The Danger of Remaining Silent on Mental Health

Every now and then I feature a lawyer or law student who has something to say on the issue of mental health in the legal profession. Providing a platform for new voices is just as, or even more important than what I have to say. I give you Alyson Luftig Esquire on “The Danger of Remaining Silent On Mental Health”

‘As an attorney, I’m overly aware that I need to exercise caution when determining what to discuss on social media. I know to think before speaking, I know to do my research, and I know to avoid publishing anything inappropriate. I do talk about mental health often and publicly, and I refuse to heed any unsolicited advice admonishing me to delete my content on this important, yet controversial topic. I adhere to the “reasonable, personal standard,” adored by so many lawyers, each time I disregard another gentle reminder to consider my audience, and not to make a spectacle of myself by associating myself with such a touchy subject.

Any reasonable person should understand, or at least be open to expanding their knowledge on the importance of having open, honest discussions about mental health. This subject is too crucial to ignore, and the dangers of remaining silent on the topic are too skyrocketing for me to consider the alternative view, that talking about mental health is the action that’s the riskiest behavior here. I’m too preoccupied with what will happen if more people don’t realize that we, as a society, need to talk about this. I’m tired of hearing from more shocked people who can’t believe that yet another hard-working attorney has died by suicide, people stunned because the person never exhibited any signs of depression. I’d take a bet that the majority of people affected by mental health illnesses or events don’t display any unusual signs at all, especially considering the stigma around the subject.

So why does the way people perceive content about mental health on social media matter so much? It matters because we’re in the age of social media platforms focused on career networking. For instance, let’s consider LinkedIn as a microcosm for the workplace atmosphere. If posts regarding mental illness receive comments deeming the posts “too crazy for LinkedIn,” and “unfit for LinkedIn,” a career social networking service, then imagine how mental illness is treated and considered widely at peoples’ actual places of work.

Even worse, I know that I’m nowhere near the only person discouraged from making publications about mental health or even from mentioning it at all in conversation. Such negative reactions have come to inspire me not to keep quiet about mental health-related issues, but instead, to raise the volume of my voice and make sure that more people receive my message. And yes, to those who will inevitably ask, this includes colleagues, employers, potential future employers, and anyone else who may happen upon my words. It encourages me significantly when I network with like-minded individuals who contribute to making a difference, despite receiving similar warnings as I have.

Recently, I read a post on LinkedIn where an attorney wrote about his depression. The post provided facts about the disease that many professionals don’t know, and also addressed common stereotypes about the disease. I found the post so encouraging; I remember hoping that lots of executives, CEOs, and hiring managers saw the post and learned something about some of their current and potential future employees. I hoped it could counteract the multitude of instances where many employers present the argument that mental health does not concern them, because their company would never hire somebody mentally ill. In fact, when scrolling through the comment section of the post that impressed me so much, I found a comment declaring that the post was inappropriate for LinkedIn, because while people have “their issues,” that doesn’t have anything to do with the workplace.  However, most employers taking that standpoint likely also already unknowingly employ at least a handful of people affected by mental illness. Depression affects so many law students and attorneys, that some law schools have implemented courses on the subject, and some workplaces have made efforts towards increased awareness, some more effective than others. But negative societal reactions clearly prove that we still need to accomplish more.

If a post regarding mental illness is questioned so harshly on a career social networking page, I can certainly imagine many employees’shaving apprehension even broaching the subject at work. Let’s take a moment to explore the purpose of LinkedIn. The following excerpt describes LinkedIn’s mission; it’s a direct quotation from the LinkedIn user agreement.

“Our mission is to connect the world’s professionals to allow them to be more productive and successful.”

But how can the world’s professionals achieve such productivity and success while succumbing to societal stigmas around the issues most important to so many? If the possibility of shame, ridicule, and judgment from peers paralyzes too many people, then how can anyone truly network? Mental health issues and events affect a colossal number of employees and employers in every work industry, so let’s treat it that way. Let’s utilize platforms available to us, like LinkedIn, to progress productivity and success for all individuals, including those affected by mental health issues. Let’s not stand in the way as obstacles, by only applying the principles and values that LinkedIn emphasizes in their mission, to professionals that fit into a closed-minded societal definition of “normal.”

Employers and employees would benefit from exploring options when it comes to creating mentally healthy workplaces. With so many negative comments still prevalent on a career networking website, some people clearly do not feel comfortable discussing mental health at work. But we need to change that. Mental health issues can damage people’s work without their bosses or managers even noticing that their employees may be struggling. Many people suffering from disorders like depression and anxiety remain high functioning, work long hours, maintain an impressive work product, and may not even appear to have anything going wrong. The same hardworking employees could secretly sacrifice their entire lives outside of work just to conceal conditions instead of disclosing them and potentially improving their lives, inside and outside of work.

These employees could fear losing their jobs if the truth comes out about the affects mental health has on their daily lives. Not only may their bosses and managers remain oblivious to that type of suffering, but the company could be losing out on the best work from some of its best employees simply by not having adequate plans in motion to create the healthiest workplace environment for all employees. This involves candid discussions with no repercussions, collaboration between many networks and teams, and the willingness to explore options that may seem foreign to them, but that could end up improving the workplace environment and therefore companies’ success as a whole. This is exactly why I vow to continue writing about this important subject and I hope to inspire others to follow suit. I will do anything in my power to improve this and smash the stigma surrounding mental health. I am looking to expand my network so I can achieve the most in my quest to advocate for those suffering from mental illnesses and striving for success at the same time.

**Alyson Luftig graduated from Pace Law School.  She enjoys creative writing is passionate about getting rid of the stigma around mental  She is currently involved with “Empower Work”, a non-profit providing an anonymous platform, via text, for peer counseling for people going through tough times at work.

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