Reblogged: The 25% Club: The Black Dog

First Posted by Alison Chisnell as part of a series on mental health on her wonderful blog The HR Juggler on January 30, 2013

This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be accredited, others will be anonymous – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. Today’s post is by Kandy Woodfield, who you can find on Twitter @jess1ecat.

“A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.”

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

When I read ‘Courage’ it touched a nerve, truthfully more than just one. It was a powerful account of living with a mental health condition. Despite the fact that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues at some point in our lives remains a taboo in the workplace which is why I’m so pleased that the overwhelming response to that powerful post has created a conversation amongst tweeting HR professionals. It touched me because I’ve been there, several years ago what Churchill called his ‘black dog’ reared its head in my life. Truth be told it had probably always been there.

Over the years I’d ignored it, bartered with it, avoided asking for help, tried lots of ways to free myself of the paralysing insomnia, loneliness & anxiety my depression had gifted me. I never asked for help, I thought people would tell me to ‘snap out of it’, that somehow it was my failure, my inability to cope, that I’d brought it on myself. That’s my story but depression is a clever chameleon, others will experience a range of different symptoms so never assume you know what someone is going through.

My black dog floored me, eventually I could barely engage with those closest to me far less get up and go to work. This time I was down for the count and every day since then I’ve been grateful that my family and my employer had the understanding and insight to support me.

We can each do something small to help change taboos about mental health, think about the words and phrases you use in everyday conversations about mental health, imagine what it would be like if we used that language about other illnesses? I don’t hide my experiences but I don’t broadcast them either (well until now!) and I understand why some people choose not to disclose, we each have to make the decision which is right for us. I was lucky I had a supportive employer and a line manager who understood I needed to take things at my own pace and I’d talk when I was ready.

So what can we do as HR professionals and colleagues , friends & family to support someone experiencing depression?

Read all you can, the following all have excellent online support: Depression Alliance, MindBlack Dog Tribe
Listen, have an open mind and never assume you know what it feels like, depression is not just about being a bit ‘down in the dumps’ and it varies from person to person. You can start by watching this brilliant video to see why the black dog metaphor is spot on
Never assume you know what will help – ask the individual what they think might help, see what their GP has suggested, help them find talking therapy if they feel that might help, the provision of MH services is very patchy and trying to negotiate that maze alone is hard at the best of times.
Support them if they want to carry on working – will it help to change or reduce their hours? This is especially important if sleeplessness is an issue or medication includes sedative properties.
Have a simple system to manage short-notice absence, depression fluctuates you can cope one day but the next day may be different
Look at the diary, what is filling them with dread? Find someone else to do it. I couldn’t do large events or networking in the thick of my depression, the thought of a room full of five or more people would fill me with horror.

With time and support I faced my black dog, the fog lifted and the cage opened and I am thankful every day that I came through it, not everyone does. Mental health matters and we can all be a part of making a change that’s why I’m proud to be part of the #25percent club
If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do:
– visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
– take the ‘time to change’ pledge