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Feeling beyond help

The World Health Organization ( WHO) web site defines mental health as: “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community”.

The site also lists - non-exhaustively - risks to mental health, also referred to as psychosocial risks:

  • under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work
  • excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing
  • long, unsocial or inflexible hours
  • lack of control over job design or workload
  • unsafe or poor physical working conditions
  • organizational culture that enables negative behaviours
  • limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision
  • violence, harassment or bullying
  • discrimination and exclusion
  • unclear job role
  • under- or over-promotion
  • job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development
  • conflicting home/work demands.

I can associate these risks with the vast majority of issues that are raised by my visitors and could add:

  • loss of purpose
  • lack of appreciation
  • lack of clear and fluid communication in change management.

Indeed, in 2022, one out of every 5 colleagues who asked to meet the Ombud reported mental health issues linked to their experience in the workplace. They would mention loss of sleep, loss of appetite, constant crying. They would ruminate about the problem there were facing and find themselves in a downward spiral of negative thoughts.

I am very grateful that they trusted me to discuss the situation that they were facing. At least, I could offer active listening and empathy. I also offered an external view of the situation, which helped them distance themselves from the situation.  In some worrying cases, I also invited them to contact the CERN psychologists, who are available for consultation and  can provide professional advice on mental health issues.

People who visit the Ombud’s Office know that our conversation will be strictly confidential and will stay between the four walls of the office or the four virtual walls of my personal zoom room. They also trust the Ombud to stay totally neutral and impartial.

Most of the time my visitors know what they should do about a problem but may not be confident enough to decide how to go about it. Exchanging on possibilities – the Ombuds does not influence people but helps them to get their ideas and plans in order – allows the visitor to take their final decision.

 The Work Well Feel Well project, which was initiated in 2017, will launch a new prevention campaign this autumn:Efficiency and caring at work”. 

In particular, they have invited Catherine Vasey, psychologist and burn-out specialist, to give a seminar on 6 October on the subject of the prevention of burn-out in a particularly demanding professional context. I highly recommend you register for the seminar, which you can do here.

We all have ups and downs in our personal and professional lives, with downs sometimes very severe as they can lead to overwhelming stress, burn-out and/or depression. It is very important to seek support as early as possible and the Ombud is there to help you.

I remember being on a communication course in my early years at CERN, it must have been in the 90s. I had an interesting discussion with a former colleague (and later CERN Ombud, Sudeshna Datta Cockerill) who told me “It is when you think that you are beyond help, that you have to find support”.

I would also like to borrow from another  former CERN Ombud, Vincent Vuillemin, the conclusion of his article, which is still very valid today:

“Never believe that your case is too trivial, just come to the Office. Most people simply want to bring their concerns to the Ombud, be heard with empathy, and be comforted that there are ways they can take to handle their situation themselves. The Ombud will also direct you to other Services where you can get professional help if you need it. Do not stay isolated. Build a network of support before it is too late.”

Laure Esteveny

I would like to hear your reactions and suggestions – join the CERN Ombud Mattermost team at https://mattermost.web.cern.ch/cern-ombud/.

All information on the role of the CERN Ombud and how to contact her may be found at https://ombud.web.cern.ch/