Let’s Talk About Mental Health Issues in IT “For a Friend”

Mental Health Issues

Let’s talk about mental health issues in IT “for a friend.” I’m hearing this expression more and more when people ask a question but try to imply that they’re looking to help someone else. It can be a request, such as “For a Friend, do you know a reliable plumber?” But as we leave COVID behind and enter the world of high costs and a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) economy, the question is:

“For a Friend, how would you help them as they feel… (this could be: stressed, depressed, uncertain, they’re drinking more, they can’t feed their family, angry more often, etc.)?”

How would you help someone you know as they feel stressed, depressed, uncertain, perhaps they’re drinking more, they can’t feed their family, etc.)? Important questions around #mentalhealth in this article by @DanielBreston. Share on X

My story with mental health issues

I was abused mentally and physically as a child. I was abused mentally at work by managers, and I was abused mentally at work by clients or members of the consulting team.

Don’t get me wrong, in my 50 years of IT, from tape librarian to CIO, being a trainer in various frameworks, and consulting across the US and Europe, I’ve had many pleasant and wonderful experiences. But the scars of an event can knock your confidence and willingness, and bring about mental health issues.

Mental health issues in IT

I’m a member of a Facebook group called Back2ITSM, in which we discuss many things, not necessarily IT service management (ITSM)! A recent conversation on mental health issues prompted me to look at my 50 years in terms of actual experiences but also in connection to what I coach. I asked myself, how does the list below relate to mental health issues in IT?

  • Agile, Lean, ITSM, DevOps
  • Leadership (Westrum, servant, language)
  • KPIs and OKRs
  • Digital Transformation
  • Various roles in IT
  • The Great (Redundancy, Resignation, Reassessment)
  • Age
  • Batman and Sherlock Holmes (sorry, no hints)
  • Physical disabilities and the impact on mental health
  • And a few other topics

Several of the Back2ITSM members are joining me in our attempt to get the issues of mental health in our industry discussed and maybe even remediated. We’re not experts, nor are we offering medically approved advice. My way of addressing my mental health issues is what I’ve discovered works for me. An example is why I always carry butterscotch (sorry, you’ll have to wait for a future blog).

It's time to get the issues of mental health in the #ITSM industry discussed and maybe even remediated, says @DanielBreston #mentalhealth #wellbeing Share on X

For a Friend – let’s talk about mental health

I’ve been watching several documentaries on people with mental health issues. I loathe that phrase, but this is what I’ll use for now. The one thing in common is they all began to change, good or bad, as a discussion occurred.

My goal is to get the conversation started. Let’s begin with the definition of mental health. There are many, and I’m using the one from the UK national “No Health without Mental Health” policy:  

“a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment.”

My “For a Friend” blog series will focus on how one of the topics above impacted my positive state of mind, what happened or what can happen, and how I avoid it now. I’ve observed and felt how some of these topics could destroy careers and lives.

My perspective

I don’t believe it’s an illness. A person needs to have both physical and mental health to feel well. As much as I wish I were Batman, I’m short, aging, and have poor vision. My health changes, and recognizing this is the basis for me asking for advice, either from a doctor or friends and family.

I had to learn how to recognize that I was having a problem with mental health issues when:

  • I found it difficult to sleep
  • I found myself stuttering
  • I became angry over an event or sometimes for an entire day
  • I talked to myself, full discussions
  • I had to listen to staff or team members as they asked me to consider what I was doing or saying or noted my irrational behavior (the butterscotch story)
  • I got nervous for no good reason
  • I ate or drank too much.

The future of For a Friend

I hope you join me in the discussion. I was afraid that my reputation would be tarnished if I admitted to having mental health issues. I took comfort in the words of Everton football (soccer) striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin: “talking saved my life.”

“One thing I learned this season is that everyone in whatever walk of life is fighting battles you know nothing about, and there is no shame in finding someone to talk to and being open and honest with yourself about how you really feel. To all the young kids suppressing emotion, I advise you to talk, to a friend, family member or someone that will listen as talking saved my life.”

Thus far, everyone I know has offered me support and encouragement!

I was afraid that my reputation would be tarnished if I admitted to having mental health issues, but actually the opposite is true says @DanielBreston. #ITSM #mentalhealth Share on X

It’s not my intent to be the cheery optimist. It’s not easy to be healthy, mentally or physically. You must work at it every day. Some of those days will be good, some will be great, and some will be bad. But, For a Friend, I hope we can discuss and discover how to stay safe.

I look forward to hearing your stories about mental health issues and hope we can help others in IT as the digital transformation, “no, let’s do DevOps,” “ah, hold on, as we’re stopping this project,” “oh, you’re being made redundant,” “hey, can you work in the office but also work from home,” transformations cause us to wobble a bit. Of course, not us, but asking For a Friend.

Daniel Breston
Daniel Breston
IT Management Advisor at Independent

Daniel Breston is a 50+ year veteran of IT, ex-CIO and principle consultant, multiple framework trainer, blogger, and speaker. Daniel is on the board of itSMF UK and is a Fellow of the British Computer Society. Daniel may be retired, but he will help an organization if requested. Not full-time, but hey!

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