Why I Was Afraid To Take A Mental Health Day After The Las Vegas Mass Shooting

On October 1st, 2017, I was celebrating the last night of my birthday vacation in Vegas with my mom. After having zero luck at the casinos around the strip, we both decided to call it a night. But since it was our last night in Vegas, we decided to take our time, take in all the bright lights, and excitement of the tourists. It was Sunday, but the Las Vegas Strip doesn’t understand the meaning of a ‘lazy Sunday.’  Everyone was out enjoying that famous Las Vegas nightlife when suddenly fear took over the streets.

The Las Vegas shooting shook the world and rocked me to my very core. For the days that followed, my mom and I experienced pure exhaustion. I felt emotions that I had never felt before, and the fear just seemed to always be there. I’d be out driving and running errands and all of a sudden a wave of terror would take over my body.

But I didn’t want to talk about it. I felt stupid. I wasn’t at the shooting; I was just near it. People lost their lives, their loved ones, and me? I was just a distance from it. So why did I feel such terror and anxiety over the situation? I felt like I had to just brush it off, I wasn’t directly affected, right?

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So off to work I went that week. The wave of terror would wash over me almost hourly, like clockwork. I would try to ignore it, to push it to the back of my mind to focus on more important things, but it just kept creeping back up. 

It didn’t help that I work in media. The shooting was all over the news and social media. I couldn’t get away from it.

On my third day back at work, my co-workers started to notice I wasn’t myself. I would brush them off, telling them I was “just fine,’ but I could tell by the numerous inquiries that people were starting to worry about me. And while I seemed calm, cool and collected on the outside, it was only a matter of time before my emotional ticking time bomb would go off. And then it happened.

One of my senior producers approached me at my desk as I was working away. During this time, I was trying to keep myself as busy as possible. She started off by asking me something work-related, but as she looked up at me, her expression changed from work-serious to a look only given when someone is truly concerned about another human being.

She looked me directly in the eyes and asked, “How are you feeling?”

The question took me by surprise. My eyes immediately welled up with tears, and my body started to shake. I realized at that moment that I hadn’t taken the time to even ask myself that question because I was so busy trying to get back into the normal routine.

I didn’t know how I was feeling, but I knew I had to figure it out. And at that moment, I realized that just wasn’t going to happen at work.

I didn’t want to take time off because I didn’t think it was necessary. I wasn’t sick, so why would I need a sick day?

I realized I was actively denying myself time off to recover from what was probably the hardest thing I had ever been through. And why was I denying myself recovery? Because I felt silly to admit that I was anxious and fearful. That my well-being was shaken up and I didn’t have a handle on my emotions anymore.

I felt silly to admit that, but really I just wasn’t being honest with myself.  

Mental health is such an important factor in our lives.  The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates one in five Canadians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime. That’s 7.2 million people in this country alone! But we don’t talk about it and here’s why.

Awareness is not the issue. Virtually every month of the year has some sort of designation addressing to mental illness, but there is still a huge judgement in acknowledging the issue as an individual.

And here’s the best part of my story. When I finally went to my boss and told her I needed to take a few days off for my mental well-being, she supported me fully and completely. She praised me for being brave enough to come forward to admit that I did need the help.

Mental health in the workplace is something no employer likes to discuss. After all, the widespread opinion holds that a boss has no business getting involved with employee’s mental health in the first place. But that doesn’t mean an organization doesn’t have a responsibility for its employees’ psychological welfare.

By opening a discussion around mental health in the workplace, employers can provide the tools employees need, and support the workforce needs without violating their privacy.

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Here are three ways to address mental health in the workplace;

1.     Educate, educate, educate

Mental health issues are so prevalent across the world; chances are that some employees are already dealing with a problem. However, like me, they may not be acknowledging it as a legitimate problem and may be unsure how to deal with it. One solution is to bring in a qualified mental health professional to educate employees about the signs and symptoms of common problems. Encouraging an open discussion that allows employees to ask questions, so the stigma will begin to fade. The team could even do some role-playing exercises to give everybody practice using coping mechanisms or interacting with someone going through a hard time.

2.     Provide resources

To help your employees make sure that everyone is aware of the benefits your company currently offers and understands those options. It’s also a good idea to provide employees information about local support groups that meet to deal with different issues.

3.     No stress = no problems

An office can be a stressful place. And while some level of stress can push employees to do better, the work environment should never hurt employees’ health. Consciously try to make the office a stress-free work environment. An important part of that is providing employees with more work/life balance. Encourage employees to take breaks so they can relax for a few minutes. Be very clear what tasks have to be completed by what time, and which are more flexible and can wait until tomorrow.

Mental health should not be a taboo subject in the office. I was afraid to speak up, but when I did, this giant weight felt like it was lifted off my shoulders and now I feel like I can be open and honest about how I am feeling at work. I can take a day off for my well-being and not feel guilty. By opening up the conversation on mental health, employers can do their part in creating a happier workplace. Remember that we are only human, we all go through tough times and us understanding goes a long way.