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New Way to Address Mental Health in the Workplace




At the age of 11, I learned my mother suffered from manic depression. Today, 30 years later, we call it bipolar disorder but however you’d like to call it: she struggled tremendously with her mental health.

She still does.

Over the years I have seen a dramatic change in the way we talk about mental health. Growing up in a small town where everyone tried to hide their struggles, my mum was a bit of an uncomfortable exception. She never tried to hide how she felt. She thought it was important not to look away from pain. From the psych ward she would send me brochures about her disorder. And she would ask her psychiatrist to explain her disorder to me.

At the age of 11 that was a lot to take in. But as an adult, I am so glad she did.

Because it taught me how to have conversations about mental health. And how to recognize the signs.  
It doesn’t really matter who you are. Your size and shape, or gender. Mental illness doesn’t care and it affects 1 in 4 of us at some point in life. What does matter, however, is that most of us are not very good at spotting the signs and even worse at knowing how to have the conversation when we do see them.

That is why working around the subject of Mental Health feels like such good use of our professional role-play actors. Those that know of InterACT’s work, know that we believe that lasting change is brought about through what we call ‘Role Play Based Learning’. And it offers a different approach to learning how to address mental health in the workplace. 

How does it work? 
For our Mental Health Programs we take our participants through 3 confrontational stages:

Stage 1. Recognize it
Stage 2. Acknowledge it
Stage 3. Adjust it

When we are in front of our audience we start with Recognize it. Using very careful researched case study, our actors play out a scenario that holds up a mirror to the current culture around Mental Health so the audience connects with what they see. They see themselves in that mirror and recognize the behavior of others. 

Once you have that recognition, delegates are willing to Acknowledge it: to take personal responsibility for change. 

Then we talk about Adjust it. What are people actually going to do? What are they willing to commit to?

Finally, how do you make sure you have a culture where it’s ok to have a conversation about mental health? So that it becomes ‘what we do around here’?

I have to say, in this program, whilst we garner that recognition – recognition of a very difficult subject – the most powerful, moving part isn’t our actors. It’s the disclosures that come from delegates themselves. It’s when they, of their own volition, stand up in front of everyone and say ‘this happened to me’, ‘it happened to me here’, ‘I’m back now, but there are many that aren’t’, ‘please don’t let this ever happen again’.

Have I got a magic wand for you? Nope. 
Do we clear our clients of all mental health issues? Not even close. 
Is there a book you can read? Maybe.

What everyone does agree to after our programs is to watch for the signs. Changes in behavior, going early, coming late, changes in mood, performance; anything that’s ‘not like them’. And they agree that doing nothing is not an option. They agree to ‘have the conversation’ – just like my mum decided to have the conversation.

Even if it does go a bit wrong or feels awkward (and it probably will), it can’t possibly be worse then the consequences of doing nothing.


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