I realized last week that as eclectic as I believed my connections to be, they all had one thing in common – they believed that mental health was real. Thus, I went living my life minimalizing the reality that there were people who were dismissive of this. After all, if every organization in the world was making such a hue and cry about mental health, surely people would have gotten around to believing that it was real. It took an unfortunate panel discussion to bring me face to face (virtually of course) with a disbeliever and what an experience it was! It went as follows:
During the regular round robin of questions, I ended up with one on how organizations & individuals can equip themselves to manage mental health. Given my recent obsession with the topic, I leapt to the edge of the seat and started rattling off my opinion. Two minutes into my monologue, Mr. Moderator cuts me off. He says his principles don’t allow him to let me to speak further. He said, “Our children are locked indoors all day with little interaction with their friends. Life has changed drastically for them. They do not complain about mental health problems. They are doing just fine. Why can we as adults not learn from them? Talking about mental health is not healthy nor positive. I am a strong believer in positivity and hence cannot let you speak further.”
It took me a second to recover from his reaction. However, me being me, pressed on to say that mental health is a real issue and one that should be addressed. After a few more comments on having more white hair than me and having being in the industry for a lot longer, I realized that I was losing this war. I spent the rest of the discussion reeling under just happened. As you can guess, not a lot of questions were directed my way post that.
When I finally got over my initial agony (hey! I’m human), I realized how fortunate I am that my manager does believe in mental health and can spend hours listening to me agonize over the most trivial things. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a support system that believes it is OK for me to take time off when I say I’m not feeling OK; a system that is designing itself to build stronger, more resilient people not by denying the reality but by supporting it. I also realized that not everyone is as fortunate and this is the reason why the system we build also needs to guard against disbelievers.
We have a long way to go before we crack the code to solving for mental health. Unlike most ailments, there isn’t a single virus, bacteria or fungi to fight but a myriad of reasons not all of which can be guarded against. It is a bigger battle in some cultures than others and to believe that a one size fits all approach will work is naïve. It will differ not only from organization to organization but across countries, social-economic strata, gender and more. Over time, I know organizations will get better at cultivating low stress, happier environment. I hope that day isn’t too far from today.
I also hope that as I continue to expand my connections across the world, I continue to meet people with disparate views that allow me to build better solutions. As mad as I may have been at the moderator initially, it helped me question something I had taken for granted and for that, I am thankful.