The HR Juggler

The 25% Club: Lucky

Posted on: January 29, 2013

hope

This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be accredited, others will be anonymous – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. Today’s post is by Tim Scott, who you can find on Twitter @TimScottHR.

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Fairly early on in my HR career, I participated in an “Anti-Discrimination” training course. The attendees were a pretty diverse group so we had lively discussions about sex discrimination and then race discrimination. The next subject was disability discrimination, but the conversation dried up quite quickly: it was apparent none of us had much experience to share. Noticing this, the trainer called a halt to the conversation and said: “Think of it like this: you are all potentially seconds away from being disabled”. After a suitably dramatic pause, he talked through a few case studies of unfortunate people who had been injured and left with a lifelong disability as a result of a split second occurrence and sheer bad luck. Perhaps an unorthodox approach to the subject but it made me appreciate that whilst “disability issues” might not affect me there and then, they could become of vital importance to me by simple quirk of fate…

Fast forward to late 2011. My one year old son was receiving ongoing hospital treatment after a very serious operation and was quite poorly. My Dad had an unexpected serious health scare. Work was intense: amongst other things I was handling a major disciplinary investigation; project managing an office move which had to be delivered at short notice and there was frequent press speculation and internal debate about the future of our organisation. You get the picture. It was a stressful time and, yes, I’d say I was “stressed” in the way we use that term in everyday language. But I’d been through similarly intensive times before with no adverse effects, so there was absolutely no reason to believe I wouldn’t do the same this time.

I don’t know precisely when it started. There wasn’t a big bang or one event that triggered it. The feeling just crept up on me. It felt like the walls were closing in. Sometimes I literally felt I couldn’t take a deep enough breath. Physically, I was functioning – getting into work, doing my job, looking after my son – but it felt robotic, like I was detached from what I was doing. It reminded me of the description of being close to a Dementor (bear with me!) by a character in one of the Harry Potter books: “it felt like I’d never be happy again”.

Looking back with hindsight, I can see the crescendo building. I don’t know what was different – if anything – from previous times of stress. But there was something. And it felt awful. I didn’t discuss it with anyone – we all have stuff to deal with, right? And it’s just not “the done thing” to admit you’re not feeling on top form mentally, especially not at work. Ignoring advice I’ve given to colleagues countless times, I thought “this isn’t me; if I just kept going, I’ll come out the other side”. Eventually in early December, I was ill with a virus and had to take a few days off work. After this enforced break, I found the negative sensations had dissipated. I came back to work with a fresh approach and got stuck into the outstanding tasks on my to-do list. Christmas came around and then it was a new year and thankfully there was no sign of any of the issues that had affected me during the winter.

I consider myself very lucky. I haven’t (knowingly) suffered any form of mental health issue before or since. What happened to me came and went without any real intervention and lasted only a few weeks. Compared to what many people live with on a daily basis, it was just a blip. But what it left me with was a much starker appreciation of the effects that poor mental health can have on people – and how quickly and almost imperceptibly it can take hold, even of someone with no history of such problems.

There are many different and persuasive reasons why we should take mental health issues in the workplace very seriously indeed – not least the human reasons, the business case and the impact on those around us – but if you want a very personal reason to consider your practice in this area, how about this? You’re all potentially seconds away from having a mental health issue yourself.

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If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • attend our event with Mind on 5th February 2013 at 6pm
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with me on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or through the comments section of this blog
  • Do you want to join me in running the Royal Parks half marathon in October to raise money for Mind? Register here if so and let’s form an #HRforMentalHealth team (non HR people welcome too!) 

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