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Emotional Wellness: The Importance of Making Connections

by Barry Litun College of Alberta School Superintendents | March 31 2016 | 3 Comments

The College of Alberta School Superintendents (CASS) serves and supports education system leaders in public, separate, Francophone, charter and First Nations education authorities in the province. In order to best serve its members, CASS strives to provide information and support with respect to personal wellness. One specific aspect of wellness that is a topic of conversation in all walks of life is mental/emotional health and wellbeing, which is the basis of the Resilience in Leadership (RIL) project CASS and ASEBP have been collaborating on for the past 18 months.

As system leaders, CASS members are positioned to positively influence the well-being of principals, teachers, students and communities—and, ultimately, contribute to creating a healthier and more productive society. The RIL project aims to provide resources and supports for CASS members so that they can become more resilient in the face of challenges, stress and change.

The genesis of the RIL project occurred in 2014, when I faced a question that most of us have, or will face; “What should we do when we become aware that a friend or colleague is struggling with emotional health concerns?”

Before I attempt to answer my own question, I suggest that most people would be quick to call someone they know well if they learn the person is physically ill or injured. “Sorry to hear you are not well,” “how long before you recover,” and “hope you get well soon,” would be common expressions of support and good will in such a circumstance.

I also suggest that many of us, however, would have difficulty making a call (or finding the right words if we do call) to a friend or colleague we learn is struggling with emotional health issues. We likely would rationalize our decision to not call with thoughts of “maybe what I have heard is not correct,” or “s/he probably wants to be left alone,” or “what if I say something that makes the matter worse?”

In reality, individuals who are going through a difficult time are likely to feel discouraged, despair or abandoned if those closest to them do not reach out in a time of need. To paraphrase a comment that was shared with me by someone who was experiencing a difficult time, and who has subsequently recovered, “It felt like I had fallen off the face of the earth because no one, including people who I had worked with for many years, called to see how I was doing.”

Based on reading I have done, and on conversations with former colleagues who are professionals trained to assist individuals struggling with emotional health issues, I offer the following for your consideration:

  • If you suspect a friend or colleague is experiencing emotional health issues, reach out to them. While they may not say so at the time, it is very likely they are greatly appreciative for you doing so.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak to the matter at hand. “I understand you may be going through a tough time, and I want you to know that I am available to help you any way I can.”
  • Make a commitment to maintain contact in the future. While it is important to respect the wishes of the person, don’t ask if s/he wants you to call in the future. An alternative to asking if you should call again could be “I want you to know that I care about your wellbeing and I plan to connect with you again in a week, unless you tell me you prefer I not call.” My personal experiences, and advice from professionals, suggest the person will appreciate your commitment to help, and it is unlikely s/he will ask you not to call.

I emphasize that I do not have training or expertise in assisting individuals struggling with emotional health concerns. My comments in this blog are based on my personal experiences, and from conversations with trained professionals. Should you be faced with this circumstance, I strongly encourage you to, at the very least, consult with someone you know who has mental/emotional health training in order to seek guidance about what you can do to assist.

I close with a quote that I read, from an unknown person. “When you are afraid to act for fear of being wrong, then you have ignored the chance of doing right.”

Barry Litun

As the executive director for the College of Alberta School Superintendents and a former life as superintendent for the Lethbridge School District (that brought one of the first staff wellness initiatives to the province), Barry is a Sandbox superhero of the highest calibre. Even Barry’s inability to do anything whatsoever in the musical arena is rendered irrelevant—helped along by his uncanny resemblance to the beloved Tom (Magnum P.I. days) Selleck.

Anna M. ASEBP - | March 31 2016 5:35 PM

I had a family member that was hospitalized with severe depression and friends and family had such a hard time knowing how to reach out so they just didn’t. Probably hoping someone else would have a better idea what to say or do. They just didn’t have a clue what to say or how to relate to what he was going through. It was a very lonely time for him. Only a few friends that had suffered similar illnesses really reached out as they knew how much he desperately needed to stay connected and to feel like people cared for him. I'm so excited that to see an article like this. Thank you Barry for opening up this conversation, very well done.  


Matthew M. Alberta Health Services - | April 1 2016 11:54 AM

Barry, Thank you for the three tips, which I will take away for my own personal use - reach out, don't be afraid to speak to the matter at hand, and make a commitment to maintain contact.

I appreciate how you point out that we do not need training or expertise in order to assist individuals struggling with emotional health concerns. I also believe that like physical health, anyone has the ability to contribute to and improve the emotional health of others without the need for training or expertise. Wouldn't it be great if everyone had the comfort and confidence to discuss emoitonal health as though it is just like physical health?

Shandy M. ASEBP - | April 1 2016 12:44 PM

Hi Barry - what an excellent article. Thank you for sharing this personal experience. I have also grappled with this issue as a colleague and a supervisor. I just today found this in my email inbox. I thought it might be of interest to Sandbox blog readers: