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  • Writer's pictureMarian Mills

STRUGGLING WITH ANXIETY & DEPRESSION WHILE WORKING AS A HELPING PROFESSIONAL



DISCLOSURE TO BUILD A BRIDGE


Soooo...This is my first blog. WELCOME.

I have been procrastinating, well if I'm being honest, I've been downright avoiding the start of this blog since last year. Why? Because mental health is a passion of mine. Wait! What?? 😲😮

That doesn't make sense, it sounds like something I'd jump at the chance to do, right? But the main reason is because it's also a struggle for me.

This is not something I have ever admitted publicly.

One reason is because I was a social worker (Family Services Specialist or FSS) in the Child Protective Services (CPS) Unit at a local Dept. of Social Services for years.


I was never concerned about my clients knowing about my mental health diagnosis. I often used disclosure to connect and build rapport with some of my clients.  Anytime I disclosed part of my story, the clients seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.  It's like it humanized me with them.  It knocked down that invisible wall of separation between professional and client, put me on the same level as them in some way and erased any feelings of judgement towards them. I was selective with how and with whom I disclosed my mental health challenges with, but I did it to show them that you can have a mental health diagnosis and still be successful.  There's life with and after a mental health diagnosis. 


I was, however, mindful of my coworkers, supervisors and/or upper management knowing because of...well judgement.  I learned very quickly after being in the field for a short period of time, that there is a ⛈⛈ black cloud ⛈⛈ hovering over a mental health diagnosis if you were a professional. I was also fully aware of the fact that I was surrounded by people who could possibly see when I was displaying symptoms of someone busting at the seams of a mental health disaster. Some professionals spoke so negatively about clients with mental health diagnosis as if professionals couldn't have mental health diagnosis as well. Was I the only one that had this secret?


When I first got my degree, 😜silly me, 🙃 thought I'd be in good company to openly discuss mental health without judgment since I was working in the "helping field". I mean this is a career field that advocates mental health services and self-care. NOT! See, I thought that being surrounded by other educated professionals that have knowledge and understanding of human development, human behavior, mental health/diagnosis and coping skills would at least break the stigma around talking about mental health. It was only more judgement, so I continued to mask the struggles, as I had done throughout my collegiate career, but it was getting harder.

Here is a recent article to support this negative reaction; according to Kaiser Permanente's National Leader for Mental Health and Wellness, Dr. Don Mordecai, "About 75% of employees have struggled with an issue that affected their mental health.  Yet, 8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking mental health care."  The article went on to say, "Even in the most progressive workplaces, many employees keep their conditions secret. They may be afraid that being open about them will hurt their reputation, compromise work relationships, or even jeopardize their job.  This can prevent employees from seeking help and getting better." As an Army veteran, I was getting mental health treatment on a regular basis from my local Dept. of Veteran Affairs Medical Center, but my career choice and passion was inconducive to my already declining, fragile mental health.


CLIENTS & THEIR MENTAL HEALTH


On the job, I routinely had to ask clients if they have any mental health diagnosis. This often produced a defensive response from the client, "No, I ain't crazy!" I realized that most clients didn't understand what classified as a "mental health diagnosis". So, I changed my approach by asking if they have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression or any other mental health disorder. Some clients expressed their surprise to learn that anxiety or depression were mental health disorders.


I started educating clients about mental health by comparing it to health. I wanted them to understand that a mental health diagnosis does not mean you are "crazy". I explained it like this: Everyone has health, and everyone has mental health. I like to explain both mental and physical health as being on a spectrum. A person's physical and/or mental health can vary anywhere on the spectrum. This spectrum can range between mild (minor), moderate or severe on any given time in a day, week, month or year depending on the circumstance and the person's natural response to stress in their life. Here are some examples of where some specific life events may fall on the spectrum, but these are not limited to only what is mentioned below.


  • Mild (Minor): Regular annual follow-ups can help a person maintain a healthy and stable physical and mental health. For physical health examples, a person may have a cold, cut their finger, even twist their ankle and never need to seek medical treatment because the injuries are minor enough to be treated at home. For mental health: A person may feel anxious because a life event like running late for an important appointment, they may be anxious about an upcoming performance, or feel depressed after getting some disappointing news. The feelings of disappointment and anxiety are only temporary so the impact on the person's mental health is minor.


  • Moderate: Regular therapy and/or medication management maybe needed to help a person maintain physical or mental stability. If those same injures are more moderate/severe, where the cold is an upper respiratory infection or flu, the cut may need stitches and the ankle is severely swollen, discolored and unable to bear any weight, then medical treatment is necessary. The mental health examples for this level will be discussed below.


