By James Skinner
As there should be, there is now a great deal of noise within the work place about the mental welfare of employees.
Back in May 2016, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the launch of the Lord Mayor’s “This is me” campaign. As a long standing sufferer of mental health issues, I was both inspired and greatly heartened that some of the largest businesses in the City were coming together to reduce the stigma around mental health in the workplace. Earlier in the year you might have seen people donning those rather strange green ribbons and wondering what they meant. For those of you who are up to speed, you will know it’s a sign of support, they are to show others that you too understand the importance of mental health issues; how vital it is to recognise and respect as well as encourage others to share their story.
Here’s a scary statistic: one in four people experience a mental health problem in any given year, yet many feel scared and confused about confronting the issue at work. One might assume that employees would feel comfortable telling their line managers about mental health issues, whereas in fact only half of them actually do so.
Look around your work place and you will see ordinary people like you or I, beavering away at their heavy workloads. But for some, the burden with be all the greater due to invisible stresses; what many of us don’t realise is that having mental health problems can affect one’s performance at work as much as physical ill health and yet don’t receive the same level of concern or attention.
Organisations employ people for their minds and it is only right that big business also look after their minds too. It is therefore hugely encouraging to hear that many large law firms and corporations are formulating a framework in which employers now look to both safeguard and help staff who may be suffering from mental health issues.
Attitudes, knowledge and behaviour towards people with mental health problems need to change and I feel that this is more likely to improve if people are given the opportunity to learn from someone who has personal experience of mental illness.
So what’s my personal experience of mental health?
Growing up in the late eighties and early nighties, teenagers really did enjoy a drink. I was no exception and on arriving at university in the centre of London, I can honestly say that I spent more time in the Kings student union than I did in the lecture halls. This was all quite normal for a young and excited undergraduate let loose from the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales for the first time.
Although I grew up in a very loving and supportive family, I was private and insular about my emotions, much of which I think stems from shielding my sexuality through my teenage years. With hindsight, I don’t really know why I had been concerned about this as it seemed other people knew before I did – but what they didn’t know was the constant battle I had with sudden episodes of despair and depression. Cheap wine, of course, did not help, nor did my many failed opportunities to openly discuss my increasingly erratic behaviour and sudden mood swings: from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows! It all came to a resounding head during my final year at university, when I was most fortunate to fall into a safety net of support love and understanding – all of which really did save my life.
Despite all the help I have had over the years, I still have not to this day fully understood what causes and why I suffer from the “grimacing black dog”. For me, it can still come about as suddenly as the flick of a switch. Some say that you are more likely to be predisposed to depression if a member of your family has also suffered from similar episodes. That rather generic explanation is as close as I can get to understanding why my mutt still comes a knocking on my door. Not much of a revelation I hear you all say, but for me, respecting it fully and recognising that it’s a condition that is unlikely to dissipate is reason enough to keep popping my Prozac 23 years on . Doctors and experts talk about how anti-depressants supposedly offset a chemical imbalance in one’s brain and enable one to live on an even keel. Hallelujah to that I say – it’s working for me and long may it continue.
Mental health is an issue that has or will affect many of us. From minor disorders such as stress or anxiety to more complex issues such as depression. Recognising the early signs of mental issues is an important way to prevent mental wellness issues before they arise. Bupa have listed a number of signs to look out for in not only yourself but others you may work with too. Early signs include poor concentration, aggression or being less sociable.
Recognition of a problem is the first step and arguably the hardest one. The next step is seeking help. If you do recognise that you have issues or you just need someone to talk to, the NHS have published a list of various helplines of charities and organisations supporting different issues. If you are outside the UK, speak to your local doctor or healthcare professional and they will be able to refer you to the correct support.