I’m excited to be back with another post in my blog series for mental health month—many thanks to my amazing guest, Amy Curtis, SHRM-SCP!
Amy is the Director of HR Operations at Connections Health Solutions in Phoenix, Arizona. She has been in the HR department with the company for six years. Before that, Amy spent 16 years as a professional counselor working with those in crisis. She also spent most of her childhood living abroad and wishes she can travel more often.
Amy is a proud mom of two amazing humans and one adorable dog. For fun, she loves going to concerts and music festivals.
I got to know about Amy when I listened to an episode of The HR Social Hour Half Hour Podcast, where she was a guest. In that episode, she talked about her experience as a mental health counselor before working in HR. I found it quite interesting how she made the connection between both professions. She added that both professions have allowed her to do what she loves best—helping people.
Beyond that, I follow her on Twitter, where she shares useful information about mental health. So when I was thinking of people to work with, Amy quickly came to mind. Her experience in the Behavioral Health field has had a significant impact on her life, and I admire her strength in sharing her story.
In this interview with Amy, she shares about living with Anxiety and Depression.
Growing up, I was that person who liked to help everyone. I cared deeply about people and was always acutely aware of what people were feeling. I would always try to help and “fix” their problems. I never realized that the more you take on other people’s problems, the more it weighs you down.
I got so good at being able to convince people that I could help, that I made a career out of it. I became a licensed therapist, and I specialized in working with those in crisis. You would typically find me in the emergency room following someone’s suicide attempt or assessing someone in a police car because they were having psychotic symptoms and threatening to harm themselves.
I walked into those situations, knowing the exact thing to do. Then, something unexpected happened—a few days after I evaluated and released a patient, I found out that he shot himself. For the first time, I felt helpless. No matter how people tried to convince me that I did all the right things, I still felt like I failed that man and his family. That incident made me realize that depression and anxiety were more than just feeling a little sad or stressed out.
It didn’t end there.
At about two years into my marriage, I had my first miscarriage. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t sleep, and I never stopped crying. I started taking antidepressants—I tried out six different medications! Imagine feeling the worst you have ever felt, and you think this medication will help, but then it doesn’t. Eventually, I found medications that worked without any side effects—one medication helped me sleep while the other helped me get through the day.
Since that time, I’ve experienced two bouts of postpartum depression, the loss of my dad, and a divorce. Each time, I found myself back at the doctor’s office and back on medication. These experiences all brought me into therapy. Therapy has equipped me with the tools I need to help myself and fix whatever issues are going on with me.
Have you ever felt stigmatized for having Anxiety and Depression, and how did you address the stigma?
Amy: I was lucky that I never felt stigmatized for having depression and anxiety because I was surrounded by mental health professionals, who were very candid about their own experiences. Early on in my career, I was very deliberate about describing someone as an individual with an illness. For example, I would not say someone is depressed; instead, I would say they have depression. Somehow, it makes it easier and more tangible to manage if you refer to it as something you have instead of something you are.
As a mental health advocate, what do you wish people knew about mental illness?
Amy: Having a mental illness is very much like having any other chronic medical condition. The difficult part is that with a mental illness, you really need other people to help you through it. And, just like any other medical condition, the sooner you address it and learn to manage it, the easier it gets.
I’m quite honest about my symptoms when I start to feel depressed and anxious. As an HR professional in the Behavioral Health field, it is so important that I am open and accepting of myself and my feelings so that I can encourage others to do so.
What would you say to someone who feels ashamed or afraid to ask for help?
Amy: Asking for help when you feel depressed or anxious is probably the hardest and bravest thing you will ever do. One thing I do, which feeds and helps my anxiety, is playing the “Worst Case Scenario” game. I think of all the worst things that could happen. Then I figure out how I would deal with each possible outcome. Doing this makes me feel like I can handle anything.
If you are afraid or ashamed, ask yourself, “what is the worst thing that can happen if I pick up the phone?” It might feel awkward, but anything is better than how it feels now. The bottom line is, you are stronger and braver than you think.
Mental Health and Work
How can people care for their mental health in the workplace, especially those dealing with anxiety?
Amy: I think the most important thing is to be yourself at work. That doesn’t mean bringing in all of your stuff through the door, but rather acknowledging when you are having a rough day and then taking care of yourself. If there is a meeting or a call that you can push to another day, then do it.
As a leader, it is important to pay attention to what is going on with others. If you see a co-worker or team member struggling, ask how you can help. If the person is struggling with anxiety, the most helpful thing you can do is to allow them to prioritize their day. If they report to you, permit them to reschedule that meeting or call.
It is also necessary to pay attention to others and to acknowledge each other. Open the door and allow the space for the person to ask for help. Sometimes it is just checking in and letting someone know you are there.
Mental Health and COVID-19
How have you managed your mental health and coped with everyday living since the COVID-19 crisis?
Amy: The COVID-19 crisis is a very challenging time for everyone, especially for those struggling with depression and anxiety. Physical isolation is difficult, even for those of us who tend to be more introverted. I’ve had to make an effort to stay socially connected, and I am so grateful to those who have reached out to me. The HR Community on social media has indeed been a lifeline for me. I think we all need our outlets and ways to connect.
I’ve also made an effort to have in-person, socially-distanced meetings with my team on a bi-weekly basis. Being in the same room makes us all feel more motivated and connected, despite the many things going on. I believe we have been more productive because of those periodic meetings. Even if those meetings are by Zoom or Teams, seeing people and letting them see you is critical to feeling connected. The most powerful words I think anyone can say to another is, “I see you, or I hear you.” To be seen and heard by another is a lifesaver for many people.
I want to close out by thanking Amy for taking part in this interview series about mental health, and for sharing her story and advice on this platform. If there’s anything you’d like to tell Amy, please feel free to leave her a comment or connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
Amy has offered to be a resource to anyone who needs support. In her words, “I can be a resource to someone. I’m still a helper by nature. I’m here to support and help, but I no longer feel the need to fix people.”
Amy’s point about wanting to “fix” people is one that resonates with me. It is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned—trying to fix people can end up hurting you. You can always offer guidance, but then you need to allow people to seek help by themselves.
Be sure to look out for the next post in this blog series: Let’s Talk About Mental Health! Please share this conversation with your friends, colleagues, and loved ones. That’s how we can educate others and reduce the stigma around mental health.
What part of this interview resonates with you?