In light of recent events such as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s apparent suicides, I wanted to take a moment and talk about depression and mental health within our own industry of learning and design.
So often L&D professionals are expected to be the positive face of the companies we work for. Much like entertainers or self-help speakers, we have to be ‘on’ from morning until night. If we wake up that morning and are not feeling great, there seldom is someone who can step in and cover for us. As an instructor or facilitator, you know that an entire classroom of people are waiting for you and if there was ever a profession where you were going to be judged by your appearance and demeanor, this is it. It is not as easy as some of us make it look.
When I first got into learning and design, I was a facilitator who was responsible for training across the country. The first time I got to go out and conduct training, it was exciting and new. I got to travel to other parts of my country for the first time and see places I might never have seen.
Unfortunately, the novelty of traveling for work wears off very quickly and you are left with just the mundane parts. It’s mostly living out of a suitcase, eating nothing but take-out food that a low per diem allows. I had to be the first to arrive and the last to leave each day. As I already mentioned you had to maintain a positive, professional demeanor, even when you woke on the wrong side of the bed. Afterward, I would return to my hotel room, dine by myself and often have nothing to do until it was time to go to sleep. Between cities I would often spend many hours in airports, again eating terrible food only to endure a multi-hour flight to the next city to conduct the same training all over again. I’ve never been diagnosed with depression or other mental health issues but I could see how these circumstances would compound the already difficult aspects of our life in L&D.
And even now that I have shifted from instructor-led training to eLearning design, there are difficult times. Much of eLearning design and development is completed in isolation. Companies don’t always allow or can afford to have their designer, developers visit on-site locations to conduct a needs analysis. Instead, you are in an office cubicle staring at a computer screen for much of the day and your only connection to the outside world is email and voicemail.
As a freelance designer, I can get stuck in my home for many hours and sometimes days at a time. It’s important for me to put down my computer mouse and get dressed and go out and do something else for a period of time. There is more to life than just work. My wife and I make sure that two or more times per year we get on an airplane and go somewhere such as a tropical destination for a week at a time. If for no other reason than to relax and take it easy.
Of course, I understand that with depression, you can’t just ‘be happy’. But for those of us who have not been diagnosed with such issues, yet you suspect that you may suffer from mental health issues, please talk to someone. Maybe it’s just a friend or trusted co-worker to start, but maybe that leads you to someone who can offer professional support. In addition, it’s important for all of us to be aware of our friends and colleague’s mental health and be there for them in their times of need. Find out what support systems are available at work or in the community.
Here in Canada, we have the Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 and in Quebec we have the Association québécuise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE. If you are outside of Canada please take the time to find the equivalent support system for your community and make sure you have this information on hand for yourself and your colleagues.