Many of us will know someone who has or currently is experiencing poor mental health. One in four people will experience poor mental health in their lifetime. Men are three times more likely to take their own life. Whilst the annual cost of poor mental health to employers is between £33billion and £44billion and 300,000 people with a long-term poor mental health lose their jobs each year.
Invisible illnesses are comparable to physical illnesses, and my first poignant encounter was some 20 years ago, I met a work colleague with mental health challenges. I always recall noticing their behaviour changing, attention swaying and emotions fluctuating. Back then would we have identified these as symptoms of poor mental health? And would we have felt comfortable to share and talk about it if we did?
Fast forward 20 years from my first powerful encounter with poor mental health, today we embark on evolving our working environment where you can ‘bring your whole self to work’, no matter (to name a few) your sexuality, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, disability, mental health, religion and socio-economic.
When we look for wellness strategies to support our colleagues to bring their whole self to work, we can start with resetting the question “how are you?” with compassion and devotion. Going back to basics seems like a good place to start if we are to continue to take strides to support our colleagues whilst being inclusive.
How often do you ask someone “how are you?’ Or “how are you feeling?”. We attach such importance when asking the question yet do we expect an answer, let alone an honest answer.
If not, why do we ask the question.
When you are offered the gift to share how you are feeling, why is it that most often we just say “I am fine thanks”.
Imagine the connection, the magical sparkle and the vibrations of the conversation which can take place when we ask with anticipation for a wholehearted response. Your internal butterfly grateful for the moment when you receive this precious gift in return, when a colleague shares how they feel in that moment.
Imagine sharing your moment of feeling with someone who listens with devotion. Your internal butterfly is not seeking empathy, support, help or to rejoice with you. Your internal butterfly is grateful for the space to share. The receiver of your moment is sitting by your side listening. Listening with all of their senses fully present with you as you share.
So why is it that such a wonderful, simple and curious question receives such little air time?
Is it bias that might hold us back from sharing how we might feel;
Is it shame which might not feel comfortable to share our feelings;
Is it that we don’t know how the receiver of the question will know how to handle the emotional exchange; or
Is it that we haven’t yet connected consciously with how we feel in that moment.
My internal butterfly, with all its beautiful vibrancy is grateful that someone has asked how I am. Gratitude activates chemicals in my brain creating positive energy and vibrations, and the catalyst for me to feel comfortable and safe to answer the question. So, next time I receive the gift of this question, I will reach out to my internal butterfly as I answer with the content it truly deserves.
How are you today?
Tali Shlomo is the Head of Inclusion & Wellbeing at Shearman & Sterling LLP in the UK. She will be speaking at The Wellbeing @ Work Summit on 5 November – further details on this virtual event can be found here.