Mental Health Week 5: Resilience

Today’s focus is on Resilience. I’m on holiday so I’ll be posting this up – and I suppose I’ll see what you all think when I log back in on Monday…

I have some very personal sensitivities around the word ‘resilience.’ Before I joined this company, I was told by a manager that I lacked resilience; my future emotional state could not be trusted and so could I please resign. I did, but not without rather a sizeable pay off. It is contrary to the equalities act to discriminate on the grounds of disability – and resilience is a term which smacks of discriminatory judgement. (As an aside, I saw at least one directorate job role advertised in the recent restructure which listed resilience as a required EQ trait. I checked this out with an HR friend of mine (external) and she confirmed, at best it was ‘problematic’, at worst it was discriminatory. We can do better than that).

So, why, those personal subjective reasons aside, do I hate the term?

  • It is a judgemental word – the opposite of resilience is weakness; calling people who are suffering from anxiety (or any mental illness) anything which can be construed as weak just adds to the stigma attached
  • People who are suffering anxiety (or other mental illness) are fighting more battles just to keep going, so are actually (in my opinion) more resilient than those who are not suffering in any way – the person who has an anxiety attack before arriving at work, but arrives at work anyway; the person who is still living but doesn’t want to; the person who is facing into their fears and demons despite panic attacks – these people are more resilient than those who are not fighting those battles
  • The concept of the ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘facing down anxiety’ is actually very counter-productive – if you do not acknowledge you are ill and try to get by, you are likely to become more ill. Anxiety, like depression, does not just ‘go away’ if you ignore it – it will only get worse.

The concept of resilience seems to suggest that if you take practical steps to develop resilience (through mental and physical self-care) you can somehow avoid mental illness – that someone who is resilient will then be immune to depression or anxiety, or worse. Health-freaks still get colds. In fact, health-freaks still get cancer. Depression can hit for no reason – there doesn’t have to be a big life-event like divorce, or unemployment, or money worries to mean you get depression, it can just happen. That’s a very scary thought for most people, of course it is, but it’s the truth.

I asked my psychiatrist last Friday what she thought about resilience. She is one of the leading trauma specialists in the country, not some quack. She says it has become a very fashionable term, but it failed to take into account that other factors will always impact how severely an individual is affected by anxiety, stress, or any mental illness – especially factors in early-life which will have impact on the adult. She also pointed out that neuroplasticity which causes changes in brain function, takes months and not weeks to take effect. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which is very popular as a tool in building resilience generally fails to provide any lasting solutions because it is usually only carried out over a period of on average 10 weeks (and it’s only allowed via NICE on the NHS for 6-10 weeks). It does help some people, but not many. But it’s cheap and so it’s usually the first line of attack. Businesses love it – NLP is mostly just CBT under a business and not a psychologist guise. Work hard, work longer and if you start flailing, have some NLP coaching, keep going, if you don’t you’re not resilient, you’re weak. Like I said in Monday’s blog – your mental health is just not worth losing over a powerpoint presentation.

I am still here, on this earth – I’ve developed the self-confidence and risk-taking necessary to decide to leave in 2 weeks to start my own business; I haven’t put into practice my plan B yet, and don’t intend to. My survivor-mechanism has kept me clambering up the walls of the abyss every time I’ve slipped down. I’m resilient because I’ve had something to be resilient against. Next time you question someone’s resilience, ask yourself, what do you really mean by the term? What are you really saying?

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