Mental Health in the Workplace
I nearly killed myself.
Not just once either. Since I was a teenager, I've suffered from major depressive disorder, PTSD and anxiety. Back then, I didn't have anyone to help me with my struggles, nobody to talk to, nobody to listen, no therapy, no meds. I had to help support my family while also going to school which is a big task for a teenager. I had to find a way to eat, we didn't have much money and had to resort to food banks from time to time. I had to protect my sister and support my mom who was struggling with her own health issues. I kept all of this inside and never spoke about it, at the time even mentioning the words 'mental health' resulted in laughter, shame and disgrace. I put everyone else before myself and didn't realize how much of a toll it was taking on my already fragile mental health.
Fast forward to my first radio job. I was so excited to get the opportunity to work in the industry that I was willing to do anything to be successful, including neglecting my health. I quickly learned that most workplaces do not truly care about you. Being overworked and underpaid was a huge stressor for me. You'd think working at LEAST 60 hours a week would allow you the perks of a full time employee, but at this job that was not the case. I was doing enough work for 4 people but still did not receive any benefits, full time status, time off, recognition or support. It was an old boys club and that was very clear, as a young woman I had to push myself extra hard just to gain any sort of thank you.
I was constantly sexually harassed by co-workers to the point where I started keeping track of everything said or done to me so I could bring it to the attention of management. Of course, when I did, I was brushed off and laughed at. I was in a small town where I was constantly asked 'what are you?' in terms of my race, constantly hearing racist things coming out of the mouths of people everywhere. I had listeners call the station who would say racist things. I always spoke up about their racist comments, which would result in the common "oh but I wasn't talking about you" response. I was with a partner who didn't take my mental health seriously and would tell me I was lazy, call me explicit names and put me down. At this point, since I was so scared of losing my place in the radio industry, I put everything but my health first. My job was number one on my list. I figured if nobody else cared about me, why should I care?
I was extremely burnt out, to the point where I would throw up numerous times a day, cry on my walk into work and dream of the day when I wasn't alive anymore. I was so sick but refused to believe it because nobody else did. I noticed a trend though, a lot of my co-workers seemed awfully depressed too but also would hide it, cover it up with fake smiles and laughter. We had a boss who had major anger issues and would take it out on us daily, yelling and screaming constantly. I still have a clip of him yelling and swearing on the air. There was always SOMEBODY crying at work.
Our personalities and souls were ripped from us, we became robots in this radio machine but nobody spoke up due to fear and stigma. We were understaffed so we didn't have a chance to take a day off if we desperately needed it. We were barely surviving on the low wages we were paid. We were mentally and psychically drained.
One sunny Saturday, I tried killing myself with pills I had received from a much needed (and expensive) wisdom tooth surgery that I paid for out of pocket. No benefits, remember? I was alone at home so I figured this was a great time to do it. I poured the bottle of pills into my mouth just as my ex came in the door. He put his hands in my mouth to get all of the pills out and put me over the toilet to get any more pills out of my system. It was a moment I'll never forget. I had written a goodbye note citing my pain, work stresses; naming management in particular and the fact that nobody ever believed/took my pain seriously.
This was the point in life where I realized my job and the way I was being treated was causing me to lose myself. I missed my old self. My strong, independent personality, my happy demeanor and the glow I once had.
Not surprisingly, all of the best talent at the station (including myself) left for better things. In a year, 18 people left the station (I was number 11, which is my lucky number) I had to hit rock bottom to realize that I'm worth it and this job wasn't. Unfortunately, this wasn't the last time my mental health wasn't taken seriously at work, but those stories are for another blog.
Here are a few tips to improve mental health in the workplace.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce workplace stress and maintain your mental health.
- Go for a walk
- Listen to your favourite music with great headphones
- Don't be afraid to say 'NO' when you have too much on your plate
- Avoid negative social media
- Have one person you trust to talk to
- Don't check work emails during off time
- Take a sick day if needed (mental health day)
- Go home on time
- Do a quick 5 min meditation
- Write in a journal
- Eat a healthy snack
- Ask for help
- Talk about mental health
- Encourage employees to ask for help
- Listen and don't judge
- Rescructure tasks evenly
- Reward employees for their efforts
- Allow mental health days
- Reduce workplace bullying
- Take employee concerns seriously
- Pay employees fairly
- Make sure all managers understand the importance of mental health
At the end of the day your health should be number one. You need to take care of yourself to continue doing the best you can for yourself and your family. That should always be your number one concern. Don't let an employer take advantage of you like I did for so many years. Your life is more important that a job. Reaching out for help and opening up was the BEST thing I could do, I was finally able to start healing.