I have talked openly of how In November 2017 I had to have 2 months off work due to the poor state of my mental health. My mental health was on the decline and I was struggling to see how I was going to get better. I did not feel that I had a normal life - it was as if I was constantly depressed or suffering anxiety and panic attacks whilst everything else moved on around me.
As I was sitting at my desk, a colleague who I have always been able to talk to (and is well aware of my mental illness), recognised something was wrong and took me aside into an office to talk. No judgement, no words of wisdom or advice - she just listened. She let me talk and talk and then talk some more. At the end of the conversation and a chat with the bosses, I got up and walked out of work not to be seen by my team for another 2 months. What followed was a GP visit, an occupational support chat, therapy, self care, an improvement in my fitness and an education in proper nutrition.
Would I have got support 5, 10, 15 years ago? I am not so sure but on this occasion I was lucky to get the time off work to recover at home with no pressure to return to work. The problem was that I thought about work a lot whilst I was off. I thought about my work load, my colleagues and my sickness record and every so often I panicked. I thought I was letting people down and I thought I was going to be disciplined about my sickness (which was good up until this point). But I should not have been thinking about the stresses of work, I should have been free to recover with the peace of mind that everything would be okay.
When I did return to work a couple of months later , everything did in fact turn out to be okay. In fact I even had some nice compliments about being back in work and how the team had missed me. Yes I overheard the odd comment about my so called 'holiday' but I simply put that down to lack of awareness of the crippling affects mental health can have on people.
As I have developed my business and the work place wellness service I have given a lot of thought to employees taking time off work for mental illness or related disorders. There is still such a stigma associated with mental illness, which to me seems partly down to it being almost a 'hidden illness'. If someone has a broken leg or flu, its easy for everyone to see, but with mental health it lays hidden beneath the skin. It’s unclear whether someone is depressed, has got anxiety or suffers with panic attacks. The person with these disorders often hides it. When they are feeling low or are at their worst, they may hide it by carrying on as if nothing is wrong, laughing along with jokes or making excuses for the way they look or behave. They might be known as the 'grumpy person' at work by colleagues, yet what they don't know is that it has taken so much energy for them to get out of bed in the morning and even make it into the office. At the end of the day they may go home and just lie on the sofa, or curl up in bed. They may drink two glasses of wine or a bottle, or they may have an argument with their partner. All because they are ill and they do not want to admit to their bosses or their colleagues that they have an illness, that they need help and support and that they are likely to need time off work to recover.
This person possibly needs GP advice, treatment and or counselling. However a lot of people still continue to suffer in silence. They are not able to ask for help nor are they offered the help and support they need and this is so wrong - it should not be like this. End the stigma associated with admitting mental illness. Employers should have welfare schemes, occupational health professionals on hand, break out areas for staff to escape to and for staff to talk confidentially, modern progressive sickness rules, access to medical advice and support. Okay this is not going to be possible for all employers, but anyone can take part in training in mental health first aid, mental health awareness, well-being, nutrition, you name it, it is possible. Surely it is better for employers, managers and supervisors to do the relevant training and to be able to properly support employees when needed isn't it?
Eventually this will lead to healthier, happier employees, less sickness time and more productivity in the workplace. Possibly a utopia, but something for companies to aspire to, whatever their size. I know it’s easy to say that someone has mental illness when in fact that are just a naturally have a low mood personality, who makes no effort to smile or interact and may like being stressed. But a lot of people are depressed and do suffer from crippling anxiety or panic attacks at the thought of going to work. We work far too much anyway, so let’s try and make work as enjoyable as possible. Let’s look after each other and let’s end the stigma associated with mental illness. Let’s encourage people to talk about their illness so they can obtain the right help and support, right when they need it.
Employers can start this process by supporting staff and encouraging this behaviour. Let’s make optimum wellness in the work place a reality.
Further reading and references
The Guardian - Removing the taboo of mental health at work - António Horta-Osório is chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group
Some fantastic resources for further reading
Mind - The mental health charity - Workplace
Remploy - Work place mental health support
Mental health organisation - Support at work
PWC - promoting well-being
Paul Brown - Coach | Consultant
CBT Practitioner | Workplace Wellness & Welfare | Mental Well-being
I work with organisations, corporate clients and private clients.
I use cognitive behavioural techniques to coach others
towards achieving mental well-being, through goal setting and
the changing of negative thought patterns.
These thoughts and feelings inadvertently affect behaviour, disrupt relationships, damage motivation, productivity and may cause anxiety and stress.
Please contact me for further information and to book a free consultation.
T - 07957 101 185