I was around the age of 15, attending a girls’ high school in Hong Kong. I went to school as normal, but there was an eerie sense of gloom in the air. A few teachers looked like they had been crying all weekend. Finally, someone was brave enough to break the silence – a popular girl who was senior to me, had perfect grades, and other achievements as drama and debate had committed suicide. I had been on the debate team with her, and knew her big smiles and amicable disposition. I can still remember that moment, sitting on the hard bench in the school chapel for her memorial service, thinking to myself, “I will never kill myself.”
15 years later, I nearly did. In fact, I tried a few times, each time disappointed and frustrated at myself for not even able to complete this task and wondered about my competence.
I had thought about this girl from high school many times during the course of my depression, and most recently when launching the Bearapy campaign for the WHO World Health Day’s theme: Depression, Let’s Talk. And a few years ago, a friend I knew from Japan, with whom I had communicated just a few days prior to her ending her life. I do not know whether they had depression or what propelled them to take her own lives. People comment on how much of a loss it was, how sad, how she should not have done it, how she could have sought help. When in rational thoughts, that all makes sense.
When warped under 50 feet of snow, cold, dark, helpless in depression, that is not so apparent. The dismal hopelessness overtook me; I was unable to control the tsunami of despair. The only way out was death.
And yet, so many of us wear a mask to hide these “unacceptable” thoughts – society is full of reasons why suicide is “bad”. So we carry on, and even perform to become successful leaders and managers. No one would ever know we had depression, until they came to our funerals.
1 in 4 people around us have such thoughts right this moment. 300+ million people in this world have depression on any given day – equivalent to the population of the US. It is the leading cause of disability according to the WHO.
Still, companies still choose to ignore this issue, shoving it down the pigeon holes of Diversity & Inclusion, or HR-matters, or Corporate Social Responsibility. We spend at least 1/3 of our time at work or in the office. Companies pay us to produce. Such paradox then, when depression causes organizations to lose USD 1 trillion a year that business leaders do not pay more attention. It is loss of money in productivity, in disability insurance, medical insurance, absenteeism, head count cost…
Sure, there are workshops and talks on well being, on staying healthy, stress management etc. Mindfulness seems to be the buzz word. Yet, how much of the companies’ culture enables or empowers employees to speak their minds, share their real emotions, and seek help without stigma or taboo?
We are afraid how others will see us, especially if we are feeling vulnerable. Some people think if we cry, we are considered weak. We always think that we need to show just the happy, strong side. We need to be that visionary leader, especially when as a woman, it is hard enough already to climb the ladder. Show them we can do it. Hide the depressed, helpless, self. Many people in organizations are the same – to keep up the image that we think society expects of us. So we suppress our emotions. This creates stress, which could lead to depression and anxiety issues.
The Bearapy campaign that launched on April 7 is a challenge for us to be honest to ourselves. The pictures help elicit deeper emotions – and imagination and creativity if we allow – and bring the awareness from unconscious to conscious self-awareness. The question we can then ask ourselves, is why do we see the bear as such. Some might flee the scene and revert back to their projections on to the bear, citing, “It was how the bear was drawn.” Perhaps… but where is our part and our responsibility in interpreting the bear with our biases, assumptions, perspectives, experiences, emotions, and thoughts?
Could we own up to how we feel without fear of being judged, fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough etc… ?
This is what drives me, drives my blog, my writing, my work. This is Bearapy’s Mission: to make the world mentally health. The Vision at the moment is to focus on organizations, large or small, to encourage them to incorporate employee mental well-being as part of the company culture, to embrace them speaking their truth. And the Strategy is to use the psychology of playfulness and creativity to get us there.
This is why we need to talk – and listen, without telling someone “You should not commit suicide because it will make me sad.” Your sadness is not my cross to carry. Let us all take responsibility for our own feelings.
There is hope, though at times, I empathize with those who think the opposite.
#Bearapy #depression #Everythingsnotokay #RealEmotions
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