Increasingly, research has shown that mental health plays a key role in a person's overall health and wellbeing. While achieving this delicate balance is a daily struggle for millions of people, one day each year is devoted to mental health. What is World Mental Health Day? Oct. 10 is dedicated annually to raising awareness about mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health, according to the World Health Organization.
If you struggle with mental illness, then you know how important it is to shine a spotlight on this issue. If you don't, you likely know someone who does, and there are myriad ways to show your support. While the body and mind are often treated separately, these two systems actually inform overall wellness. "Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity," Benjamin F. Miller and Tyler Norris wrote on the Health Affairs Blog.
Because mental health informs every area of your life, it's important to think about your mental health in the workplace, too. "Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental disorders that have an impact on our ability to work, and to work productively," the WHO noted. "Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, the leading cause of disability. More than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity."
Because adults spent a lot of time at work, addressing mental health at work is an important part of advancing the mental health conversation. Here are some ways you can support World Mental Health Day at work, and everywhere else.
1. Educate Yourself About Mental Health
If you don't struggle with mental illness, you might not know that there are big differences between being depressed and feeling sad, having anxiety and being nervous, or feeling jumpy and suffering from PTSD. Contrary to some outdated beliefs, a person suffering from mental illness is not able to will themselves to be well, though as someone who has suffered from depression my entire life I can fake being well because sometimes I have to.
Research has shown that, like the late Carrie Fisher said, depression is a disease of the brain. And, the main subcortical limbic brain regions implicated in depression are the amygdala, hippocampus, and the dorsomedial thalamus, according to research by Mayur Pandya, Murat Altinay, Donald A. MaloneJr., and Amit Anand published in Current Psychiatry Reports. "Both structural and functional abnormalities in these areas have been found in depression," the authors wrote.
The more you know about what mental illness is and isn't, the better you will be able to understand family and friends who might be battling mental illness. If you really want to commit to learning more, you can even take a class in mental health first aid class.
2. Advocate For Workplace Wellness Programs
Since you likely spend 40 hours a week or more at work, having a comprehensive wellness program in the workplace is important to your health and wellness. I actually didn't really know this until I worked for a company that had one. Aside from offering a host of wellness classes, like yoga, they also brought in a free meditation program. Anyone who wanted to join was allowed to take an hour out of their work day to practice mindfulness meditation with a teacher who came into the office once a week.
This made a huge difference in my overall work satisfaction, and actually helped to reduce my anxiety. At my next job, meditation teacher and career coach Amy Sandler, who became a close friend, led our team in regular meditation exercises. She has since dedicated her career to bring meditation into the workplace because, as she wrote for the Vistage blog: "Workplace mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness and the capacity to manage challenging emotions. Neurologist and psychologist Viktor Frankl describes, 'Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.'"
If your workplace doesn't currently have a wellness program, it never hurts to ask. There are plenty of virtual programs that your employer can give you access to. You can also download meditation apps and take a break to meditate during the day when it's convenient for you.
3. Practice Kindness
OK, this is something we can all do every day. However, I know how easy it is to get so caught up in the microcosm of your daily life that sometimes you forget to be kind to others. Small acts of kindness can make a big difference in someone's day, and even their life. The Kindness Movement posted 50 ways to be kind at work, and practicing these acts of kindness is a great way to support others.
Small things like making a new colleague feel welcome, mentoring a colleague, offering to help, providing encouragement, taking the time to really listen, and more can make your workplace a much more enjoyable place to be. Consider starting a kindness movement at work. Because, being kind doesn't cost you anything, and it's never the wrong choice.
4. Offer Support To Friends & Loved Ones
One of the most isolating things about mental illness is feeling like you're the only one. Finding the right kind of mental health care is difficult. It's a never-ending game of medical musical chairs searching for a doctor who gets you, the right combination of traditional and alternative treatments, and it can take years because everyone is different, which means that each person responds differently to the same treatment.
Feeling like you're navigating this all alone is terrifying and exhausting. If you have a friend or loved one who is navigating mental health challenges, let them know that you're there for them, and take the time to really listen to what they're telling you. You don't have to try to fix it, just being available to offer a safe, judgment-free space is a huge gift.
5. Speak Out About Mental Health
There's an old saying in recovery circles that goes, "you're only as sick as your secrets." Staying silent about depression, whether you are directly affected by it or not, helps keep people sick. Speaking up is hard. Trust me, I get it. For years I didn't tell anyone I was depressed despite battling depression since I was a kid. When I finally spoke out, my admission was met with shock, and many people said, "but you don't look depressed."
Depression doesn't have a look, and seeming fine is fairly common for people struggling with mental illness, as this powerful story about Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington's happy social media posts just days before his death illustrates. Many people are afraid to speak out about their depression because there is still a stigma that surrounds mental illness. We're afraid we won't get jobs, that people will avoid us, be afraid of us, and judge us. Every time someone speaks out about mental illness it helps to reduce the stigma.
Small acts of support by every single person on the planet could totally change the way we view mental health. But, on a smaller scale, if you commit to supportive acts for World Mental Health Day, you just might change someone's life.
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