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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Workplace Bully by Lisa LeSueur

written by Lisa LeSueur

It’s been a year since I left my previous workplace, a government organization that I had worked in for thirty-five years. The more time that goes by, the easier it is becoming for me to come to terms with the damage done to my own sense of self-worth and self-esteem. These aspects of my personhood were attacked daily for several years at the hands of a workplace bully, allowed to run rough shod over the employees like a steam roller. I no longer need to speak in whispers about the injustice of working in this toxic work environment out of fear of retribution. I made it to the finish line, to the retirement that I had worked for so hard for so long. And yet, I realize that in the process, I sacrificed much of my sense of self worth and security, vital components for wholeness and wellness.

It has been established that working in a toxic work environment can contribute to mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. In addition to bringing down employee morale, bullying can be the cause of daily distress for employees. In fact, in May, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an information worksheet titled Mental Health in the Workplace. This worksheet states: “Harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported problems and can have a substantial adverse impact on mental health.” Toxic work environments not only harm the employees, it can affect the overall productivity of the organization.  The WHO worksheet also states: “A negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism and lost productivity.”

I consider myself lucky. I now work in a wonderfully collegial, creative, and affirming work environment. It is everything that I ever could have hoped for, and more. And yet, I am still haunted by the bullying that I endured, in an environment where even the slightest mistake meant that you got called to the boss’s office, to be screamed at and berated. I can still feel fear run through me when I make a mistake or say the wrong thing. I find myself going over and over projects I am working on to try and catch any errors before someone else sees them. And when the inevitable happens, and a mistake slips through, I still wait for the screaming to start.

I am still making the adjustment to a workplace where mistakes are taken in stride as an inevitable part of growth and learning. My whole work outlook has changed, and I no longer dread getting out of bed in the morning. I have a lot of work to do, but I am more productive now, more energetic. I am also less stressed and anxious now, able to concentrate more on the task at hand. I no longer feel the weight of someone crushing my head. Instead, I feel the freedom of encouragement and nurturing. Isn’t this the type of environment that all workplaces should strive to create?
Lisa LeSueur is the Minister of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children. 

Elder Mental Health by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

Two months ago, my 90-year old grandpa had a stroke.  He’s had trouble walking the last few years after breaking his hip and a few other falls, so it wasn’t immediately evident that this fall was connected to a stroke.  I was there when paramedics came to take him to the hospital, and I saw their disbelief when they found out he wasn’t taking any medication.  A 90-year old who only takes vitamins and the occasional sleeping pill is fairly unusual, it seems.

Now, two months later, he has another pill added to his regimen.  He’s now taking an antidepressant twice a day.  It isn’t actually clear yet whether it is the right medication or the right dosage, but I’m glad it is happening.  He and my grandma have had to move out of the retirement community where they were living independently (mostly- with plenty of calls to my parents) and into assisted living.  My grandma’s dementia seems to have gotten much worse, which is exhausting for my grandpa.  Walking is even more difficult for him, and the stroke impacted his vision enough that he can’t read or tell the time on his watch anymore.

I’ve heard said about people in similar situations before, “but they should be grateful that they’ve lived such a full and long and wonderful life!”  And yes, my grandpa, a retired UCC minister who had dogs almost his whole life; who is a bibliophile and loved the woods; who has 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild; who has been married to my grandma for almost 70 years… Yes, he has lived a full and beautiful life.

And still, for however many days or years he has left, I hope his medical team can help find an antidepressant that works well for him.   Because there are many things in his life right now that understandably may be contributing to situational depression, and he deserves to try to alleviate the symptoms.

Today I’m praying for my grandpa and for other elders who are struggling with their mental health right now.  I’m also praying for medical staff trying to help people find effective medications, that they may have patience and persistence.

Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin.  She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church.  Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy ├ôscar.