13.05.13 – 19.05.13 is declared Mental Health Awareness week in the United Kingdom. It’s an issue that I feel very strongly and passionately about, so I decided to share my thoughts and feelings on the matter through my blog.
I have experienced mental health problems, as have a number of my family and friends. The statistics prove that mental health is a common issue, yet it’s still a taboo subject for people to talk about. As many as 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem over the course of a year. Anxiety, depression and stress are the most common issues.
I have deep empathy for those who experience mental health problems related to work, amongst all the other issues of course. It is widely known that having an occupation and purpose is good for mental health and well-being. There has to be room for self-development, fulfilment, work-life balance, good working relationships and a supportive environment in order to reap the benefits. However, research evidences that work is the biggest stressor in people’s lives. Currently 1 in 6 workers are dealing with a mental health problem. Anxiety, stress and depression are the most common issues reported. 1 in 5 workers has taken a day off work due to stress.
Last year I had an awful life experience which was hugely exacerbated by my work environment. I had been made redundant after being with the same employer for almost five years. For most of those years I was deeply unhappy and frustrated with my position. It was a period of recession and there were very little opportunities within or out with the business. I put so much pressure on myself to achieve more and was so downbeat. I lost all motivation, suffered badly with stress and had a terribly low mood. I never saw my GP. I had a month off before starting my new job which I secured within a week of being made redundant. I felt very unsure about this new opportunity, and had been warned by a friend that it wasn’t a good move. But I needed a job and I hastily accepted.
I had a really negative impression of the office from the interview, which was confirmed on my first day of employment. There were open arguments in the office, overt aggression, bitching, and moaning. I felt at unease straight away. My new colleagues proved to be extremely difficult, untrustworthy and scary. On my first day I was asked if I was a racist, to which I was completely shocked by. Of course I replied, “No I’m not a racist and I find racism really offensive”. That was it. I didn’t fit in. From then on things were really hard.
I wasn’t given any appropriate training or support and I felt that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I couldn’t think rationally. I was already distressed and then on Saturday 16th of June I received a telephone call at 10am from my friend Vinny. He called to tell me that a very good friend of ours Mark had been killed during the night in a hit and run incident. He was 30 years old, had a beautiful girlfriend, loving family, hundreds of friends and had everything going for him. I was devastated and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. I was signed off work by my GP for more than six weeks’ and received a combination of talking therapy and medication, which really helped in my recovery.
I was really apprehensive and anxious about my return to work. I didn’t feel safe going back. I knew that they had no empathy for me and it would be really difficult. My mum convinced me I had to go back and deal with it, and then it would be easier to find another job. I spoke to my manager on the phone a couple of weeks before I returned, and she said to me that I should try to get back quicker if I could, even though I was signed off until a particular date and had to be declared fit by my GP to return. This infuriated me. She also suggested that my colleagues wouldn’t be very understanding of my situation and I should maybe tell them what was going on for me.
I would never have been prepared for that return – it was awful and it was clear I wasn’t welcome. In my heart I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t stay. I remember thinking, “what is wrong with these people, have they no humanity or compassion?” On my first day back, I went to sit at my desk and was informed I had been moved. My colleagues, unbeknown to my Manager who had gone on holiday, had created a new office seating desk plan. I had been moved to the corner away from them. I then learned my colleagues had deleted me from Facebook, had organised a work night out and didn’t invite me, and were openly bitching about me within my ear shot. I remember being tearful at one point and one of the girls saying to me “for gods sake, you can’t keep doing this” followed by a hugely aggressive bang on the desk.
I lasted a week and four days and felt that I had taken about 10 steps back in my recovery. I had a really awful and frank conversation with HR and my boss, and basically told them I wouldn’t be back. I was signed off by my GP for my notice period and I never returned. I haven’t looked back. I’ve never felt so bullied in my life. With a mortgage to pay I was worried about how I would pay my bills, but I was fortunate enough to land another job within a few days. I’m also lucky to have a very supportive family, set of friends and partner. My only regret is accepting that job in the first place as the signs were all there from the beginning. I know now to never make a hasty decision concerning a job and to trust my own instincts.
I’m pleased to say I am now in a job which I enjoy, gain fulfilment from and I have really good relationships with my colleagues. I am learning and developing, and I feel valued for my efforts. Now I know what its like to work in a normal environment with decent people and what a difference it makes. I enjoy going to work and I have discovered a motivation in myself I never really knew existed, or maybe it was just lost inside me for so long I forgot what it felt like.
This experience proved to me that whilst a lot of attitudes, opinions and beliefs have changed regarding mental health, it’s still a controversial and taboo subject. The media often portray a negative and poor image of mental health, which is often completely inaccurate and offensive to those who are dealing with a mental health issue. Some workplaces are positive about mental health and encourage a mentally healthy workforce. But sadly there are still too many people within organisations that keep the vicious circle churning. I say its time for change and in order to do that we all have a part to play in challenging stigmas and discrimination. At the end of the day, anyone would broadcast that they had a cold or the flu but feel silenced when it comes to mental health. It’s not right and it shouldn’t be this way.