Mental Health Awareness Week: ‘but you always look so happy!’

My job is sustainability. I talk about it; I encourage it; I care about it; I never stop learning about it; and I am not afraid to try and change how things are done in order to create a more sustainable society.  As many of my fellow sustainability professionals out there will know, this takes an extraordinary amount of energy, resilience and a seemingly endless pot of enthusiasm.

I have had on many occasions people comment on my ‘sunny’ disposition, cheery nature and generally positive attitude, all of which I take as a compliment! However, today I wanted to mention my ‘other side.’

I have suffered with depression and anxiety for ten years. I was diagnosed formally around four years ago and since then I have had to make significant changes to my life in order to manage my condition as much as possible.

To those who I have told, their first reaction has always been, ‘but you always look so happy!’

The reason I am writing about this today is because it is Mental Health Awareness Week and as someone who actively has to look after their mental health daily I am only too aware of some of the misconceptions, fallacies and misinformation that surrounds this topic.

I generally do not talk about my struggles for good mental health beyond my circle of close friends and a couple of extremely good line managers, however, after browsing twitter this morning I saw a few comments and discussions around raising awareness that made me feel able to talk about my condition ‘publically’ for the first time, especially in the context of the job that I do.

I am lucky enough to work in a job where my day to day activities and objectives align quite neatly with my own personal values and therefore my job never feels entirely like ‘work.’ This means the line between the work and the personal can get quite blurry, and even if you are someone with good mental health this can have an effect on you in the long term. Speaking to fellow sustainability professional across different sectors I have heard the same stories of people struggling to leave their work behind when they come home. Even when things are going well I know that my mind cannot quite seem to let go of new possibilities for change despite the barriers of time, resources and energy.

I try and leave work at work now as a habit, although it is easier said than done when it seems that 9 to 5 is not quite enough time to save the world!

And as for ‘you always look so happy!’ Well, hopefully most people are moving towards an understanding that depression is not just about being sad. It can be many different things for many different people. For me it is a lack of confidence; a struggle to find motivation for even the things I like to do; it is energy absorbing and isolating. It is not about feeling sad. I can still crack a joke and to be honest I think my default face is smiling anyway.

On this Mental Health Awareness Week I encourage anyone that reads this to be kind to those around you. The smiley people, the grumpy people, the sad looking ones. With 1 in 4 of us experiencing some type of mental poor health in our lifetimes, it is quite possible that under the surface they are struggling.

And to all my fellow sustainability professionals out there who spend their time fighting for change; take care of yourselves.


Emily Mason