Talking about a mental health issue or learning challenge can be difficult at the best of times, but how do you speak about it at a place where you spend much of our time: the workplace? In this podcast (episode #213) and blog, I speak with award-winning journalist and founder of Rebel Talent Denise about how to navigate life with dyslexia, sensory differences, ADHD, or any other type of neurodiversity, how to talk to your boss and colleagues about mental health issues, why “faking it ‘til you make” it is a bad idea, how to raise a kid with special needs, and more!
When it comes to the way we think, we can’t put people in a box. There is no such thing as a “normal” brain. We all see, process and experience the world differently. Difference is not a value judgement. The way you think is an asset. You see things no one else can see, just as you battle with your own unique challenges and issues—this is part of being human.
As Denise points out, we need to embrace this neurodiversity in the workplace, not suppress it. We can start doing this by:
1. Making sure that leadership at all levels understands the mental health issues people face, including the challenges many people have finding appropriate mental healthcare. Leaders need to help their employees do their best work, which means being aware of the mental health needs of those under them and how they can make the workplace a safer and more productive environment for all people.
2. Encouraging everyone in the office to take mental health first aid day course. During this course, you learn how to actively listen to people, get information, and ask questions. You also learn why just trying to solve issues is not a good idea and how to create a safe space for honest and open communication without panicking when faced with someone who doesn’t think, work or act like you.
3. Being aware of how you work best. Don’t just come to work with the issues you have; talk about solutions to any problems you are experiencing. Know how you work best, as well as what affects your ability to focus and concentrate. If something doesn’t work for you, think about how you can work better and let your colleagues and boss know why and how you plan to be more productive.
Research has shown that less than 6% of people disclose a learning or mental health issue at work, which can make it a challenge to talk about what is affecting you. It may be easier to make a list of things you do well, when and how you like to work, what affects you or stresses you out and what your limits are and how they may impact other people. This will not only help you talk to your boss or colleagues about how you can work better, but also gives you space for accountability and compromise in the workplace. This kind of honesty can make a work environment better for everyone because it opens a door to good communication!
4. Laughing every now and then. A sense of humor may help ease awkward work situations, especially if you can joke about yourself in an open, safe and honest way.
5. Taking short mental health breaks when needed. When you feel like you are on the emotional “rollercoaster” at work and are really battling, take a mental health break, like listening to a song that calms you down or doing a few jumping jacks. Then distance yourself from the emotion by naming it is and seeing it as a symptom, not your identity.
6. Resisting the desire to “fake it ‘til you make it”. As Denise pointed out in a recent article, when you feel the need to fake it at work, there are essentially two “yous”: the real you and the masked you, which can be incredibly stressful, creating cognitive dissonance in the brain and potentially leading to burnout and other mental health issues.
What happens if you have a child with special needs?
- Actively listen when someone is telling you something about your kid, even if it is hard to hear. Make a note if it, so you can think about it later when you are less reactive.
- Celebrate the small and big wins, because they don’t happen as easily if someone thinks differently.
- Listen to what the specialists say, but don’t be afraid of saying you don’t agree with them. Find someone that is good fit for your child’s unique personality and needs.
For more on mental health and neurodiversity, listen to my podcast with Denise (episode #212), and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
For more mental self-care tips to improve your mental and physical health, pre-order my new book 101 Ways to be Less Stressed, which is now on sale less 20%!
You can also check out my app SWITCH, which is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind, deal with the roots of your mental distress and stress, and overcome thought patterns and behaviors that impact your health through the mental process of reconceptualization.
7:10 The myth of the normal brain, and why embracing our neurodiversity is the key to success at work and in life
16:16; 32:16 How to talk to your boss about mental health issues, and the importance of mental health first aid in the office
25:45 How to raise a child with special needs
45:27 Why faking it ‘til you make it is a bad idea, leading to burnout and other mental health issues
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