Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Masking

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Mental health issues can impact anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

In honor Mental Health Awareness Month (May), GovCIO has initiated a new, ongoing, employee interview series to help foster a more open dialogue about mental health in the workplace. As a part of this series, members of the GovCIO team are reflecting on some of the most prevalent mental health topics today, along with tips for managing stress and anxiety.

Spotlight on Meditation with Micah Green

GovCIO’s Systems Engineer, John Houchins, shares his journey with mental health, the reality of “masking” and how to find peace in the struggle.

I would like to start by saying that no one who struggles with their mental health, enjoys how it presents themselves to others.  Having a hard time making eye contact (ASD).  Incessant body movements such as bouncing legs or finger tapping (anxiety).  A seemingly lack of personal awareness, or of other people (depression).  Struggles to focus and prioritize tasks (ADHD).  Unusual reactions to situations or noises (PTSD).

I am confident in saying that those who struggle with their mental health are very much aware of their individual “tics” and work very hard to hide, or mask, them from their peers as these behaviors are not always accepted within society, or the workplace.

"If an employee, co-worker, peer, or friend comes to talk to you about a mental health issue they are dealing with, recognize that it took a lot of strength and courage for them to do that."

John Houchins
Systems Engineer

Masking is not unique to people that struggle with mental health issues, but the consequences can be more socially ostracizing.  No one enjoys being around a “Debbie/Donald downer”. A coworker struggling to prioritize, or easily pulled off task, can be thought of as lazy or ineffective.  Someone that does not make eye contact or always fidgeting comes across as disrespectful or inattentive.  For these reasons the “neurodivergent” (what we who struggle with mental health issues refer to ourselves as) work hard to mask our differences.  And it takes work.  Often energy draining levels, to the point that simple tasks become arduous.  More than that, those who deal with mental health problems want help.  They need help in working through their struggles.

And there is the rub.  While prescription medicine is usually covered, therapy rarely is.  When it is covered, it is only a fraction of the cost of each session.  This then leads to most people with mental health issues to “suffer in silence”.  Maybe confiding with a friend, but almost never with a coworker.  The stigma of being mentally “different” is real and often leads to external isolation by their peers.  If your ankle is swollen, or you are feeling chest pains, you head to the nearest emergency room, followed by a care plan with a physical therapist.

Why is it considered “less” for a health condition that is “unseen”?

Mental Health Disorder Statistics

According to Johns Hopkins, 1 in 4 Americans (26%) deal with a diagnosable mental disorder. While these percentages can be affected by religion, region, career, or nationality, the numbers show that this is more prominent than many would like to admit.

Hear More from John Hopkins

What can be done about all this? First, a person who is struggling needs to admit that they cannot do it all by themselves. If an employee, co-worker, peer, or friend comes to talk to you about a mental health issue they are dealing with, recognize that it took a lot of strength and courage for them to do that. Next, listen to what they are going through. It is very likely you will not know what to say, or even do in their situation. Be willing to say that you do not know, and to encourage them to seek professional help when necessary. And finally, stand by them through the process.  Mental health issues are rarely solved by just following a formula, or “taking a pill” and it may be a lifelong journey for them.