Spaces to be Vulnerable: Depression in the Church Workplace

I recently read an article about mental health in the workplace. The article suggested that mental health was moving to the forefront of work place “benefits” that employees would be looking for. The younger generation is looking for companies that prioritizes their mental health and creates space to discuss it. As the stigma on mental health discussion decreases in mainstream media, the article urges businesses and business leaders to take note. Since over 80% of adults face mental health issues at some point, it is time we start discussing it at work.

The task of discussion falls largely on the bosses. People look to leadership to see how they should be behaving. This was a suggestion of one researcher:

“Modeling disclosure and vulnerability as strengths, not weaknesses, goes a long way toward reducing mental health stigma and setting the tone for transparency.”

When I first read the statement, I paused. It’s so simple, right? If one leader in an entire company, office, or church staff models vulnerability, then the space opens up to be more honest, forgiving, and whole. And yet, it is still not happening.

We still move around our workplaces, churches included, like robots who have no off switch. We are proud when we are the first at work and the last to leave. We whisper behind the backs of the employees who do not work as hard. We work relentlessly and champion those who work the hardest.

I’ve dealt with minor depression during periods of my life. This time of year, seasonal depression kicks in overdrive. As a result, I have days where getting to work 15 minutes late takes all of my effort. I have hours where I sit at my desk reading an article that should have taken 45 minutes. I have moments where I want to shut my office door and turn out the lights, hopeful for a few moments where I don’t have to fake my way through positive colleague interaction.

If you’ve never dealt with depression, everything I just said probably sounds ridiculous to you. Get over it. Wake up earlier. Stop being lazy. These are some of the things you may be thinking. These things were all said to me when I would go through lulls in high school or college. It was hard for my parents and teachers to understand, when most of the time I was so upbeat, dedicated, and energized.

Disclosure and vulnerability.

The words from the researcher still linger in my mind. What would it be like if those things were present in my office? What would it be like if leadership modeled those things for the rest of us?

Well, I would still have seasonal depression…but I could talk about it. I could share about how hard it has been lately, just to do the bare minimum. I could relate to my co-workers who are, inevitably, dealing with some things of their own. I think, maybe, I could find more moments of relief and true positivity if I had the release of honesty in the workplace.

Disclosure and vulnerability.

These are not small things. They are amazing, wonderful, life-changing things, but everyone has to want them. You cannot have disclosure unclouded by fear if one employee is going to share everything you tell them with someone else. You cannot have vulnerability, pure and raw, if the boss will look down on you for your honest shortcomings.

It’s a beautiful dream, the stigma free workplace. It’s a wonderful hope, to have disclosure and vulnerability in all of our communities. But I don’t think we are there yet. Maybe it’s the seasonal depression talking, but we have a long way to go. We may never get there in group settings or workplaces. We live in a success-driven economy. Even churches are driven by the capitalistic need for more money, more members. Many might think that is runs differently than businesses, a path of its own. It doesn’t really.

Unfortunately, it is probably even worse for ministers. While business people go home from work and vent to their friends about their stress, crazy boss, and mental fatigue, the line is hazy for ministers. You leave “work” to spend Tuesday night in small group with church members. They may genuinely be your friends, but in the back of your head…they are still church members. Full disclosure and vulnerability is hard.

But here is my hope for ministers. I hope we are making safe spaces in some community that we have. In our families, our peer-learning groups, our tight-knit friend groups, I hope we can practice full disclosure and active vulnerability. We begin here. In this intimacy, we can release some of the tension and frustration of stifling and unsatisfying days. And, hopefully, we can slowly work to grow the disclosure and vulnerability in our other spaces.

Today, I offer this prayer: Thank you God for friends and family who shelter me in their open arms and in their caring words. Thank you God for spaces of vulnerability. I give thanks for the hurts and joys that I share in those spaces. I give thanks for a mental health issue that helps me relate to others and see their pain. And I pray that all of our spaces increase in disclosure and vulnerability, even only a little bit at a time.

Edit Version of This Piece Posted on Ethics Daily

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