Dec. 11, 2019

Faculty and staff confront mental health stigmas with vulnerability and compassion

Nancy Chibry and Damian Goussis share their stories

“If you had a broken arm, you would see a doctor, you would talk about it. But when it comes to mental health, it isn’t seen, so it’s harder for people to understand what’s going on.” An important statement to consider from Nancy Chibry, associate dean in the Faculty of Science. So how can we better see mental health?

How to start: Be empathetic and talk about it

For Chibry, compassion and vulnerability are key to opening up conversations. The more vulnerable we are with others around our own struggles, the more open, genuine conversations we can have that allow space for others to say: Me, too.

“When a colleague confided in me that they went to therapy, I thought, if they can go, then I can call and take that step, too,” says Chibry. “There are times we’ve all struggled and it’s important and okay to reach out for help.”

Seeking help and supporting one another is critical to creating a community of caring. If someone is aware of why there is an unexpected change in their colleague’s behaviour, those able to reach out are empowered to do so. If work quality decreases due to mental health or any other reason, resources can be shared and a plan created to get a person the supports they need.

For Damian Goussis, a supervisor in facilities, this two-way communication is paramount. Goussis experienced a significant loss earlier in 2019 and knew he couldn’t just “come into work and fake it.” By being open with his manager about what he needed, Goussis was able to take the time off he needed to grieve — an important message he wanted to send his team as well.

"If I can help one person in the same way that I was helped, to let them know my story, let them know they have resources and supports here, I’d be happy,” says Goussis.

Recognize when something isn’t right

Not only does Goussis hope to share his own story and resources, he and Chibry also strive to better recognize if and when things happen around them. “In this day, in these times, as a leader, as a friend and human, I think that’s what is most important in any interaction,” says Goussis.

“Sometimes we walk with blinders on, and we need to look in our peripheral to see how others are doing. If you see something off, you have to have that conversation. Validate, ask questions, care.”

Know your rights and resources

Disclosure needs to be on one’s own terms. Not all teams are created equally and it’s important to understand that employees have the right to seek help without disclosing an entire issue to their managers or colleagues.

Talking in confidence with either a close colleague or with the help of university resources may also be beneficial ways to seek help. UCalgary specifically offers services confidentially to faculty and staff through Homewood Health, or our mental health consultant.

Taking time to care for and listen to yourself is an important step to finding balance. Seeking help can look different for everyone, and finding an option that makes sense for you is something both Chibry and Goussis support.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. Find support and connect to the strategy.