“I’m sorry to be so disorganized this semester.”
“I am struggling.”
“Somehow Fall 2021 feels worse than Fall 2020 did.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you til now, I kept meaning to…”
These are things faculty have said to me in the last week. Morale on our campus feels low. As my coworker remarked to me this weekend, “Everyone was having a hard time quietly at home, and now that we’re all back on campus, it’s pretty noticeable.” No matter our roles on campus, we’ve experienced almost 2 years of slow-burn crisis. It shouldn’t surprise me that faculty in my liaison areas are having another tough semester.
I’ve done trainings on mental health first aid, learned what to watch out for, and how to refer students to mental health services on campus. The relationship between librarian and professor is different than between librarian and student, and that has muddied the waters of my training a little bit. What do we do when we can tell a colleague is struggling?
I recently attended a NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation, which included a mix of video clips and live speakers talking openly about their mental health experience, what helped them, and what habits sustain their recovery. Here are some of the takeaways:
Don’t suffer in silence
I’ve caught myself thinking, “Sure, I’m having a hard time, but so is everyone. I’m not special in my mental health needs right now.” But just because it’s happening to a lot of people, doesn’t take away that it’s happening to you, too.
Mental illnesses can hit our self-esteem pretty hard, isolating us from friends, thwarting our productivity, over-emphasizing the negative parts of ourselves. One of the speakers, who has ADHD, said “My low self-esteem felt earned,” because her mental illness made her late, forgetful, and sloppy. She didn’t feel like she was worth asking for help. As a result, she hid everything she was struggling with, and worked even harder to make up for it.
Stigma compounds the harm of mental illness. If it’s you that feels lonely or worthless, know that there’s no need to go through it alone. Reach out to a friend or if that feels too revealing, try a text hotline. You’re worth it.
Sometimes all you need to do is listen
If you notice your coworker’s jokes have gotten way darker than usual, or they seem discouraged, check in with them. I’ve found asking, “How’s your semester/week going?” is all the opening someone needs to let a little emotional steam out.
You don’t need to have the right words. You don’t need to fix it for them (which is good because you probably can’t!). Listening is a gift we can give each other right now.
It’s okay to be kinda cheesy
We know the things you shouldn’t say when someone is grieving or struggling, like “everything happens for a reason,” or “I know what you’re going through,” and that can leave us at a loss for what to say. It can feel awkward to come right out and talk about mental health. It’s easy to joke about it or just avoid the subject out of discomfort.
Sometimes all I’ve said is “That sounds so hard.” Other scripts that hold space for someone without giving advice or useless platitudes:
- “It’s unfair, and it doesn’t make sense.”
- “You don’t deserve to feel this way.”
- “Thank you for sharing what you’re going through.”
- “I care about you.”
We hear a lot about mental health awareness this time of year, with September being Suicide Prevention Month. Writing this feels a little like “Of course people know this stuff, it’s everywhere.” But someone might be looking for one kind word, one thought, one person who would miss them if they didn’t come to work. And if this post is that kind word for someone, then I’m glad I wrote it.
You matter to this world. It is good that you are here.