“G’day, how are you?” Good thanks.
“Hello, how are you today?” Well thanks.
“Nice to see you, are you well?” Yes thanks.
A thought provoking discussion about stigma and mental health took place this week with our post graduate students.
Our focus was about the masks people with mental ill health have to put on and the impact this has on independence and wellbeing longevity. We were looking specifically at workplaces. Connection, purpose, being engaged and employed in some capacity can all be attributed to worth and contribution. When challenges occur in personal or professional lives, the mask may slip ever so slightly or considerably depending on each circumstance. When a person with mental ill health is left without support or understanding in their employment, it can lead to a loss of their job and creates a downward ripple effect on that beautiful list I have just mentioned about independence.
When discussing workplaces, let’s be real. It doesn’t happen only in corporations and large entities, but small businesses and community organisations.
As we explore the topic, the penny starts to drop with the students. “This is a big issue, what are we going to do about it?”
Another says “there’s only so much an employer can do, it’s the employee that needs to seek help.”
Stigma, mental health and self awareness
I pipe up... “But how can one seek help if they do not know there is something going on? ... How is one made aware of changes in their own mental health? Especially when it creeps up on you?"
“Well, that’s a very good question! Give me one moment whilst I think about it!” She said.
Tumble weeds flow through the classroom as we think more deeply about the questions.
Boom! I thought I had dropped the mic!
My question is thoughtfully answered by another student. “It’s a friend, family member or our own self reflection on a different set of behaviours and the emotions you feel at that time that are unusual to your character.”
I probe further.... Absolutely! So, we need education and relatable experiences?
“Yes. We also need to learn how to take off our masks” said one of our students from Kenya.
She continued with a powerful insight that left me rattling around my brain making connections to her brilliance.
“I was volunteering at a school in Australia and at the end of each day the children were given a board that they needed to put a sticker on. The stickers were of smiles from happy, very happy, bored or tired to represent their day in class.”
She noticed that there were no sad stickers. So the children could not express if they were having a down day.
I ask... If the child can not show they are feeling sad, why would this be the case?
"This is because as humans we don’t want to hear if someone isn’t happy, we want everyone to be happy. We all do.”
She continues with gusto “But! We must be able to express our true selves. If you ask me how I am, I’ll reply with ‘well thanks, how are you?’ Sad is not the go to answer. Anything on the lower side of mood is really not what someone wants to hear. So we put our mask on”
I may have dropped the mic, but this woman picked it up and sang from the rooftops. YES! We do. Say how you really feel!
When we are in safe places, we can open up about how we are feeling. If it is a blue day, week or month being able to take off the mask and say “I am not great at the moment” is a good step forward.
Let’s move away from our only option of happy faces if that is not a true representation of ourselves and opt for a ‘sad’ or ‘meh’ sticker instead.
“G’day, how are you?”
“I’ve been better, but thanks for checking in and asking me, buddy.”
That exchange takes away stigma, is an education piece and shares authentic experiences.
From school to workplaces and everywhere in between, say it how it is. Take off your mask and put your sad sticker on if that’s how you feel. Once you’ve done this and connected to your community of champions, that frown will turn upside down and you can continue your own path of wellbeing.
Let’s leave the masks to Andrew Lloyd Webber to write in to his next theatrical piece!