When people read “mental illness”, they think, by association, of some sort of “psychological virus”. That can be cured through seeing a doctor and taking medications, just like you do when you catch a virus and the doctor gives you pills and rest until it’s fixed – and, then, life goes back to normality.
Doesn’t work like that. At all.
Let’s dig up why:
the kind of mental illness it’s usually discussed within a professional environment, is due to overwhelming amounts of stress. And stress is an “emotional pain reaction” to a real world phenomena – think of it as the powerful impulse your brain gives to your hand when you touch a red hot stove, but, in this case, about your wrong life choices.
And this is the very important first step to truly understand mental illness at work:
stress is a symptom, not an illness. You don’t have to ignore it, and, for the love of God, or whoever you believe in, you don’t have to suppress it through medication.
Stress is your brain’s way to tell you “You’ve got your hand on a burning stove”.
Suppressing workplace stress is the equivalent of taking anesthetics so to keep your hand on a burning stove.
And, by this, you already are on the right path to actually fix mentall illness at work. Because you understood that stress is not an illness nor a cause to be fixed, but a symptom.
Symptom of what? What’s the cause?
Stress in a workplace is the symptom of hostility. Hostility happens when people arbitrarily decide that they want to be like that. When people want to cause stress to each other.
Or, in technical jargon: when the social capital reaches low levels ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital ).
This is very important to understand, because many try to blame “complex works” for stress. Which is just scapegoating their ill intents: they don’t want to admit they know they’re hurting people – and probably take pleasure in it too (more on this below). When morale is high, complex works are a ton of fun.
Because, when people are cohesive, nothing can stop them. Not even fear of death. Which is one of humanity’s most defining traits: the capacity to band together, and do great things. The capacity for brotherhood, and belonging.
For instance, here’s an interesting study about this:
Suicide rates are higher in times of peace than in times of war. (For example, the suicide rate in France fell after the coup d’etat of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. War also reduced the suicide rate: after war broke out in 1866 between Austria and Italy, the suicide rate fell by 14 per cent in both countries.)
For someone new to sociology, it might sound extremely weird – but it’s not: during warfare, people have real problems to think of. So, out of pure survival instinct, they ditch all the hostile pettiness of peacetime life – like being envious of your neighbor’s biggest car, or your colleague’s promotion. Because, think about it: if your house has just been bombed, and you’re being hounded by a foreign military, would you worry about what your neighbor is driving…?
And, to expand, there’s a whole amazing book about this:
So, why are people hostile to each other?
This is the best part:
because they want to.
And why do they want to?
There’s many theories, and science is not exactly firm about this. One of the best theories I’ve found about it, is explained in this book: https://www.wlupress.wlu.ca/Books/T/The-H-Factor-of-Personality. If you know the BIG5 theory already, you’ll rapidly catch up with what they found out (HEXACO is a small, but radical, revision of the BIG5 theory).
Which, long story short, says that some people are just more prone to be manipulative and manifest their anger with aggression – something I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to you: you’ll know that temper varies greatly amongst people. You’ll have some people that can stay calm in the direst situations, and some who can’t wait to explode in your face. Some that are always there for you, and some who you hear only when they need something from you. Some that are kind and forgiving (maybe even when they’re not supposed to), and some who just love a good revenge.
So, how do you truly fix mental illness at work?
Fix your recruitment department, to make them stop hiring hostile people.
Hire people who genuinely like* their profession, and respect their colleagues.
There is no amount of psychotherapy and benzodiazepam on this galaxy to make bearable an unbearable workplace. And, most importantly: why would you want to? We only have one life: why live it in dull misery?
And, after such an ugly topic, here’s some beautiful music. To close on a positive note.
*in that instance, I prefer “like” to “love”. “Love” is for your kids, spouse, parents, dog, cat (even though cats tend to be a bit …you know, “cats”. But we love them anyway).”Love” is something that gives you meaning. “Like” is for something fun.