Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mental illness isn't mental deficiency

This past week, Robin Lehner, a hockey player, gave a speech about his struggles with addiction and mental illness:

https://sports.yahoo.com/news/robin-lehner-gives-emotional-speech-at-nhl-awards-025142137.html

Over the years I've started - and stopped - many book or essay projects on this notion. I've experienced the unintentional - and generally well-meaning - bias towards someone with depression. You see it for all illnesses. My father, for example, was so incredibly over-protective of my mother that it made her life miserable. Coworkers who have a chronic illness are treated with pity. An admission of depression leads to a strong desire - maybe even a need, for some - to protect the person.

When you tell someone that they're really hurting instead of helping, it can damage or destroy relationships.

So what do you do if you manage someone with depression? Ask yourself what you would do if that person had cancer instead. If your reaction isn't more or less the same, at least in its framework, then you're probably on the wrong track. Someone with a mental illness doesn't want special treatment; they don't want your comfort. That can actually make it worse. Like any human being, they want to be listened to and to believe their opinions are valued.

No need for kid gloves.

But when days are bad, don't threaten to fire them, do show them your exasperation, allow them to work from home if that's what's needed. That's what you'd do for the person with cancer, right? You'd understand that some days the treatments are harder than others. They might need to take time during the day to get that treatment, and it might hit them harder one day versus another. That's how depression works, too. You don't need to be afraid of them, or trust them less than you did before you found out. And for God's sake don't talk about so-and-so as being crazy or insane; would you use similar language for someone with cancer? Of course not.

Take my advice on this.

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