Leaders, Let's Talk About Mental Health

The alarm clock rings on a Monday morning, initiating a chorus of moans and groans from the millions of workers around the world about to begin their day. It's 7 AM, and already your mind is racing with deadlines, meetings, proposals, and the struggle of deciding what to wear for the day. Already, you wish for a glass of wine and a never-ending marathon of Scandal, but instead are met with feelings of anxiety and inferiority. Your life is not perfect, and you know it, but your tears are buried by the stack of work awaiting your cluttered desk. Maybe this time, you say to yourself, I'll feel better.

America was founded on the principle of contagious leadership, and it remains a value still embedded in society today. Whether you are a housewife working unimaginable hours to provide for your children and family (while making kickass recipes on Pinterest) or a revolutionary investing everything you own into progressing the nation forward, leaders and their ideas provide the foundation for necessary change within society. However, one of the biggest misconceptions plaguing leaders today is the belief that their mental health can be put aside for the success of the organization.

Leaders of all types, let's face it. Although we might have different organizations we serve, diverse goals, and unique ideologies, we have one thing in common: we're stubborn. We don't like to get help or delegate tasks because at the end of the day, projects and initiatives bring a sense of validation we do not allow us to find in anything else. We drown ourselves in work, hoping to reach a level of satisfaction or endearment from bystanders, but isn't it exhaustive? Yet, in the rare time between activities and meetings, there's a small voice whispering that help is available, only to be quickly shrugged away.

Part of the reason why leaders perpetuate the stigma of getting mental health resources is due to the fear of being seen as an inadequate fit for the organization due to having personal issues. Within my first year at UC Riverside, I was reluctant to receive free counseling services because I was fearful of how people would take it. Would they still treat me as seriously as they did before, or would I become too fragile to work?

Some of the best leaders have publicly struggled with mental health issues. Winston Churchill, former prime minister to England, had bipolar disorder, yet is still hailed as one of the greatest leaders in the 20th century. Elton John, whose songs are beloved by millions, struggled with bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by the binging and throwing up of food. Even Abraham Lincoln wrestled with depression, and was still able to lead a tattered country.

In a world where leadership titles have become more emphasized than the position itself, I challenge you to take time for yourself. Leaders, including myself, have been plagued by the inflation of success. The more projects we take on, the more accomplishments we rack on, and the more pats on the back we receive, the less it means to us. Our threshold for feeling satisfied has become dangerously high, causing leaders to exasperate themselves in hopes of feeling a sense of accomplishment. It is time to return to the simple, to take a step back and realize how much you have already achieved.

Strength is not found in the absence in weakness, but rather the acknowledgement of it. Nothing is more inspiring than being in a leadership role and admitting your vulnerabilities to get the life-saving resources that you need. It is found in taking space for yourself, and the time you need to practice self-care and self-love. Your mental health is more important than company quotas or timecards or annual reports, and you deserve to take as many moments as you need for yourself.