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Why Do We Need To Break The Mental Health Taboo Among Diplomats?

Written by: Adeline Torcol, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

People often associate the life of a diplomat with a privileged life abroad. In fact, as a diplomat, you have access to the key actors of the political, economic, social, and cultural life of a country. Engaging in diplomatic missions means accepting important responsibilities: representing your country or organization’s foreign policy, and negotiating and implementing ambitious projects in a given country. We often see the tip of the iceberg of this profession, as an exciting and very rich learning experience. However, as with all professions, diplomats are not immune to the global epidemic of burnout.

I have not found any specific studies on the risks of burnout for diplomat colleagues. And yet, if we were to invent the well-oiled machine for stress and burnout, the diplomatic profession would be a very good candidate to test it!

Indeed, we recruit young people, ambitious, hardworking, committed to strong values with a tendency to perfectionism. Added to this, are long working hours, missions in the country, public events not to be missed, etc. As consequence, the days are longer, the nights shorter, and the weekends full of demands. The boundaries between professional and private life are tenuous. Stress, sleep problems, and difficult balance between professional and personal life are also common features of diplomatic engagement.

The diplomat often comes with his/her family and/or partner and the question of their adaptation is essential. In case of difficulties, this could bring additional anxiety and stress for the diplomat colleague who feels responsible for his family’s well-being. In addition, a diplomat coming on his own in a new country faces loneliness which could turn for some into a burden.

Accepting a diplomatic job is also being ready to serve your country in difficult conditions and to find yourself on the front line of a conflict, as in Ukraine. You are part of the essential staff staying in the country. This means navigating in the middle of a storm of reports, and meetings with its share of cold blood, stress, and anxiety. Diplomats posted in hardship posting may suffer from stress disorders and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A former diplomat colleague told me that the essential qualities of a good diplomat are strength and resilience. I also think that vulnerability is also a primary quality. It is still difficult in this profession with its smooth image to talk openly about mental health and yet there is much to be gained by expressing one’s vulnerability, one’s emotions, one’s doubts, and one’s moments of stress, helplessness, or suffering.

As the well-known researcher and writer, Brené Brown recalls:” To be the person who we long to be, we must be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, who show up and let ourselves be seen”.


I invite diplomats to make space for their vulnerability. Diplomats are not super humans; they are just men and women with heavy responsibilities who tend to forget they are just humans and imperfect humans.


Vulnerability is the birthplace for a more authentic leadership bringing empathy and creativity in the workplace “ ‒ Brené Brown.

While posted a few years ago in Nigeria at the EU embassy, I was convinced I was sufficiently prepared for this experience. I was a passionate worker, a perfectionist, I could no longer set limits, nor did I know how to express my emotions, my moments of overflow, of great stress, of shock following a bomb attack, etc. I observed my colleagues experiencing difficult and tense situations in silence. I felt that talking about our difficulties was taboo. In addition, distance from your Head Quarters reinforces this feeling of isolation or misunderstanding of what you experience in the field.

I learned the hard skills for the job of a diplomat but not the soft skills, I didn’t have the tools to express my emotions and manage the stress and the unexpected of this job.

I interviewed fellow diplomats for Pacify Your Mind podcast. ¹ I felt inspired listening to their stories, and how they managed stressful situations with their own inner resources such as mindfulness practice or talking to trusted colleagues about their mental health challenges. I committed myself through Pacify Your Mind to breaking mental health taboo in the diplomatic sector, to provide tools for organizations and colleagues to take care of their health and balance before, during their assignments, and upon their return.

The stakes are high. Investing in the mental health of diplomatic colleagues means ensuring an alignment between the values of their organization or country and the professionals who embody them abroad.

How can you represent the interests of your country, the values of peace and cooperation if you are close to burnout and therefore no longer at peace with yourself?

This is a major issue because climate change crises, wars, and conflicts will require more effort and commitment from diplomatic colleagues. International organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs need to step up their support to colleagues in the field and help them face these new challenges without compromising their physical and mental health.

Current and future diplomacy need healthy and resilient diplomats.


How do you go about achieving wellbeing and balance in your diplomatic engagement? What are your main challenges? Do you find times to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


 

Adeline Torcol, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Adeline Torcol is helping professionals working to make the world better to put their well-being first. She is a former diplomat who worked for peace abroad including in hardship locations. She developed chronic stress symptoms and had no proper tools to deal with stress. She decided to learn about resilience and stress management methods like mindfulness. She believes that if you work for a peace project you need to develop your inner peace. She created Pacify Your Mind. She proposes coaching sessions to professionals engaged abroad who feel the need to reconnect with themselves and training to organizations who want to support their staff's well-being in the field and at Headquarters.

 

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