed in managing my mental illness and the job skills that most employers seek in their employees are actually positively correlated.

Here are some common soft job skills that employers seek in their employees:

Communication skills, analytical and research skills, flexibility, adaptability, managing multiple priorities, interpersonal abilities, planning and organizing, problem solving, creativity, teamwork, honesty and integrity, dedication and tenacity, perseverance, dependability, positive attitude, self-confidence, self-motivated, and a willingness to learn and improve.

Someone who is open about their mental illness has gone through a process of research and communication with family, friends and health professionals to find the root of their issues, to problem solve and adapt to find success and to persevere in life despite their disability.

They are honest and dedicated to managing their mental health on a daily basis, and are creative in finding methods that work for them. They are strong, open-minded, and self-motivated. They have learnt to be both organized and flexible in order to manage relationships, go to school, work, raise children, and help others to succeed in the face of diversity.

Someone who is open about their mental illness and has learnt to manage it is extremely brave, positive, self-aware, and on a constant mission of self-improvement.

Employers- you’d be a fool not to want someone with these skills on your team.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the reality is that you already work with and have already hired individuals suffering from mental illness- most of whom are not open and have not sought out treatment. Therefore, you should not avoid hiring someone who is open about their mental illness- you should think “This is someone who I want on my team. This is someone who has proven themselves.”

notmyselftoday

My hope is that companies across Canada will join the Not Myself Today at Work campaign beginning on May 9th initiated by Partners for Mental Health to send a public message that they reject the stigma surrounding mental illness and to show that their organization prioritizes employee mental health. 

Be sure to sign up at www.notmyselftodayatwork.ca to receive more information via e-mail about the upcoming campaign, and don’t forget to follow @PartnersforMH on Twitter! 

My experience with ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training)

23 Feb

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Last week I spent February 14th & 15th taking a workshop on Suicide Intervention by LivingWorks and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Halton Region Branch.

Most of the attendees were mental health professionals; counsellors, outreach workers, administrators, students whose employers had sent them to receive suicide intervention training as part of their job development. There were a few individuals attending out of personal interest due to suicide affecting them personally, but I was the only the only attendee there who’s main interesting in attending was to better my knowledge as a volunteer and mental health advocate.

There were about two dozen attendees (mostly women), and I felt incredibly privileged to connect with so many wonderful, knowledgeable individuals from my community who shared my interest in mental health, and who genuinely wanted to be there and to understand suicide and to learn mental health first aid in order to be prepared to help and do the best they can should they ever need to help someone in crisis.

Prior to attending this workshop I thought that I had a good awareness of mental health stats, but some of the statistics that were shared with us specifically on suicide in Canada were still shocking to me.

In 2008, Canada’s population was 33, 511, 658, and the number of reported completed suicides was 3,705. However, the number of non-fatal suicidal behaviors 100x greater. This means that approx 370,000 Canadians attempted suicide or self-harm that year alone.

The number of people who reported thoughts of suicide in 2008 was 1, 675 583; 5% of the population, and we can probably assume that many more people had suicidal thoughts that were not reported.

When seen from this perspective, it truly points to the need for mental health first aid to become necessary education for the general public, not just mental health professionals, to be aware of suicide prevention and intervention techniques because it affects us all.

By the end of the workshop, I now feel prepared to use the skills the CMHA taught me should I ever need to perform mental health first aid on a friend, a family member, a coworker, or even a stranger through a crisis until they can receive professional help.

I recommend everyone to look into ASIST training in their area. You can find schedule information here: http://www.livingworks.net/training/2013/3

Announcing my new role as Community Correspondent with Partners for Mental Health!

31 Jan

partnersformh

Greetings online community! I am thrilled to announce my new volunteer role as a Community Correspondent with Partners for Mental Health! I have been following this fabulous organization since the launch of their first campaign, and am beyond excited to have been officially welcomed onto their volunteer team this week.

Partners for Mental Health is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to improving the way Canadians think about, act towards and treat mental health.

Their vision:

  • Increased access to services, treatment and support.
  • Better workplace policies.
  • More funding for research.
  • Increased awareness and attention towards one’s own mental health.
  • Better treatment toward those living with a mental health problem or illness.

