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While Mental health Week and World Mental Health Day draw our attention to the very pressing and urgent need to address the spiraling levels of mental illness especially in the workplace, little appears to be being done to address WHY this is happening.

We continue to ignore this at our peril because of the associated cost to families and relationships and the cost of the economy currently running at over $10.9 billion per year

The solution is so obvious, yet hidden from sight because it has become our ‘norm’.

We do too much, we drive ourselves too hard and we overburden our brain with stress. Knowing when to pull back, to stop and take a mental break can be hard, especially when there are deadlines to meet, expectations to rise to and a desire to succeed because we love what we do and want to do well.

But what if we all pressed the pause button, even for a moment, to take stock of where we are, where we’re going and how we feel?

Jerome Doraisamy is a solicitor from NSW who recently published a book called the Wellness Doctrines . His own experience of depression led him to ask why law students and young lawyers as a cohort experience such high levels of stress and mental illness and why the associated stigma means 86% of professionals choose to suffer in silence rather than tell their colleagues or superiors.

Of course its not just lawyers either.

In a national survey undertaken in the States in 2012 45.8% of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout; loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism. And low sense of personal accomplishment.

A snippet in this week’s Weekend Australian talks about “brownout”, the stage before burnout where we experience a drop in energy, motivation and job satisfaction, then a sustained fall in productivity. (Funny, I thought we called that Friday afternoon.)

An analysis of 1000 executives by Corporate Balance Concepts estimated that while 5% of people suffer burnout, 40% suffer brownout but stay under the radar because they aren’t in obvious crisis.

This is the “norm” we need to worry about because the appearance is that everything is fine when it’s anything but, and we don’t realise or see the effort being put in to keep our heads above water.

Sometimes of course, mental illness is nothing to do with our occupation, but the hand we are dealt with by our genes or our environment.

One of the hardest aspects of mental illness is how do you explain to someone who hasn’t experienced the despair of feeling your family would be better off without you or the anxiety paralysing your ability to participate or perform what it feels like.

One person who does know and can explain it in an honest, open way without self pity; in fact she mocks it as a way to help keep her safe and sane, is my friend Kate Matheson who wrote this extraordinary piece for news.com.au

What about you?

How would you notice that something wasn’t right?

Would you say if you felt anxious or depressed?

Would you tell someone at work if you knew there would be no come back and no judgement? (the stats suggest we wouldn’t)

Would you trust your boss or manager to care enough about your situation to help you through it? (again, the stats suggest 56% of us don’t believe our boss would)

When do we start taking action to reduce this burden and change the ‘norm’?

I say we start now to help ourselves, to help others and to ensure that our children are provided the skill-sets needed to stay happy and healthy.

We can achieve this through greater brain health and acknowledging that as humans we are fallible and imperfect. We can then give ourselves permission to slow down, to pause and reflect on how we want to traverse this journey we call life.

Healthy brains think better, work better and stay well.

What is happening for you in your life or workplace?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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