We all, of course, care about our colleagues and often offer support through our behaviour or language. That often centres on the person too, empathy or sympathy expressed with phrases such as ‘look after yourself’, ‘take it easy’ or at worst ‘pull yourself together’.
Of course, we can all ‘look after ourselves’, but for mental health that is only half the picture. A word that appears to be in vogue at present is ‘resilience’. Employers run resilience sessions for staff to enable them to cope or manage with working life, the culture we exist in of doing more with less, the drive for efficiency that characterises every organisation (dematerialisation is the economic term).
Resilience does have some currency… some. However, this places some onus or responsibility on us, as individuals, to maintain a homogenous state of wellbeing. This for me appears problematic – how about having workshops on how to slow down or prevent the things that mean we need to be super-resilient in the first place? Do we need to be more resilient or do we need ways to fend off or eradicate the causes? Avoidance of such causes is the last resort; and what happens when someone’s resilience tipping point is reached?
My point being, maybe we don’t need to be resilient – after all, I am who I am and maybe it’s the other stuff that’s burdensome? What should we do about that? After all, there are many external factors that affect our own mental wellbeing, social conditions, economic status, the behaviour of others, and so on. What good is it showing empathy, ‘look after yourself’, when any of these often-uncontrollable factors are at play?
I was reminded of the distressing effect these external circumstances can have on an individual last week. We had a guest talk from Lemn Sissay MBE for our students in Psychological Therapies & Mental Health. Reading from his top-selling memoir My Name is Why, he relayed the devastating effect institutions, their culture, and the people who worked in them had on him as a child in care. No-one came out of this well – care homes, social workers, local government, his foster parents, his teachers. A collective of uncontrollable forces and behaviour that he was resilient to at the time yet years later led to trauma, therapy and recovery. Lemn was denied the ability to learn, to express, to create an identity, to form and manage relationships.
Interestingly, the World Mental Health Foundation articulate these as critical in the maintenance of good mental health. One’s own good mental health isn’t always about you – it’s all of our business. How we think, what we say, how we interact, what we seek from others. All useful things to take 5 minutes on World Mental Health Day to ponder – if you have the time!
Footnote: The 40 minute recording of Lemn Sissay’s talk is available for personal use or teaching and learning purposes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org