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Building a Better Auditor: Opening Up About Mental Health

Blogs Krystle Howell, CIA, CPA, FCA Jun 21, 2022

Within the IIA Your Voices blogs, we often hear inspiring stories of auditors who have done things we can look up to and emulate. Although I hope to do the same, this story will be a bit more vulnerable in the hopes that readers who relate to this story can feel less alone and find a solution, as I did.

As we all know, the world was turned upside down during the pandemic. Our profession had to pivot quickly and, in many cases, transition from the office to remote work scenarios. I imagine there were various learning curves and adjustments, but for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the additional time I had to get my work done and I finally felt like I was ahead of the game!

For the entirety of 2020, I worked tirelessly, almost from the time I opened my eyes, and sometimes putting in several hours before taking any breaks.

I felt like I was conquering everything.

Then, on January 1, 2021, my home country of Barbados had a major outbreak in cases, and we were under curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. I am not exactly sure why, but this news broke something in me that this "hold on until we get back to normal" mindset that I had envisioned was no longer sustainable.

I started to feel an unprecedented level of exhaustion that made it difficult to get through a normal workday, much less put in the overtime I had grown so used to. By midday, I could feel myself wilting, and every week, I would tell myself that I would catch up on my rest over the weekend as there was little else to do but work and rest.

Several months later, I realized the length of time that I had been telling myself, "I'll be better once I catch up on my rest." Truthfully, the longer hours of rest made no difference to my fatigue and the extremely odd feeling that I was losing time. I felt like I would open my eyes on a Monday morning, blink, and it was already Friday evening. I had a warped idea of what had happened in between.

I decided enough was enough and I needed help — quickly.

I contacted our human resources department and requested a therapy session to discuss my dilemma. It was the best thing I ever did!

Through this session, I realized that what I was going through was not unusual, given my extreme isolation out of my fear of catching the virus, as well as the highly monotonous routine I had adopted. I had developed a form of 'derealization,' a mental state that makes you feel detached from your surroundings and can result in time seeming to speed up, slow down, or stand still. The depression, resulting from an extended state of fear, had resulted in symptoms that I can now say, thankfully, I have slowly but surely moved past.

Why am I sharing this deeply personal story in a blog about auditors? Because many of us in the professional world ignore our mental health; we are often functional depressives. The work still gets done, but we leave our mental health in shambles as a result. Truthfully, if we aren't our best selves, we honestly cannot be producing our best work, even if we are meeting the criteria and our deadlines.

I joined a group therapy session that focused on grief. In one way or another, we are all grieving something — lost loved ones, failed relationships, broken careers, the life we had before the pandemic, or a myriad of other losses that we rarely acknowledge.

The therapist highlighted that grief should be a shared experience, yet we often make it a secret. A mother loses a child, and everyone in the office mainly talks about it in hushed tones. Coworkers are laid off due to restructuring, and the remaining employees feel fearful to voice their opinions or talk about their lost comrades. A friend loses a parent, and we struggle to find the right words to say or follow up to see if they need help in any way.

If you are an auditor reading this, and you have struggled with your mental health or grief, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that help is not outside of your reach. Learn as much as you can about how to handle grief. My personal favorite is The Grief Recovery Handbook. Talk to someone, preferably a trained professional, whether it be a therapist or religious leader, and start your journey to not just building a better auditor — but being a better, healed, and healthy you.

Krystle Howell, CIA, CPA, FCA

Internal Auditor, Sagicor Life, Inc., based in Barbados

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