Mental health & wellbeing

Are you looking after yourself?

Eve Ash /

We ache as we read about the death of chef Anthony Bourdain and too many others we know and love driven to suicide. It is tragic, no matter who it is. Depression is frightening and often hidden from those closest to us, sometimes even unrecognised by individuals themselves.

Many people suffer depression at times of their lives

All sorts of people in all kinds of circumstances suffer depression. There are times in our lives when external events do our heads and feelings in; equally, sometimes we are attacked and overpowered from troubling depths within ourselves. Determining the difference between something that is temporary and manageable and a more serious condition is necessary if we are all to cope.

When do we need professional help?

First up, if in doubt – go! Ask for help. Now. There is no shame in seeking help. Sometimes help at the right time can give you the support, skills and strategies to move forward through a work crisis or survive a break-up. It may lead you to better understanding, more options and a new and more satisfying feeling as you live your life.

Crying at work

If you are habitually in the office bathroom because a colleague or manager is making your life hell, you need to talk to their manager or HR, and get support and counselling. Don’t wear this every day on your own shoulders.

Prolonged deep sadness following the death of someone close to you, a break-up, a financial or emotional loss could indicate that you are experiencing depression. According to beyondblue, you may be experiencing depression if:

“… for more than two weeks, you’ve felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities… It’s important to remember that we all experience some of these symptoms from time to time, and it may not necessarily mean you’re depressed.” 

If you think you may be experiencing depression, it’s time to seek help. This could be an understanding GP in the first instance; if they judge your condition to be serious, they can give you a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Life can feel tough at times and friends and family don’t always have the skills or emotional separation to be able to help. Don’t be unwilling to seek help and comfort.

Stress, crises and pressure at work

Are you angry and snappy with others? Maybe there’s an unrelenting, overly-outcomes-driven colleague or manager. Before you know it, you’re snappy and irritable with friends, colleagues and family. A life coach or mentor can suggest ways to manage your irritability.

What if you keep making mistakes, you forget to attend meetings or deliver reports, your work is below your normal high standard – these are symptoms that something could be amiss. You might be stressed because someone has intimidated you with expectations that you feel you cannot meet. 

If you’re under immense pressure, feeling like breaking point is close, beware of meeting alone with the person who’s triggering your stress. Unfortunately, some people have little or no empathy and thrive on others’ unhappiness. Some managers can say all the ‘right’ things while nevertheless creating an atmosphere of distinct threat. Yes, this happens and you are not alone.

This situation is unlikely to magically disappear, so ask for help, inside and/or outside your work. Draft your concerns in writing and ask to speak in confidence with a trustworthy senior manager, or talk with a trusted colleague or friend who works in another company. This problem must be dealt with.

Feeling underlying anxiety most days

Anxiety might be linked to what’s going on in your work, like a big project responsibility or problem, an unrealistic deadline or a ‘dreadful’ task or event ahead. Or maybe your anxiety is much more generalised ‘free floating’. It is not always possible to pinpoint why some people suffer anxiety, and unwise to assume what the reasons could be. Again, if it’s affecting your life, your friendships, your ability to function — seek advice and if need be, treatment. If anxiety is holding you back in terms of finding work, find a career counsellor or look online for a service that can help, for example Wise Employment.

Today’s realities are as harsh. If seeing recruitment agencies and answering online ads is getting you nowhere, try CoAct.

Feeling a dark mood too much of the time

We all sit somewhere on a spectrum between dark and light. The ‘dark’ can be useful and helps us be cautious, pessimistic and consider scenarios — a helpful strategy to avoid risk. It may be restful on occasion to seek solitude while sorting through these dark feelings. ‘Light’ might prove a false positive. Just as some animals are nocturnal, some people operate more effectively this way. Darkness, however, that is damaging, vicious, self-excoriating or destructive needs addressing. Talk to a GP and ask for a referral to an experienced specialist.

Too tired to go out with friends

When life is not going well, sometimes people experience grief and depression as tiredness and just wanting to crawl into bed. This is can be a good thing; listen to your body’s weariness and do the straightforward thing – go to sleep. If sleep provides no refreshment, you need to examine what the cause might be. See your GP about this: it could be emotional, mental or physical.

Needing time out

You might be burned out and needing to heal and slow down, without discussion or interruption. If you can, take a few days off and go somewhere quiet to recharge. Find some good books to read, binge watch a great TV series, go on long walks. Some people feel so tied to work it is almost like a self-imposed jail where you feel you cannot leave. Go – take time off. A holiday, seeing nature, walking in a new environment can be a wonderful reboot. Tell friends where you are, and ask that they respect your need for some time out. Let them know that you’ll contact them by a particular date or time. Recognise that they will worry if you don’t, because they care.

Feeling reluctant to come to work

Identify, if you can, why you no longer want to go to work, why you hate Mondays and why you clock watch or day dream of being elsewhere. Is someone the cause, the trigger in your mind? Do you dread seeing him or her?  Have you grown to dislike what you’re doing and feel increasingly unable to perform? Deep down, you know that it might be time to leave. Avoiding work and hating it day-after-day makes it worse, keeps you stuck, stops you taking remedial action.

If you feel stagnant on a plateau in your career it might be a matter for a counsellor, mentor, career coach or an HR professional. It’s good to initially discuss this with a friend or trusted colleague, and make some plans about what to do, who to see and how to manage the situation. Talk to as many such people in your network as you feel could be useful without overloading them or just rehashing. Don’t wait until you really feel ground-down. Move forward. Speak to someone who has ideas, contacts, expertise and strategies. Life can be challenging and the indifference of many people can leave us feeling helpless. Professional services like Lifeline can help. The story of why and how Lifeline was founded is a reminder of how important it is to have someone listen and offer counsel when it’s sought.

A professional mentor or career coach might help you to get back on track or find a new direction.

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, the following organisations provide professional counselling services:

Lifeline: 131144, website 

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

Griefline: 1300 845 745

In case of emergency, call 000. 

NOW READ: What is the borderline between disrespect and workplace bullying?

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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