Like so many other Thursdays, I participated in the Student Affairs Collaborative’s weekly #sachat. Today’s discussion was on Mental Health of Student Affairs Professionals. As someone who’s looking at this topic (or as I later learned, some version of this topic) for her dissertation several years down the road, I was really interested to see what others in the field had to say on the topic.
Admittedly, I was disappointed in the discussion in some ways. Yes, I did get a lot out of talking about how to approach co-workers who we might feel are burning the candle at both ends. But many other aspects of the discussion frustrated me. Two issues that arose were:
- whether or not out field has worse issues with work/life balance than others (in my estimation, lots of people have this issue- student affairs professionals worry about it because we’re helpers and we’re taught to monitor it), and
- whether or not it’s our responsibility to approach co-workers if we see they’re having problems (I am a firm believer that if we are taught to address it without hesitation for the students we work with, why in the world shouldn’t we take the same care for each other?)
But the biggest issue I had was the lack of ability of the group (and I think it’s just a matter of the size of the group, and the manner in which we assembled) to come up with a definition of mental health to talk about. Many were referring to mental health in terms of work life balance, while others were referring to mental health for those with clinical mental health concerns (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.). The discussion landed on the side of the former, but I would really like to know more about the latter, both to inform the field and to help myself.
I am an anxious person. I worry about things far more than most people, and things that bother me, do so for longer than they do most people. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember, but it became debilitating at the end of 2010. 2011 has been a year of making this better for myself, to be able to go to bed without my thoughts racing, or go to work without worrying about getting things done, or to cultivate relationships with people without being terrified of how I’ll be perceived.
It started with counseling, and then a lot of reading. Thanks in large part to The Chemistry of Calm (a book recommendation from a friend, and a great example of that outreach that people in the chat today were so concerned about doing), I came up with a plan of attack that works for me. It incorporates making time for myself, taking care to shut out things that I know make me anxious, and changing my diet. For those who don’t know, I’ve been following a gluten-free diet for the last few months, and plan to continue it for as long as it makes me feel better.
This is an ongoing journey for me, and I want to keep learning about myself and how to keep this from being something that stifles who I am, who I can be. But I realized today in the chat that I need to talk about it. I need to be okay with saying it, so that other people aren’t afraid to approach me about it. And I need to be open about it for the sake of my students and coworkers, so that they feel open to talking with me about their concerns for themselves and each other.
Guess I got more from today’s chat than I thought…