The foundation principle of pastoral care required in meeting people with mental health is tolerance. The principle of ‘there but for the grace of god go i’ is a critical disposition when engaging with people who are unwell. The last thing anyone with a mental health concern needs to hear is nonsense language of heroes and zeroes. Yet, this is the language that dominates the safety sector. Why would I want to seek empathy with someone whose icons and symbols of work are objects, violent symbols and geometric shapes? No-one seeks to speak to someone who talks nonsense to people. No campaign of ‘speak up’ or questions of ‘are you ok?’ can ever work when the ideology of an organization is anchored to the absolutes of zero founded on the principle of intolerance.
When people are on their worst day in their life, when everything seems black and dark, they will never seek a hero or speak to a zero ideologue. If you are a ‘zero harm advisor’ how can I speak to you about how I want to harm myself??? If you are a ‘zero harm crusader’ there can be no attraction of listening or helping or care in the framing of what you say. Your job is framed by a number!
You will never find the language of zero in any meaningful counseling on mental health. What you will find is an ethic of care and helping framed on language that accepts the fragility and fallibility of being human. Infallibility talk is toxic poison in any mental health discourse. People who know and work in the challenges of mental health would puke at some of the language this safety industry uses when it fixates its paranoia on harm.
If you are looking for a holistic, helping, wise and caring approach to mental health (all words not used in safety) then The Black Dog Institute (https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/) is a helpful place to start. You won’t see any silly language of zero here because they don’t see people as numbers, they don’t talk about targets or silly language about a suicide free future. The truth is, it’s easy to be silent in nonsense language and easy to speak sense to people. The key to being an effective helper is being skilled in what you don’t say.
There name and icon of the Black Dog Institute is based on the name Winston Churchill gave to his depression and the use of his victory sign means much more than just winning a WW2 (https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/about-us/who-we-are/our-logo). He like us all battled his own demons and we all know about his alcoholism and lack of sleep. However, the myth/symbol of Churchill is much larger than the facts (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/winston-churchill/11374144/How-to-drink-like-Winston-Churchill.html ). Unfortunately, the myth/symbol of something or someone has much longer lasting symbolic significance than the truth. Regardless of those who seek to defend Churchill (https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/myth-churchill-alcohol/) it is clear that he was on a drip of G&T or whisky each day.
When it comes to the challenges of mental health we need to accept that the result is many options for harm. Whether one seeks solace in alcohol, medications or substances, self-punishing self-talk, amplified situations of distress or the excesses of sugar, the by-product of mental health concerns often results in some form of self-harm. Preaching zero-harm to someone who is already in a cycle of self-harm is simply unhelpful. No-one can be helped or supported unless one accepts the reality of harm. I know some executives who are on the same ‘Churchill drip’ but who don’t own the habit as ‘harm’. Indeed, in our society we reward the excesses of alcohol as some kind of helping mechanism for stress, anxiety and depression.
The first step in helping, supporting and caring for anyone challenged by mental health is not to talk crap to them. None of this nonsense talk about ‘I know how you feel’ or ‘pissy’ platitudes or judgments about harm works or is helpful. And we can’t sit in some schizophrenic state preaching zero harm in one sector of our business and then preaching tolerance in another as if there is no connection. The language and framing of how our organization speaks to people is the foundation of its culture. If your language brutalizes people then it creates a toxic environment that fuels mental health issues at work. This is the outcome of zero discourse, the global mantra for Safety.