The Accountability Scale on Life and Work

—By Somia Sadiq

A woman sits on a couch leaning forward while smiling

I figured I’d end 2022 with something that has been churning in my head all year.

As I hear people (including myself) fatigued, tired, and seeking more mental health support from the world around them, I keep fearing a decline in personal investment – something I’ve always been a huge advocate for. 

I am often approached by colleagues, peers, and friends in leadership positions, looking for advice on what they can do to better support their employees. To which I share with them what we do at Narratives Inc. – including how and why it has evolved. I almost always add, ‘but make sure your team knows that there are twenty-four hours in a day – and you are only partially responsible for a third of that.’ I realize this may sound harsh, but ultimately, what I’m getting at is fostering personal responsibility for mental health. Now, before I ramble on too much about this, I’m just going to say straight up that I am not a mental health professional. I bring lived experience (managing my own C-PTSD) and acquired experience and knowledge through leading teams at work. These teams frequently navigate trauma exposure and work on the frontlines with many racialized communities that carry multiple layers and types of traumas.

Overall, here is what I mean by taking personal responsibility: 

  1. I know my experience best – While I may be surrounded by wise, qualified professionals who may be able to retain every word I have said, deep down, only I know in all earnest my experience. I know what my triggers are (and I regularly add to the list), and I know how to best manage them and how best to regulate myself. I know most of the time what brings on the gloom (sometimes I don’t, and that’s okay). I know when I’m hitting a slump. And I know, for the most part, what I think I need to do to manage it.
  2. I know when I’m skipping on my self-care – I know I need to hit the gym four times a week to keep my night terrors in check. Do I do that every week? Nope. Do I know that if I skimp, it’ll take endless cycles of not sleeping, getting more tired, having less energy for the gym, getting grouchier? Yes, I do know that. Whose fault is this? Sure, some weeks at work are more intense than others, but there honestly are days when I have no excuse. I choose to just sit and scroll through dumb (yet super funny and kind of perfect for self-care) TikTok videos of dogs being hilarious. Recently, I even bought a SAD lamp because I found myself regularly blaming gloomy winter days in Winnipeg for not hitting the gym. Now that the lamp is here, firing away real intense light on my face, I’m wondering if it's Winnipeg that is the problem and not winter…my point is, this is on me.
  3. I know when I’m not practicing – When I check in with my clinical psychologist (who is a friggin’ rockstar, btw), they’ll coach me through some behavioural adjustments. I commit to applying what they are training me to do and report back. Some things work, others don’t. And we talk about why what worked and why something didn’t. It is entirely my responsibility to at least apply them. Is that easy? Heck no! I hate it. It is painfully uncomfortable at best. But if I don’t, I don’t think I can say in earnest that I am working on myself. Expecting someone to wave a magic wand and take all my discomfort away would be sweet, yes, but not a reasonable expectation of the world I’m in. The same applies to learning concepts in training – for example, Psychological First Aid through the Canadian Red Cross. I learned some great things in that training, it's up to me to put them into action. Do I remember them all? Nope. Do I have the handbook they gave me at the training to thumb through that is now collecting dust? Why yes, I do! Can I grab it and thumb through it? I sure could. Will I, though?
Two people in active wear fist bumping outside

So, if it's all on me, then what is my workplace responsible for? I think a workplace is still responsible for lots. One’s workplace could, and I’d say should:

  1. Provide cultural safety, psychological safety, and physical safety, and address issues proactively.
  2. Provide space to have some ebbs and flows in our mental health, including reasonable time and space to bounce back when needed (for example, paid wellness/sick days, or just recognizing that so-and-so is just not in a good space today, let's give them some time).
  3. Normalize conversations about mental health and wellness – going to see your dentist or a counsellor should carry the same excitement or anguish, depending on how you feel about your dentist.
  4. Provide some resources to make mental health professionals more financially accessible (for example, individual health benefits or group access to mental health professionals).
  5. Provide training courses and development in mental health and wellness (and create accountability for the application of that training – to state the obvious here – training is useless if not applied).
  6. Encourage self-reflection and self-regulation to promote individual responsibility for mental well-being.
Person in floral sweater watering office plants

Ultimately, I cannot expect society to do all the work to create space for me. I need to put in work to create, sustain, and beautify my space. For me, that is how I have built pride and agency for myself. It's how I’ve carved space for my voice, one day at a time. Plus, I like taking credit for stuff I’ve done – especially when I’ve worked hard to get there. Taking responsibility for one’s mental wellness helps build self-reliance and resilience. Self-awareness is great, but it's just a start. For me, owning my mental health helps me maintain some semblance of control over my circumstances. It allows me to regulate my world instead of the world regulating me.

On that note, happy 2023 everyone. Hope the break leading up to it is restful and helps you recharge to walk into 2023 with a decent amount of fuel.

Somia Sadiq, Founder | Principal Partner

Editor’s Note: This blog was edited for clarity.