The isolation, uncertainty and grief brought about by the pandemic have more people than ever worrying about their mental health as loneliness, depression and anxiety have taken hold of them.
We’re talking more about mental health lately, a conversation that is beginning to remove some of its stigma. It seems we no longer have to struggle in silence or in secret.
But for some, that conversation is their only conversation—or at least their most dominant one.
While mental health awareness and acceptance is a positive step for our culture because it means more people will get the professional help they need, it’s important to recognize that our struggles are not all we are.
It’s true that sadness and anxiety can overwhelm some people—perhaps even most people—some of the time. For others, those feelings are crippling.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to get help if you need it and to help others in your circle seek professional advice if it seems they need it.
It’s also a good time to put your struggles into perspective so you can present yourself to bosses, colleagues, clients, friends and others as a multi-dimensional individual who is not defined solely by worries and woes.
Even if you have never considered creating a personal brand for yourself, you already have one. Your brand is how others perceive you. If you wear your anxiety on your sleeve—that is, if you let everyone you talk to know about it, use it to explain away your shortcomings or decline opportunities because of it—that is “who you are” in the eyes of others.
Do colleagues think of you as the “anxious co-worker”? Do managers debate whether you are too anxious to handle the plumb assignment you have been hoping for—and then assign it to someone else? Do friends exclude you from dates you might enjoy because they don’t know how to respond when you turn the conversation to your mental health again and again?
It’s OK for them to know you’re struggling. The people who care about you are willing to listen, to talk things over, to help you through as much as they can. You can ask them for help. They will offer to help.
But do they also know your fun, talented and capable side? Do they realize that your mental health struggles are part of you and not all of you?
During Mental Health Awareness Month, try to remember that. Here are five ways to raise your own mental health awareness and that of those around you:
1. Take an inventory of how you’re feeling now that the pandemic is more than a year old and, depending on where you live, either winding down or still raging.
If the circumstances of the past year have made you sad, anxious, depressed, angry or lonely, consider finding an expert to talk with about those feelings—before they get worse. In most cases, a professional can help ease your symptoms by teaching you how to manage them—just like any other illness.
Depression and anxiety are treatable and most often, curable. Don’t wait it out. Take care of yourself by getting professional help.
2. Look around you: at your friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. Has anyone changed for the worse? Has anyone’s personality gone from friendly to belligerent? From happy to hopeless? From reliable to careless?
Noticeable mood, behavior and personality swings could indicate that your acquaintance is suffering from a change in mental health. Be bold: Intervene. Ask what’s wrong. Offer to listen. Persuade the person to get help. Make that easy by supplying the names and contact info for a local mental health professional.
3. If you are a parent or a supervisor, check in often with your children and subordinates—even if they are adults.
Ask them how they’re feeling. Get specific; ask if they are feeling anxious, depressed or lonely. Say you want to help.
Most people do not seek help for a mental health issue because they don’t want anyone to know they’re suffering; they don’t know who can help; or they figure it will pass.
Don’t be afraid to embarrass the person by bringing it up. A little bit of embarrassment is way better than the alternative if a serious problem goes untreated.
4. Practice showing off the other parts of you, even if you don’t feel as great as you did pre-pandemic. Through your appearance, conversations and behavior, remind everyone of your runway-worthy sense of style; the witty banter that everyone used to enjoy; your party-planning skills—even if those parties are virtual or outdoors now; and your keen insight and problem-solving ability.
Keep confiding in those closest to you about your struggles when you need to. But as you heal with the help of a professional, try to get back to yourself—your whole self—as the world starts getting back to normal.
5. Create a personal brand for yourself—a deliberate one. Present yourself the way you want others to perceive you. Don’t leave it up to them to decide what your brand is. Decide for yourself, and then live that brand. Sell everyone on looking at you in the best light.
During Mental Health Awareness, be aware not only of your challenges, but of the rest of you, too—the best of you.
Dr. Cindy McGovern, known as the “First Lady of SalesTM,” speaks and consults internationally on sales, interpersonal communication and leadership. She is the author of Every Job Is A Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work. Dr. Cindy is the CEO of Orange Leaf ConsultingTM, a sales management and consulting firm. For more information, please visit, www.drcindy.com and connect with her on Twitter @1stladyofsales and on LinkedIn.