In Canada, we have a regular mental health event sponsored by Bell Canada. It’s called Bell Let’s Talk Day and this year it was on Wednesday, January 29th; which falls during Winter Thrive week at the university where I work. Thrive week is also dedicated to talking about mental health, specifically for students; but also for staff and faculty. I’m glad that these kind of events are happening in a bigger and louder fashion because these are conversations we should be having every day. There shouldn’t be the stigma that there is around mental health issues and I’m glad that organizations and corporations are realizing that the same way that individuals are. Schools, workplaces and corporations play a huge role in the mental well-being of the people who attend, work and use them; and as the title says, no one can give 100% all the time and there’s nothing wrong with that. The library industry is one of those industries, like non-profits, where employees are expected and encouraged to live, breathe, eat and sleep libraries all the time. When we’re not at work or in classes, we’re expected to stay fully engaged in the profession via professional development classes, professional development participation, and conference attendance. It can be very difficult to find a balance in all of that and still take care of yourself. The first step is to acknowledge that it’s okay to not be on all the time because you can’t be – no one can be.
Libraries are learning, though, because we’re safe spaces for our users and we’re always trying to find ways to support our users with mental health concerns. So, we’re getting better about providing those same supports for the people who work in libraries. This is a good thing because, as evidenced by Johns Hopkins University, 1 in 4 Americans experience a mental health issue, and, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it’s a similar number with 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing mental health issues. That means there’s a good chance that you, someone on your team, or someone at your library is suffering from mental health stress and the best thing we can do for each other is understand and offer assistance.
One of the best ways to do this is to start by acknowledging that it’s okay to be less than perfect at work and at school. We live in a culture where we expect everyone to be at the top of their game all of the time and that’s just completely unrealistic from every single perspective because it’s a physical impossibility. It’s also an incredibly ableist mentality. We don’t know what everyone else is going through, so compassion in the workplace and classroom can go a long way to helping someone’s mental well-being. If you can see someone working their ass off to do their best, acknowledge that.
Giving less than 100% doesn’t make you a bad employee or a bad student – it makes you human. Sometimes life just hits you and you find yourself struggling through everything you have to do like you’re swimming through wet cement. This semester has absolutely been that for me so far. We’re going through a system change at work that has been massively stressful. So, that on top of the course work that I can’t seem to get on top of and the residency I started last week has just left me absolutely mentally drained at the end of each day. A human can only handle so much at a time before they break down. For me, talking about my struggles openly and honestly like this helps. Having friends and coworkers and classmates who are understanding and willing to do what they can to help me cope is a godsend. I’m lucky to have a built family around me who support me and take some basic life worries like cooking off of my plate so I can deal with everything else I’ve taken on.
As a perfectionist who is very hard on herself and who expects the best grades and the best work from herself at all times, it’s been hard for me to embrace this attitude of it being okay to be less than 100% all the time. Becoming a supervisor has really helped me embrace that though because I’ve always preached that mantra to my team; so now I’m actually starting to practice what I preach.