Be open about mental health struggles at work

Andrew Walls

Andrew Walls

2 mins read

While I’d prefer to share a story of triumph and personal growth, in the spirit of Movember, this is a story of troubled sleep and unsettling anxiety. Eight months ago, I started working as an Innovation Specialist at a pension fund in Toronto. Exciting right.

The role seemed perfect. After all, I’m an ambitious person. I want to make a significant, positive difference in the world. I want to be a good person, and I want to matter.

It’s even in my background. Growing up, I was jokingly known as the “retirement fund” by my mother, who sacrificed any semblance of a retirement plan for me to get a good education. I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of pressure to live up to the expectations placed on me. It feels like I have no choice but to succeed professionally. Otherwise, what were all the sacrifices for?

Shockingly, my experience in the workplace hasn’t been a meteoric rise. It’s been a grind. I’ve spent months commuting at peak rush hour to a downtown office. In that office, I’m often not listened to. I’m given work I disagree with. It’s hard. It’s an adjustment. It all feels grey and inevitable. Like somehow, commuting, computers, and commands are all there is. But it’s not just me. In Canada, workplace stress is the number one contributor to mental health challenges. Conversations with my coworkers confirm how normal it is. We all feel it.

I don’t want to eat some mornings. I wake up with my mind buzzing with intrusive thoughts about work. My weekends are framed around the Sunday Scaries—or anticipatory anxiety about returning to work. This is not normal for me. In fact, it’s terrifying. What if it never goes away?

A few weeks ago, I was told to ask a speaker a question at a company offsite—a normal, straightforward request. Yet, the anxiety and mental fog gnawed at me until I quietly bolted from the room. I had a panic attack. It took 15 minutes and numerous splashes of water until I regained my composure. Very few people noticed.

My advice, which I’m doing my best to follow, is to be open about our struggles. Unfortunately, they’re normal. I’ll admit I’m terrified that by admitting I struggle—I’ll be looked down on. What if, by acknowledging my weakness, people begin seeing me as a liability? What if that causes me to fail and let my family and myself down? But for most, being open is the only possible response. Openness means acknowledging that you don’t deserve what you’re experiencing. That forces outside yourself are causing it. Finally, that your mental health matters. You matter. I recognize it’s not possible for everyone, and I’m sorry about that. But for those who are able, please tell your story.