People fear judgment, and many will not seek help for fear of being seen as weak.
People fear judgment, and many will not seek help for fear of being seen as weak. FS-Stock

Safety in numbness comes at a cost

A topic that has been coming up in my conversations recently has been psychological safety. It's a term often used in relation to teams and broadly means that each person can speak and work in a way without fear of negative consequences or threat to self-image, status or career.

Each team member's creativity, contribution and innovation within guidelines is encouraged, and they feel accepted and respected by those around them.

That would be a great place to work. Unfortunately, it seems rare and although it might be espoused as a philosophy it doesn't always work well in practice.

If you extend the "team'' concept then this also could include social groups, sports groups, school groups, even families and many more.

Many organisations have employee assistance programs and schools often have guidance counsellors offering psychological support, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that they are not always that effective.

People may fear judgment, lack of confidentiality, the potential impact on career prospects, or being sent down a mental health pathway that doesn't lead anywhere and then being seen as weak or not coping.

In some organisations the culture can be the culprit.

The organisation may advocate mental wellbeing and offer some form of psychological support but in the background is a judgment that if someone uses it then they are not up for the job.

With the right support, many people are able to work through mental health challenges and function well, but what if they don't use the support or don't trust it? Or what if they don't have access to a support system?

Imagine this affecting those in the police, fire service, emergency department, paramedics, intensive care or anyone else who is in the front line in the protection and service of others.

What if they didn't feel safe to ask for support for fear of what it may do to their career and ability to earn a living?

And what is the impact on our young adults who don't feel safe to speak up about what troubles them or don't know who to talk to?

It's not just organisational culture, our western culture also contributes.

Whenever we choose to avoid or judge someone who is struggling with myriad daily challenges in our increasingly complex lives, we are endorsing that culture. The result is we reduce everyone's psychological safety.