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LETTERS: Leaders’ voices lacking in mental health talk

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LETTERS: Leaders’ voices lacking in mental health talk

Mental health is no longer just a HR issue. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Various studies indicate that depression and anxiety is leading to burn-out in the workplace and its becoming common at an alarming rate. In response, companies are now embracing and engaging wellness programmes to remedy this.

This is welcome and I believe there is still more room to create the wellness engagements focused on the employees to fully create the awareness of the importance of ones all round wellbeing.

However, those awakening to the fact that the mental health conversation is indeed a much needed part of our day to day life, are now keen to see more being done about the issues raised by mental health.

And one way that would elevate this discussion is by our own leaders taking up the mantle and hear them directly talking about their own personal struggles with mental health.

Picture someone in leadership standing up and speaking openly about their own experiences with mental health. This would have humongous impact on those they lead as it would spur them to be comfortable talking about themselves.

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We tend to place our leaders on pedestals and make them look like superheroes forgetting that they are human beings just like you and I. We vouch for them without truly knowing who they are, but by the persona they present to us.

We tend to embrace them by the notion that they are different from us. Some leaders, purposefully create personas that make us place them on a higher ground than us.

In a unique way, especially in a workplace environment, this gives a new dimension and understanding to accountability, in that, despite the investments being put in by companies to take care of health and wellness, a leader who genuinely and authentically connects with the people he leads, will have a much more positive impact.

But what stops us from sharing our stories and being vulnerable to one another? Its stigma. Stigma is at best, the biggest impediment we have that is stalling the big push to address mental health related issues, from the home front, work spaces, in churches and many other spaces.

Daling head on with stigma will only be impactful if we discuss openly about mental health. If we only have honest authentic conversations and more so with leaders from the public to corporate sectors.

For this to happen a lot has to change. Each one of us has imperfections and if you convince yourself otherwise, you are just a ticking time bomb before disappointment hits you hard.

That said, a leader coming out and sharing his or her own struggles with mental health comes with risks and yes there are many other things leaders also struggle with besides just depression.

But when a leader opens up and becomes vulnerable, when a leader calls up a meeting and admits that from time to time he has dropped the ball, he connects with each of them at a very personal level.

The risk is massive I can imagine, and it will require the summoning of immense mental strength and fortitude to take this step for any leader at any level out there to do this.

I can assure you in any sitting where a leader is present, there are at least several people struggling with mental health issues and your openness and vulnerability might just strike a chord with them; what a great gesture you will have done even if it’s for just one person. Even if you won’t know what you have just done.

What this does in effect, is that the people who you lead will feel less alone, they will feel relieved that it’s not only them who are suffering and once they have this connection, you will command more respect as a leader.

As the mental health conversation continues more employees would like their employers to include this conversation in their workplace. This can only be achieved if employers and leaders support mental health as a priority and engrain it in their workplace culture.

Mental health is no longer just a HR issue and as the diverse landscape of companies continue to change, firms need to invest and improve the state of mental health at work by adjusting strategies.

Leadership is key in dealing with the stigma at the workplace and once employees see their bosses championing wellness and mindfulness it will go a long way in developing a culture of being open and vulnerable in addressing their own mental health related issues.

Eddy Kimani, Mental Health Advocate at MindBright Resources.



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