Social Work/Helping Profession/Mental Health

Speaking with the Emotionally Fragile

Guest Blogger- Kelly Mitchell, BA

This week and next, I’m meeting 1:1 with 21 people who just last week I spent 5 days with, exploring career possibilities and learning about themselves. The purpose of our individual meetings is to give them feedback on their participation in the process, sum up what they got out of the experience, and what steps lie before them in both the short and long-term.

Among the things they all share in common is that each of these people are currently in receipt of social assistance; getting help with their rent and food while they rebuild their lives. Of those in attendance, what you may find interesting is that quite a few disclosed in the group or to me individually over the week that they are dealing with issues of depression and anxiety either on a frequent or regular basis. So you can imagine how proud I am of all of them for coming out, doing some self-assessments of their skills, abilities, values, and needs with respect to jobs and careers.

I met with one such person yesterday for about 90 minutes. I asked about her living arrangements in order to find out how stable this part of her life is, as stable housing is a prerequisite to finding employment. She mentioned that she lives with her younger brother, but previously lived with an older brother, her mother before that, her father before that, and with both her mom and dad prior to a messy divorce. Having revealed all this to me, I asked her how she felt moving around during that period. And it was at this point that I was glad I had thought to put a box of tissue within reach of her.

All her feelings of being inconvenient, in the way, unappreciated, passed off as a burden and a source of frustration for others flooded out. That one inquiry I’d made touched a sensitive and raw area that on the surface of things was invisible, but internally she was carrying it so close to the surface that the slightest mention of her feelings caused her it pour out.

At a moment such as this, you’ve got to know how prepared you are yourself to have someone break down in front of you in such an obvious trusting and honest way. The key for me personally is that it’s not about me, but about them; and at that moment, it was pretty clear she was in need of a slight pause in the conversation – even though we’d pretty much just begun – to compose herself. She apologized. I get that of course, but why apologize?

At age 25, here she was before me, an emotionally sensitive woman still experiencing the trauma from the messy divorce of her parents and being shuffled around from family member to family member because she was not wanted by any of them until she landed with a younger brother. She’s been robbed of the security and stability of an intact parental pairing and has yet to fully work through this loss.

Counselling of course came immediately to mind as a viable addition to her support team in moving forward. Unfortunately, she mentioned that she is distrustful of counsellors because it was a counsellor arranged by her father that first told her that her parents were about to get a divorce and that it would be very messy. That unfortunate experience has jaded her from giving counselling a second chance. I’m still hopeful that this option for her becomes one she takes me up on, especially when it’s free for her entirely and just down the hall from where we were meeting, so it’s in a place she currently trusts and visits.

We meet people every day in our lives who are experiencing trauma, dealing with anxiety, and depression. Some of these issues become known to us and at other times they are invisible, but we deal with the people nonetheless perhaps never knowing what they are really dealing with and working through.

What makes encounters with those experiencing mental health issues unique from physical health issues is that they are not immediately apparent, and therefore the rest of us might not come to the same conclusions with respect to the behaviours we observe. So while a person wearing a cast gets a, “Gee how did that happen? Let me get the door for you,” the depressed person might get a, “What’s your issue? Smile a little, it wont’ kill you.” And if those with mental health issues did wear identifying labels on their foreheads we might be paralyzed ourselves in wondering how to even start talking to them when we saw 5 or 6 labels on one person alone.

For me personally, I have found that just sitting and listening, opening the door to a disclosure, making no promises of a quick fix, but engaging in a safe relationship where it’s okay to share something personally important works.

People with anxiety and depression can be valuable additions to an employer. They deserve success, happiness, and employment just like anyone else, and in many cases will work with appreciation for the opportunity. Initially they may need extra support, a kind Supervisor as they stretch themselves and what they can do. Just imagine how grateful and committed an employee you’d be getting if they could share their triggers with you and not be taken advantage of or dismissed for doing so.

Something to consider.

*First posted at: https://myjobadvice.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/speaking-with-the-emotionally-fragile/  and re-posted with permission.

2 thoughts on “Speaking with the Emotionally Fragile”

  1. Great article and I would add that there is a good chance anyone in a position of community-facing responsibility will be in this role, and possibly often. For instance, I worked in biomedical laboratory settings (not frontline clinical positions) where this happened, and later in my career in education, as a teacher and as an administrator, such encounters where common. Fellow employees and parents of students are sometimes in fragile places in their lives when such outpourings of trusted sharing occur. It’s good to be ready as citizens of the world, I say, as we never know when it will be our turn, either to listen, support and counsel, or to be the one sharing from our own fragility.

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