On depression awareness at work

Here’s an article I published on LinkedIn for Depression Awareness Week 2016. Since then I’ve updated my profile pic again so it looks OK in the circular frame used by LinkedIn.

“It’s Depression Awareness Week in the UK so I decided to use a quick lunch break to blog about being real in how we relate to each other.

LinkedIn illustrates how we tend to present ourselves to the world as we think the world expects us to be, perhaps because we aren’t particularly good at accepting each other. I guess it’s most obvious in the workplace, which allows and encourages us to present strengths (real or imagined by us or others). So I’m thinking sod this, let’s be real, and I’ve updated my LinkedIn profile picture to show more of the real me than its predecessor did.

Me in my bathroom, looking as I felt this morning, without the casual smile people see on me most of the time:

Two things have happened this week that highlight how forms of depression affect people and have me thinking about the challenges we face in accepting each other, supporting each other and building a better society together. On the positive side I saw a lovely blog from someone I care about, writing warmly and with humour about her recovery (brilliant 😀 ) and the reality of taking each day, each hour, as it comes.  She is an incredibly talented person, the sort of person who gives you the feeling you will win if you’re on the same team as them.  Lucky you if you get the chance to work with somebody like that, or employ them, or be led by them.

On the harder side I was reminded of the challenges faced by somebody else, who continues to struggle to overcome their mental health problems and how that seems to exclude them from work, family and much of society. How hard that is for them, how hard it is for people around them to offer the support they need, for anyone to understand their experience of the world and accept how they deal with things every day.  It affects me personally and I struggle to have all the skills, empathy and confidence I need to involve myself more, to my shame I’m afraid.

So as well as the slightly plainer picture of me, there’s another go at me being real: I don’t have what it takes to help a person who has a mental health problem. They resent me for it too, and it’s a struggle to deal with that as perhaps I ought: to get more involved, despite the cost.

But getting back to Depression Awareness Week, of course the second person is something of an extreme example, and depression has many forms and affects people in different ways.  It’s bloody awful that it does, and it makes me sad, and I wish the week could do something to help us all improve our ability to cope with depression in our own lives, in the lives of people we care about and in the lives of people in our community and workplace.  And on LinkedIn too.

Being completely real I should tell you that in some ways – not totally understood by me – I’m personally affected by depression.  Certainly during periods in my life, including recently, I have had recurring depressive thoughts, but only once has it got as far as a diagnosis and with support from friends and family and drugs I recovered quite quickly. Nowadays I’m much more practiced at nurturing myself in the everyday (making sure I see friends most days, cycling, doing things in my own time, focusing on the most positive relationships I have) and I have some coping mechanisms for dealing with being down, so I don’t expect to fall into a ‘proper’ depression, the sort that makes it very hard to function in the social world, although I’m not complacent about it.

So being real, let’s remember that the faces we see on LinkedIn are those of real people, presenting themselves in one dimensional ways because that’s how the world of work tells them they’re valued, and let’s try to build awareness of mental health issues so we can work together to find ways to overcome it, so folks like me can better understand how to help and be more confident to do so.

Please also take the time to think about yourself and how you can nurture your own mental health. You’ll find information about depression at http://www.depressionalliance.org/get-involved/depression-awareness-week-2016.  If you think you need a bit of help to get by then best ask.  I’m no expert but feel free to try me if that’s where you want to start.”

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