Resilience from the outside. Our psyche will not let us do it all on our own.
A plane crash, a tunnel fire, a mass shooting. It’s almost impossible to imagine what living through any of these tragedies would do to you. These things do happen. Out of nowhere. They push people to their limits and beyond. When extraordinary events happen in the workplace, staff in a position of responsibility find themselves facing an enormous challenge. They have to support numerous employees in the midst of the crisis, while dealing with the situation themselves. Carelink specialises in handling events of this nature.
The foundation can be relied on when there are major emergencies. ‘But we respond mostly to situations affecting a smaller group of people, such as suicides at the workplace, accidents, robberies, threats and violence,’ says managing director Carolin Wälz. ‘These situations deeply affect the people closest to them.’
Facing extreme situations as a society
It’s hard to predict how exactly an extraordinary event will unfold and how an individual will react. ‘People often respond to extreme stress in ways they wouldn’t have expected,’ says Wälz. They might feel helpless or faint. They could be overcome with anger, grief or sorrow. Everyone reacts in a different way. Carelink is there to share the load and help people to regain a sense of structure, safety and peace. They need to understand and process what they’ve been through. ‘When someone can articulate what has happened to them, they can process it internally,’ she says. As a foundation specialising in these events, Carelink can draw on its experience to show companies and individuals how to negotiate a time of crisis. This guidance would have been helpful for society as a whole during the pandemic – an extreme situation we all faced in recent years. For large sections of the population, mental health fell by the wayside for a long time.
‘The pandemic was an extreme situation for our whole society, which put a huge strain on so many people’s mental health,’ says Stéphanie Mertenat Eicher, managing director of Fondation O2. This foundation, based in western Switzerland, is a centre of expertise for development and prevention, health promotion and sustainable development project management with a particular interest in mental health.
‘It was an extremely complex time for everyone, but people who were already vulnerable struggled most with their mental health,’ she adds. Businesses can prepare for crisis situations and improve their resilience by drafting contingency plans and planning support strategies. As a society, we also need to make sure we learn from what we have all been through over the past few years. We must not forget that the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing health and social inequalities. ‘According to statistics from the Swiss Health Observatory (OBSAN), young people who were already going through a complicated stage of their development were hit hard by the pandemic. And now they need to get back on track and, most importantly of all, find their purpose in life,’ says Mertenat Eicher.
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch. The expressionist expressed much of his own inner turmoil in his art.
Understanding the extent of the problem
‘The Swiss Health Observatory has also reported that one in two people struggle with their mental health at least once in their life (as a one-off or in the long term) and about 18% of the population suffer from one or more mental disorders,’ says Mertenat Eicher. ‘That’s reason enough for us to talk about it and to take action to avoid these problems and issues in the first place. This is something that affects us all.’ The Swiss Health Survey 2022 revealed just how much young people – and young women in particular – are struggling with mental stress: 22% of those aged between 15 and 24 said that their mental stress was medium to high. For young women, that figure rose to 29% and 18% of women in this age bracket said they had suffered from anxiety over the past year.
‘Dare to talk about it’ is a slogan that encourages people to open up. It’s a sentiment often expressed in mental health campaigns. Mertenat Eicher has noticed a positive shift in young people using support services such as ciao.ch instead. But there’s still a long way to go until the taboo surrounding mental health has been lifted. She believes that acceptance of problems strengthens the resilience of a society. However, it’s important to continue to raise awareness of mental health issues and combat the stigma.
Talking openly about mental health through sharing personal experiences and raising awareness helps reduce stigma and creates a healthier environment for everyone. Muriel Langenberger, managing director of Pro Mente Sana, stresses how important it is to openly discuss the topic of mental health. People are social beings who rely on regular interaction with others. ‘During the pandemic, that interaction was limited for a long time and that was hard for many people.’ The uncertainty and unfamiliarity of the situation placed even more strain on people’s mental health.
Building resilience as an individual
The pandemic uncovered problems that were already there. After all, a person’s mental health depends on their self-belief and sense of control over their own life. Our individual resilience relates to our ability to overcome a difficult situation – and our belief in that ability. But it’s also boosted by the knowledge that we have a social network of friends and family to call on in a crisis. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such a network. And the pandemic drew attention to that fact. ‘That’s why it’s important for people to seek external support during difficult times in the form of counselling and care,’ says Langenberger. There are different ways of actively working on one’s own well being and building up resilience in the process. ‘Regular exercise, a balanced diet, constant curiosity and enough sleep are right at the top of the list alongside social interaction,’ she says. There are plenty of ways for individuals to take care of themselves. Strengthening your mental health puts you in a stronger position to cope with the harder times. Nevertheless, the balance between resources and load may become unbalanced: nobody is immune to mental health struggles.
Overcoming crises together
The managing director of Fondation O2 raises another point: our mental health is constantly evolving. ‘We can call it a continuum because people go through different phases depending on the social context and their personal situation at the time. Anyone can develop new skills to help them get through the tough phases. But they have to work at it. One needs proper support and advice on hand to help you find the right path to take.’
The same applies to employees in the workplace. According to Wälz, they can help to boost their company’s resilience by building a culture of empowerment, diversity and collaboration. ‘The main thing is that businesses provide their employees with the resources that will support them by balancing the extraordinary stressful situation they are having to respond to in the moment,” she says. And yet each situation shows us that different parties have to take responsibility and that it takes a village to overcome a crisis. She points out that cantonal care teams and mental health organisations need to get involved too. This is not true in crisis situations. There are various aspects to consider when it comes to building resilience. ‘Improving mental well being is a shared responsibility that involves the individual and society as a whole. We cannot do it all alone,’ says Mertenat Eicher. It’s possible to start learning skills as a child that can be drawn on later in life to overcome problems such as stress.
Edvard Munch with his very personal paintings. He also called them his children.
Publicise support offers
Even though it’s down to us as individuals to take care of our own mental health, we sometimes need to rely on external support. Mental health professionals offer a neutral and objective perspective on mental health issues, which can be complicated. ‘It’s important that people realise that the fact they are responsible for their own mental health does not mean they have to face their problems on their own. People can lean on various mental health professionals for the mental health help and support they need. It falls to organisations such as ours to tell the population that this support is available,’ says Mertenat Eicher. Langenberger agrees. And she has noticed that people are becoming more open about their mental health, And there is much more coverage in the media too since the pandemic. But she adds: ‘That does not mean that the taboo surrounding mental health has disappeared. People who are struggling may still feel the same old stigma and face discrimination. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness about mental health in all its forms. We need to spread knowledge in order to do an even better job of shattering stereotypes.’