A new state of mind where:

  • There is no shame in living with a mental health problem or illness.
  • Recovery of a meaningful life in community is achievable.
  • Increased, sustained funding is a priority.
  • More research (and funding) is supported.
  • Mental health education and training is commonplace.
  • There is an acknowledgement and understanding that there is no health without mental health.

What does this mean for me and my blog?

I will continue to to blog about my personal experience and successes in managing anxiety and depression and I will also use my blog to promote Partners for Mental Health, their campaigns and initiatives, as well as report on mental health issues and stories in my community.

Mental health advocacy is near and dear to my heart, and has been become a big part of my life over the past year since I began speaking openly about my mental illness. I am honoured to have the support of an innovative, grassroots organization like Partners for Mental Health and hope to be a valuable part of their growing movement to abolish stigma and improve the way mental health is perceived and supported.

Please take the time to visit their website at www.partnersformh.ca and take the pledge to support mental health in Canada!

For more information  follow me @meldearden & @PartnersforMH on Twitter and check out their Facebook page for news and events surrounding mental health.

5 Tricks You Should Try to Calm Anxiety

9 Sep

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I sometimes experience episodes of high anxiety that can creep up and overwhelm me as I try to accomplish day to day tasks.

While I am still learning and experimenting with different methods on how to cope with these feelings, I have come up with a few simple tricks that I personally find effective in calming my nerves and helping me to get through those tough moments.

1)  Meditative Breathing

Over the past few months I have been trying to make meditation a part of my routine. It has been recommended to me both by friends and by authors I admire, so I finally decided to try it out and was surprised at how much I can enjoy sitting in silence and focusing only on my breathing and clearing my mind.

While I don’t always have the time or inclination to intentionally sit on the floor and attempt “proper” form (according to the wonderful book I’ve been learning from), I have been able to use meditative breathing techniques to successfully overcome intense moments of anxiety. I have also found it particularly helpful at night when unable to sleep from being consumed with worry about the future.

I recommend that everyone try practicing meditation, even if you don’t relate to high anxiety, because the ability to clear your mind can be very positive and empowering.

2) Lavender

I learned this tip from my mother who has a patch of lavender growing in her front garden. She pointed it out to me, explaining that lavender’s scent is used for aromatherapy to achieve a calming effect and for relaxing the body.

That evening, I picked a stem of lavender and smelled it as I was winding down for the night, and I felt that it did contribute to a feeling of calm and  relaxation.   Since then, when I experience high anxiety and worry before bed, I’ve been lightly spritzing a lavender body spray over my pillow to help give me that same relaxing feeling.

3) Stretching

Regular exercise is essential for both physical and mental well being, but one of the aspects that I enjoy the most about working out is the cool down- deep breathing and stretching as your heart rate slows and your muscles relax.

I enjoy this process so much that I like to stretch once or twice a day, even on days when I don’t exercise. I’ll use those little “in-between” moments in the day- like waiting for my coffee to brew in the morning- to tune in to any tenseness in my body, and stretch and relax.

When you focus on stretching, loosening, and relaxing your body it will help your mind to follow suit.

4) Music 

This may seem like an obvious tip since we all know that music can have a profoundly positive impact on our mood, and that music in general is made to be enjoyed.

However, when in the midst of an episode of anxiety, depression, worry, or even just a crappy mood, it’s often difficult to pull ourselves out of it or to even think of turning on some music as a positive distraction from those negative thoughts.

I know some people that constantly have music playing when they’re at home or even at work but, aside from when I was driving, it often just wouldn’t occur to me to listen to music when focusing on other things.

Since realizing this, I’ve made a conscious effort to listen to music. Especially upbeat music that I can’t help but sing along to when I’m feeling anxious or down. (Because honestly- how can you feel anxious or down when you’re belting “Proud Mary” and trying to dance like Tina Turner in your kitchen?)

5) Blogging/Writing

Funnily enough, I’ve discovered that the process of writing and maintaining a blog about self-improvement and reducing anxiety has actually become a tool in itself that I find useful in achieving those very goals.

