The Power of Mental-health journeys in the work place.
People experiencing mental health challenges, even complete breakdowns is becoming all too common in our modern world. Such episodes significantly affect people’s lives, both personally and professionally.
Unlike a broken leg, mental health issues often manifest invisibly for a period of time. Within a professional workplace the closest of colleagues may not have any idea of a team-member’s mental suffering or confusion. Today’s world teaches us to hide our mental health challenges at work; to soldier on and keep our mental pain to ourselves. However, when things boil over and a person’s mental health challenges display overtly it often becomes uncomfortable, ugly, even repulsive to the people around the sufferer, particularly so in a workplace.
Rather than feeling cared for within our workplaces, sufferers of mental health challenges often feel embarrassed and isolated and resign for unexplained reasons, or worse, get fired for “unprofessional behaviours”.
Employee behaviours resulting from mental health challenges are very difficult for a professional organisation to deal with. Removing (firing) a disruptive person from a work environment is the easy and most commonly enacted solution. While it is most definitely not the best outcome for the employee struggling with their mental health, is it the best outcome for the organisation?
What benefit might an organisation obtain from actively retaining employees that experience mental health challenges? Do workers that go through significant mental health challenges have anything to offer a workplace?
“No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness” – Aristotle.
If one does not struggle with their mental state in a world full of insanity then how can they claim to be of stable mind?
Let’s be honest, not only are the Gods crazy, but certainly so too is the society we live in. We chase our tails on the treadmill of life that is the Rat Race as we slave ourselves to the grind.
In a country that burns for months on end while key players seem intent on perpetuating and protecting the fossil fuel industries.
In a society that insists the internal rule of law to be paramount then acts contrary to established international laws.
The contradictions and hypocrisies in our society can easily create confusion and turmoil within our minds; particularly young, astute minds that are still developing, questioning and struggling to make some sort of sense of the world. The contradictions between the truths within our ids and falsities within our egos can lead, in my experienced opinion, to serious mental confusion.
On top of the id/ego dialectic are our day to day responsibilities, work deadlines, office politics, merciless kids, bills, the deaths of loved ones; and then the final straw, whatever it is, hits us and we could all break.
In the modern world, struggles with mental health is par for the course. If you experience mental health challenges you aren’t a freak of nature. You are simply living the human experience.
Buddha said: “Life is pain”.
Of course, there is a real distinction between serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia and manic depression, to name just a few; and I won’t for a moment pretend to have any authority to discuss these very serious conditions. What I am focussing on are the breakdowns in mental health that many of us will experience in our lives, to varying degrees, bought about by the id/ego dialectic coupled with the very human struggle through painful life events.
My hand is up as a sometimes sufferer of such mental health afflictions. As a young man I internalised the contradictions and hypocrisies of our society and found them very difficult to reconcile. Before my professional career began, I spent years hitch-hiking the back-roads of Europe searching for some kind of truth that is obviously not present in our society.
I’ve spent time sitting on lonely railway tracks that traverse the north of England countryside grappling with a hypocritical and contradictory society that I found difficult to reconcile. While it was a temporary period of break-down of my mental health, it was also a significant, even important, life journey that produced a certain maturity within my mind. It allowed me to crystallise my view and understanding that our society does is in fact contain many contradictions and hypocrisies. Before, I had wondered what was wrong with me, I emerged confident in my understanding that it was our society that had the problem not me.
“Madness is rare in individuals, – but in groups, political parties, nations and eras it’s the rule” – Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886
My mental health ‘recalibration’, alone on the English moors, was probably the most important experience in my life. I emerged stronger, clearer of mind and certainly more confident.
“In a mad world, only the mad are sane.” – Akira Kurosawa.
Within a few years I was running my own business, building successful teams and out-competing multinational conglomerates. While once I was of weak and fragile mind, the mental journey that I went through produced in me an unbreakable strength and belief in myself. To realise it was society that had problems and not me was the thing that allowed me to succeed professionally.
Within Recruitment Hive I had built a team around me. However, just as the business was starting to perform well one of Recruitment Hive’s team began to act irrationally, ceased performing their duties as required and starting bringing many unstructured ideas to me and absorbing too much of my time. After several weeks of such behaviour they were very close to getting fired. Their behaviour was having a negative effect on Recruitment Hive’s capabilities.
Then a relative told me our colleague was experiencing mental health challenges. Immediately upon hearing this it made sense to me. I should have seen it myself, but just a single sentence from a family member to me put my colleague’s behaviour into proper perspective. It was clear to me that one of Recruitment Hive’s team was experiencing a mental health journey similar to the one I had been through many years before. When I approached him about it he even started to describe the contradictions and hypocrisies of our society, specifically concerning climate change issues. I’ve since heard this described as Climate Change Anxiety. He was deeply concerned and confused about our society’s approach to fossil fuels and the insanity of our society’s self-destructive decisions and actions in regards to climate change. He appeared tormented by the contradictions and hypocrisies of our society. I emphasised, even identified, with his feelings, with his mental state and the inner journey he was undertaking.
It frightened me how close I was to firing him. Thanks to his brother for reaching out to me and conveying that our colleague was experiencing a mental health breakdown. I called in my colleague’s father and together we spoke to him and encouraged him to take leave and seek help. Recruitment Hive extended unlimited leave to our colleague and ensured him that his position within our team was safe for as long as it took for him to return.
Our colleague’s leave lasted about six weeks.
When he returned, he was transformed. Initially he was timid, quiet, obviously vulnerable. Our whole team, eight of us, cared for and supported him during his re-joining. Gradually his strength in self returned. Not to their old levels, but to higher levels. He walked taller, acted more professionally, was sharper and more acutely honed. He was more mature and much, much more effective in his role.
Many months have passed since our colleague returned to our team and the differences in him now as to before his mental health journey are astounding.
In the following two quarters of business he outperformed every other team member and only yesterday (as I write this) placed five new ICT Contractors in to two different Federal Government organisations. He is now setting the standard for Recruitment Hive’s other team members. A leader to follow. Before his mental health breakdown, he acted less professionally, was less capable. Now he leads the pack.
His mental health journey grew him professionally.
My point to both my personal story and that of my colleague’s is for employers to stop and think about the causes of individual “unprofessional” behaviours within our teams. Recruitment Hive was lucky that someone reached out to me with an explanation of his troubling behaviour. This is exceptional though, and employers generally won’t be offered any clues or explanation to an employee’s erratic behaviour. I am pleased from a personal, and certainly business, perspective that Recruitment Hive gave leave and allowed our colleague enough time to break down, re-build and strengthen his mind.
Additionally, Recruitment Hive’s team is tighter, stronger and proficient.