  • Severe: Frequent or long-term hospitalizations, followed by outpatient care may be necessary to care for and/or maintain a person's physical and mental health. *NOTE: These are in no way representative of the only stressors, situations or circumstances that could rise to the level of moderate or severe where someone may need a high level of treatment.* Keeping with the same injuries where the upper respiratory infection/flu is now up graded to pneumonia, the cut may need surgical intervention and the ankle injury may have exposed bone or it may be someone dealing with a chronic illness. The examples for mental health are a little different though, because the response to the same situation in the moderate to severe level will depend on multiple variables such as a person's predisposition to a mental health diagnosis, living in a state of fear or heighten awareness/alertness (continued abuse in the home or violence in the neighborhood). The person may also display signs of increased withdraws from daily life, activities and responsibilities for extended periods of time at this level.


THE EFFECTS OF STRESS



I learned about vicarious trauma (VT) and secondary traumatic stress (STS) in a training. Vicarious trauma is referred to an occupational trauma that may occur in people working in certain fields. While STS (widely known as compassion fatigue or referred to as secondary PTSD) is the reaction that can occur when someone has been exposed to the details of another person's trauma.


It's important to note that all mental health disorders can have an effect on any of the following areas and may appear all at the same time, physical (headaches), cognitive behavioral (trouble concentrating/making decisions), psychological (severe anxiety), mood (loss of interest), sleep (insomnia).


I have always been passionate about the welfare of children and their safety even before getting my degree. I don't know if it was my intense passion, my debilitated mental health or both that caused me not to withstand the stress of the job. I can admit that the majority of the stress was not from the cases or the clients. It was brought on by unsupportive supervision/management, the lack of compassion management/coworkers had for the clients we served and the RED tape that was changing policies but not changing the culture.


REALITY CHECK: ACCOUNTABILITY


I was aware of the triggers that could possibly increase my own anxiety and/or depression. For example, increased stress and exhaustion can cause my anxiety to unravel. But I wasn't being honest with myself about the passion I had for CPS and my own mental health. I guess you could say that I had on rose-colored glasses when it came to me working in CPS. I enjoyed investigating cases and following the evidence, educating families on what the state considers child abuse and neglect; and then coaching families on ways to improve communication and ultimately prevent future cases. But...this field is as rewarding as it is stressful. I was in denial, but I had to be honest with myself, as much as I loved the work, it was exacerbating my anxiety and depression.

I commend those who have worked in this field for years, even able to retire after years of service. I thought working in child welfare was going to be my only career. Unfortunately, I was not going to make it through the rest of the year. In 2021, I had to go out on temporary disability because I could no longer mask my anxiety and depression. While I was out on disability, I was able to get the intensive mental health treatment I had been neglecting. I had been training as a voiceover artist since 2019, but while I was out on disability, I increased my voiceover coaching sessions and took additional trainings. I was due to return to work in October but much of the anxiety that had subsided while being out on disability was rising back up at the thought of returning to work. Tearfully, I had to make the decision not to return to work and "retire" from working in the child welfare field of CPS.


MAINTENANCE


Now, as a professional voiceover solopreneur, I use my voice to share clients' messages that can inspire, educate, motivate, inform and energize a variety of audiences. There is more room for my creativity to flow, which helps keep my mind and body free from stress. That's not to say that I don't have stress, but I have the freedom to step away to reset. For example, I may have difficulty connecting with a script or a character. I don't have to stay stuck in that stressful place and force it to happen or wait until I get off work (something I had to do often in CPS). I simply step out of my home studio, and go outside for a walk, enjoy the birds, bees and butterflies in my flower garden, or watch the birds feed from the multiple birdfeeders in my yard. This short 10 to 15-minute break allows my mind to be free of any stress or pressure, which relieves my body of the tension and allows me to clear my mind, redirect my thoughts by enjoying the current moment in the outdoors. By allowing myself to clear my mind and not think about the issue I was having in the booth, I'm able to let the character come organically without the stress.


What do you use in your day-to-day life to maintain a healthy balanced mental health? This may be what your provider calls coping strategies. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as it is something that can relax you, center you and not harm you or others. It is not a one-size fits all. Please keep in mind that this will in no way take the place of regular visits to your mental health provider and abiding by any medication management put in place.


If you need someone to talk to or having thoughts of harming yourself, call, text or visit the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 988 or www.988lifeline.org.


Feel free to leave a comment if you can relate to the professional side, the client or both. What was your experience? What was the outcome? Please visit my Depression Proof Your Life Facebook page for support and resources.


Marian Mills



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