World Mental Health Day

October 9, 2020

During a workshop last year on the role of leaders in maintaining mental health in teams, we spoke about what mental health looked like and how it could be fostered and maintained. We spoke about statistics that estimated that 25% of UK adults experienced mental health difficulties in any given year. How things have changed in a year!

Last week in a webinar with the same client we reflected on how it would be very difficult for any of us to have what would have previously been considered “mental health”. People shared very personal ongoing struggles with their own and their loved one’s mental health difficulties, and what was both surprising and heartening was how they did so without the usual reticence due to the stigma that was in place just a year previously. What was also surprising, and liberating was how we as facilitators felt comfortable to share our own struggles, something had definitely shifted. Sharing this vulnerability created a safer place for the participants to open up more.

The consensus of the group was that in the uncertain and tumultuous times we currently find ourselves in, trying to pretend that we are ok is counterproductive. That if there was any “new normal” it was being ok with not being ok.

The group had embraced their vulnerability and paradoxically this had become their strength. What a relief it was to feel connected with others in not having to be “strong in times of adversity”. What was also liberating was that the group had really owned the idea that a persons mental health had a direct relationship to quality of the environment or context that that person finds themselves in. This was a shift away from the idea that ones mental health was a result of ones individual strengths or weaknesses. Something we resonated strongly with.

Our experience of being in the group was humbling and enlightening and our biggest learning was the importance of strengthening our resilience. We had always taken note of and acknowledged the importance of resilience in both our psychotherapy and organization development practices, but the quality of these discussions was somehow different.

People in the group shared how in the past they had so often confused resilience with endurance or grit, with just having the ability to grind their way through. How resilience was something “tough” people had. What Covid-19 had taught people in this group was that endurance was really only the careful managing of one’s energy and gritting of teeth to get to a known yet difficult to reach finish line. Resilience was something quite different, it was acknowledging that there was no known finish line but that rather we needed to be able to find ways to replenish and strengthen our “energy wells” on a day by day basis.

This required taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually in any way possible, and doing so on a daily basis. The boundaries that had been in place for us all in the form of office spaces versus home spaces had all but disappeared. The all-important transition zones between our homes, gyms, social hangouts and workspaces were no longer there and so in order to not burn out we needed to recognize the need to put in place new boundaries. One man shared how he was using the time of daily webinars he needed to attend to practice yoga poses on the floor of his home-office rather than sitting at a desk, with the video turned off we all hoped!

Managing physical energy meant being careful of that extra nightly glass of wine most of us felt we deserved, being mindful of its impact on us the next day. It was also about becoming aware of our individual sleep time requirements and finding ways to stick to these. What and when we ate is also imperative in developing resilience, no vehicle runs on little or “contaminated fuel”.

People shared how important being able to recognize and name the emotions we were feeling as a way of developing resilience, rather than repressing and enduring them. Many in the group shared how they had found journaling had helped them in this way. They shared how merely noting and acknowledging the presence of these emotions rather than judging and trying to rid themselves of them was helpful in developing resilience. Having compassion for oneself was found to be the precursor to being compassionate to others. It sounds obvious but what was so wonderful was that this was coming from the group and not us.

What was probably the most profound insight we gained from the group was that resilience was not achieved alone but required a relationship to develop in. A secure base is someone who is there to understand, listen to, witness, and challenge us. It is imperative for all of us in order to thrive in uncertainty. We intellectually understand that no person is an island and that our that brains are wired relationally, however what has been a revelation for us is how resilience fundamentally requires us all having a secure base in our lives.

So with world mental health day fast approaching it has been really important for us to reflect on what we have learned for our clients as well as for ourselves, and what this group taught us has been invaluable. We have really begun to understand that from a mental health perspective we are all in this together and none of are immune to Covid-19’s impact on this aspect of us. We also need to acknowledge that as much as we all wish for this to end, the finish line is very much unknown and the impact of the virus on the entire world will linger long after a vaccine has been found and rolled out. We are also aware that to not just survive this time but to also thrive will require developing our resilience and not merely increasing our endurance. Most importantly we have learned that resilience is developed through daily filling of our “energy wells”.

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