Writing in general can be cathartic, and a good way to practice introspection and to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

I have kept diaries on and off, and find them particularly useful when trying to monitor anxious or negative feelings and behaviors in an attempt to dissect why they’re happening, and try to change them.

The reason that I find blogging so useful compared to a diary is that instead of being just for personal use and written informally, I have to put a lot more thought into the structure, language, and clarity of my posts since I know that other people will be reading them.

I want readers to be able to understand my writing, and hopefully find it interesting and relatable. This forces me to be both more objective and creative when writing about personal experiences, and makes me more focused and self-aware.

I find these tricks to be super useful in managing my own anxiety and I hope that others will try them and find some success as well. However,  my number one piece of advice to anyone who suffers from high anxiety is to experiment as much as you can with any and every method you come across until you find the tools that work best for you.

Practice Makes Perfect – Reducing Anxiety in Public

25 Jul

As someone who regularly experiences feelings of social anxiety, I often have trouble completing everyday tasks that to others may seem mundane and easily accomplished.

Necessary daily errands like grocery shopping, going to the bank, or getting an oil change can become ominous, unbearable undertakings that induce overwhelming feelings of insecurity, fear, and even panic.

On a good day I would feel slightly afraid and head to the store or wherever with only slight hesitation, but on a bad day I would obsess on how afraid I was to be seen in public and interact with strangers to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house at all- no matter the destination.

Often I would back out of attending some event at the very last minute because I would start to obsess over every detail involved in getting myself there and worrying about what it would be like once I arrived. (I’m sure that some of my friends can recall days where I’ve all of a sudden backed out of an event that’s been long in the works.) Sometimes I even manage to get myself to a destination, such as a restaurant or a friends birthday, and end up sitting in my car for twenty minutes because I can’t find the courage to walk in to an unfamiliar place and to meet the eyes of unfamiliar people.

At this very moment I am thinking of the simple errands that I need to run before heading to a friend’s cottage this weekend – I need to go to the grocery store and the beer store- that’s it. This should be simple. I have two more days to do it and it should take up maybe a half of an hour of my time, but I’ve already been anxious about having to do it for a few days now. It’s like a timer is ticking away in my head, counting down the time I have left to accomplish it, and a seemingly easy errand can become a terrifying mountain of a task.

Thankfully, I have gotten significantly better than I used to be at dealing with my anxiety about functioning in public. While I do sometimes still experience stress and panic before or during these situations, I have come up with some easy little ways that have helped me to feel more confident, and reduce anxiety.

The first thing that I now try to do every week is to make myself a To-Do list that has those anxiety provoking errands on it as well as any other little chores I’d like to get done. I write down at least the next few days as headings and write down what chores or errands I’m going to complete on each specific day. For some reason, the act of writing them down makes them seem less ominous and more like broken down, simple tasks that I want to knock off my list. It also somehow makes me feel more accountable for completing what I’ve written down- that going grocery shopping is not just a lingering thought in the back of my mind, but something planned for which I’m now obligated to complete. Also, when I do complete the tasks I’ve written down, crossing them out makes me feel great for accomplishing what I set out to do.

The next thing that I’ve tried to get into the habit of doing is to give myself lots of time to complete an anxiety provoking task. For example, if I’m going grocery shopping I’ll make sure I don’t need to rush on to something else. I’ll purposely linger in the store instead of doing what my gut wants to do- which is to get it over with and get out of there as quickly as possible. I find that if I really slow down when I’m in a public setting, and observe my surroundings and people watch, it takes my mind away from myself and my insecurities and I become not only comfortable but enjoy myself in the process.

The last thing that I’ve been practicing is to force myself to talk to strangers when I’m in a public setting. When I go for a walk in my neighbourhood I make a game out of trying to say hello to every person I pass, or when I’m approaching a cashier in a lineup I try to ask them a question or make a comment so that there’s at least a little bit of dialogue between us and less anonymity. This helps me to feel like the experience of being in that public place was a positive one, and I leave feeling less insecure and more confident about myself and my abilities.

The more that I practice doing these things the better I feel, and when I don’t practice them regularly, my anxiety takes over again. So, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!- develop good habits and throw away the bad ones. The more you practice things that help manage and reduce anxiety the easier it will get, and the better you will feel about yourself and life’s little obstacles.

