I think about mental health a lot. It’s funny – you don’t think about it at all until it starts failing you. Then, it’s pretty much all you can think about. I consider myself lucky, though, because I don’t have to pretend that I’m feeling fabulous when I’m not, and I can speak openly about some struggles that I face. I’m grateful that mental health is a conversation the world is having; it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone, and that there is hope.
Between the World Mental Health Day and Movember, I had a chat with Mario Sebastian, VP at Cisco CX EMEA South. I really appreciated his authenticity sharing his journey.
10th of October is the World Mental Health Day and the shift to prioritizing mental health that we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years was really echoed in this year’s theme, Mental health is a universal human right. What does this theme mean to you?
Mario: I believe mental health is just as important, or in some cases even more important than physical health. Strong mental health and resilience can help you endure someof the physical challenges.
You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to just get over themselves or drink more water, but this is what we often hear in relation to mental health.
Mario: Absolutely, and as a result, when it comes to our mental health, sometimes we don’t feel open to share our challenges. We worry others might see it as a weakness. This proves to be true with many men who experience mental health challenges but dismiss their feelings and don’t seek help. They feel pressured by the society and their environment to stay strong and hide their problems. This can make the healing process difficult, as it is key to recognise and acknowledge that we are not well, and we should be able to talk about our challenges both with our friends and family, as well as – if we want to, at work. I think it starts with the leaders, they need to create an environment where people can speak freely and feel safe talking about their troubles. At the same time, I think leaders should allow themselves to be vulnerable and open about their own challenges with their teams. Don’t shy away from having these conversations, as difficult as they may be.
Mental health is something that we take very seriously at Cisco, and we recently celebrated the company wide Mental Health Awareness Week with the theme of Mental Health Unites Us – Shared Emotions, Unique Journeys. As the sponsor of the Mindfulness and Resilience community at Cisco… What journey has led you there? Why is this topic so important to you personally?
Mario: Today, I practice a number of healthy habits like sports, yoga, eating nutritious food, as well as meditation. Each day I allocate some time for my own mindful moments, as it helps me find the balance and keep both my body and soul healthy. In the past I didn’t pay much attention to it. Sometimes you really need to hit a wall to recognise you need help, and I found myself at that point a few years ago. I was lucky to get support from my wife and a good friend of mine, who introduced me to the world of meditation and yoga. I started to listen to my body and my mind, and I feel much healthier now. It’s not always perfect; it’s ups and downs, and it’s important to be mindful and aware of those moments when you are not feeling great, and you might need to ask for help from a trusted person or a professional. At the same time, hitting that wall helped me become a more conscious leader. I want to help people embrace the journey to a healthy body and mind.
Leaders should allow themselves to be vulnerable and open about their own challenges with their teams. Don’t shy away from having these conversations, as difficult as they may be.
As someone who has been on a mental health journey for quite a while, I completely agree with what you said about recognising that you might need change or help. It all starts with awareness, cause it’s only when you are aware of the problem that you can actually do something about it.
Mario: And that’s precisely why it’s so important to foster an environment, at home, with your friends, and at work, where everyone can show up as they are. We are not robots, we have feelings and emotions, and we shouldn’t have to hide them. It’s like what we said earlier: when your body is unwell, you go to a doctor. Why would you treat your mind any different and ignore or hide the problem? We must continue to raise awareness and normalising mental health problems, so that one day we won’t have to hit the rock bottom to finally get help we need.
We are human, and throughout our lives we experience ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s because things don’t work in our favour, but sometimes it may seem we have it all – a good career, happy family, health, hobbies… And yet we don’t feel good. To make it worse, sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to address it, as if our feelings are not valid.
Regardless of the factors that undermine our mental health, it’s important that we acknowledge and speak up about our issues. If you are struggling with your mental health, please don’t let fear of judgement, shame or anything else stop you from getting the help you need. Talk to someone you trust or a professional and remember, that you deserve to be happy.