Many years ago, when I was just starting out as an attorney, I stayed late one evening to help my boss finish an important project. In a moment of misguided vulnerability, I shared with him my lifelong battle with depression. I’ll never forget the confused look on his face as he stared me square in the eyes and asked, “What do you have to be sad about?”
For starters, I thought, I have a boss who doesn’t understand mental illness.
I learned a lot from that single conversation: Not everyone needs to know your story, emotional boundaries are important in the workplace, and many leaders are uneducated about matters of mental health. If you are a leader in some capacity in your life, whether as a boss, a parent, or even in a community group, it’s vital to educate yourself about mental health and wellness. Having an awareness about these matters will not only help your own mental-emotional wellness, but also help you facilitate an open and safe place for people you are leading who are struggling with their mental health. This can be a game changer in terms of their ability to find the help and support they need.
Here are five books about mental health that will help you grow as a leader, both in the workplace and in life.
1. Recommendation for … a Conversation Starter
Having a mental illness is tough enough, but the persistent cultural stigma attached to those who have these diagnoses can make it almost impossible to share your experiences. This book helps open the conversation about mental illness in a relatable, open way with its use of personal stories from people in all walks of life, such as writers and athletes. This easy-to-read, approachable book examines the word “crazy” and helps walk the reader through insights about mental illness. Leaders can use this book to broaden their view of mental illness and gain insight about how it presents in different people and affects their lives.
2. Recommendation for … Thinking about Diversity
As a leader, it is necessary to understand other perspectives and lived experiences. This book is an excellent resource for its primary audience but is also very helpful for leaders who are not people of color, who seek to understand a different perspective, and who want to know how to be effective allies and advocates, both in the workplace and beyond. Written by an African American mental health expert and psychologist, this book explores the health crisis in the Black community and offers insights into recognizing mental health problems, fighting back against prejudice and stigma, and navigating a system that is set up against the minority community.
3. Recommendation for … A Personal Experience
This book is a profoundly personal examination of the interplay between the American work ethos of self-determination and our call from Jesus to be humble in spirit. Alia shares her own story of survival, illness, and faith as she navigated a world focused on hustle culture instead of the kingdom of God. Leaders, especially in corporate and organizational structures, would be wise to read and listen to Alia’s wisdom about the strength of admitting weakness. As Margaret Atwood once remarked, “In the end, we’ll all become stories.” Alia’s story can help us understand others as we lead our communities.
4. Recommendation for … Those in a Traditional Workplace Environment
Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace: A Practical Guide for Employers and Employees by Gill Hasson and Donna Butler
Compassion and understanding about mental illness and disorders is the first step on the road toward developing a supportive and healthy community. Figuring out how to implement and maintain new policies and ideas may seem downright impossible. This book gives guidance and advice on promoting positive mental health in the workplace and focuses on a wide array of topics regarding mental health and the workplace. Best of all, both employee and employer perspectives are given and honored, and the book also offers case studies and examples to illustrate the concepts. This is a must-read if you want to foster an atmosphere of positive health, both mental and physical, in an organization.
5. Recommendation for … You
I’m Fine: A Real Feelings Journal by Dianne Morris Jones and Monica N. Ghali
My last recommendation is a bit different than the previous titles. This book is actually a journal where you can record your own experiences, thoughts, and emotions. There are thousands of “mental health journals” out there, but I found this one uniquely helpful in that the format consists of both blank pages and prompts, quotes, lists, and other bits of inspiration to help you move past “fine” and dig deeper. Just like the oft-cited airplane oxygen mask analogy, you cannot be an effective leader in issues of mental health if you don’t take care of your own mental health too.
I hope these resources will provide a helpful and eye-opening experience for those who read them, helping us to grow in our Christlike compassion and love as we read.