Fake it ‘Til You Make It – Squashing Social Anxiety

16 Jul

One of the main types of anxiety that I struggle with is social anxiety. This form of anxiety is one that can be extremely debilitating and affect my ability to function in many social settings, in particular when meeting new people and especially in large groups.

It usually takes me a very long time to become comfortable with people. When I meet new people I am constantly afraid that they don’t like me and are judging both my appearance and my value as a human being.

The moment I detest the most when meeting new people is the question “What do you do?” As common and simple as this question may seem I’ve always found myself struggling to explain my self-worth to people I barely know who themselves appear to “have it together.” (i.e Not living with their Mother, currently unemployed and about to start a new college program at the not-so-young-anymore age of 25)

Another moment (usually many many moments at one event) that I struggle with is how to deal with sitting in a group of people you just met, awkwardly hoping to be included in the conversation. The absolute worst being when they all know each other and are discussing events and people and inside jokes that you know nothing about.

So what is the automatic reaction that I’ve always had to these situations? Basically, running and hiding. I’d try to avoid them, I’d freak out when I anticipated having to meet new people and deal with these moments. It would be especially bad when I was about to meet someone I wanted to impress like a new partner’s friends or family. I can become intensely overwhelmed; can’t think straight, heart racing, mortified. At times I would rather have all of my teeth pulled than try to talk to new people.

When being put in these situations I would put in as little effort as possible to connect with people, often with a cold stare, looking around the room like a bored bitch when in reality I was petrified to “fail” at connecting with and impressing them.

I would also decide that these new people were “bad” people- I would justify my seeming inability to impress them by deciding that I didn’t like them, we have nothing in common, that they didn’t like me, we would never be friends, and therefore I don’t need to associate with them or even bother trying to be friendly… And then i would go home and wonder why it’s been so long since I made a new friend.

(Logic after all rarely comes into play when dealing with anxiety)

I’ll admit I sometimes still fall into this trap- Maybe even more than sometimes. It really does take practice to develop good habits that help overcome feelings of anxiety, especially when you’ve developed a pervasive set of bad habits because of that same anxiety.

What I was doing for so long absolutely wasn’t working and wasn’t giving me the results I wanted for both my own behavior as well as the ways others would react to my bad habits. Approaching these uncomfortable situations negatively using avoidance, defensiveness, and worry was only adding to my insecurities and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where I would be uncomfortable and overwhelmed simply by giving up and expecting it to be that way.

I came to realize that it wasn’t  social situations that I needed to escape- it was my bad habits. I needed to stop focusing in on the times when I’ve had negative experiences and start paying attention to the social situations in which I’ve felt successful, positive, and really enjoyed myself.

Now what I try to practice doing in these social situations- parties, dinners, etc, is to fake it. Even if I am feeling overwhelmed and worrying about fitting in I try to consciously act as if I truly want to be there and am genuinely interested in the people I’m meeting and what they have to say- Which I nearly always am, except that I am often so preoccupied by anxiety that it’s hard to show it and to participate.

I try to make eye contact with whoever is speaking, to lean in to hear them even if I have no idea who or what it is they’re referring to. I also try smile and ask lots of questions with enthusiasm because a lot of people like to tell their stories and to talk about themselves.

I’ve realized that it’s OK if I’m quieter than most people, or if I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation as long as I look like I want to be there and bring positive energy into the dialogue. By going in with a positive attitude- even a fake one- I’ve found that I get that positive energy back from other people, end up having a good time, and feel better about myself in general.

I’ve also found that while the “faking it” part can be a difficult mindset to get into, once I’ve done it,  it  usually lasts only briefly because as soon as I start to get a positive reaction from someone my insecurities start to dissipate, I start to relax and I am no longer faking it, but really enjoying myself.

It’s an extremely empowering feeling for me when I practice this to look back on a social situation that was intimidating to me and to feel that I successfully faked it until I made it. It makes me realize that although anxiety is a major obstacle in my life and might always be, I do have the ability to push passed it and be successful and happy, and if I can do it so can you.

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