The HR Juggler

Archive for the ‘Mental health’ Category

running

This blog post is far from neat or conventional in the usual rules of beginning, middle and end.  It seems to me that there are at least three different beginnings to the story that I want to share with you, the middle continues to be a work in progress and the end is far from known. Many of the pieces of this jigsaw may already be familiar to you, so forgive me for restating them.

The beginnings are these…

In January 2002, my brother-in-law committed suicide. None of us knew at the time that he was depressed or suffered any mental health issues. I wrote about his story here.

In January of this year, I published this post as part of the Advent and New Year series, written by Jon Bartlett, which caused huge waves in the HR community about the topic of mental health and what we as HR professionals could do about it. This led to the 25% Club series of posts of individuals sharing their experiences of suffering mental health conditions, an HR for Mental Health event with Mind Charity, organised by Jon and a much more open dialogue on the topic of mental health.

This time last year, I was training for my first half-marathon, having not run at all previously. It was a huge deal to me, uncertain as I was as to whether I would achieve the goal which at the start had appeared reckless and unattainable. I did it and was delighted.

Right now I am again in training for the Royal Parks Half, which takes place on the 6th October. This time I am running for Mind and I really want to raise as much money as I can for them, as it is such a brilliant cause. Because of my brother-in-law and because of the increased understanding that I have gained this year of mental health and the work that Mind do, it means a huge amount to me and I would love it if you could support me and them.

This will be my third half-marathon in a year and I am still waiting to discover the magical point of when the training becomes easier, or perhaps more accurately, when it becomes easy…but given that the three or four training runs I do each week still frequently feel tough, I don’t think that will happen anytime soon! That’s OK..I know I’m not alone on that one ;).

If you would like to support me and donate to Mind, you can find my sponsorship page here.

Please do take the time to check out some of the fantastic resources that Mind produce about mental health at work and visit the excellent Time To Change website.

Thank you!

trees

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 Lesley Campbell who can be found on Twitter @lellielesley.

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With hindsight, I think I’ve always been one of the 25%, having experienced episodes of depression for as long as I can remember, but it was only in 2008 when this became something I could no longer deny. 2008 was the year I eventually broke down completely and ultimately the start of recovery. This is a long and ever-evolving story, but I have tried to keep it brief – or rather as short as possible – 2500+ words is rarely considered brief. I hope you will take the time to read it and please feel free to comment.

So – summer 2007, I’d just graduated with a good degree and joined my current employer as a new management consultant. Two weeks before, I’d got engaged to my long-term partner and life felt good. I loved my new job and my first project was going really well. Everything was going smoothly and perhaps foolishly, I thought that my past unhappiness was probably just part of growing up and that hopefully my past experiences with depression were behind me.

Unfortunately in May 2008, nearly 10 months after starting work, I realised this was a mistake. I suddenly found I was no longer coping with life. There was no real trigger; it just crept up on me over a couple of weeks. I felt overwhelmed by the smallest things and dreaded every day and every night, unable to sleep but unable to drag myself out of bed each morning to face the day. I was suicidal and could see no other option. I drove to work, fantasising about crashing my car into a motorway bridge or brick wall. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I was unable to concentrate at work and found myself working harder and harder to achieve less and less. I was desperate to hide how I was feeling and did everything I could to make sure no one noticed. I kept going to work because I didn’t know what else I could do and I was too afraid to ask for help. I hoped it would pass like it had always done in the past, but things were getting worse.

Everything came to a head in early June. I was in a one-to-one with my line manager, discussing a piece of work I’d been struggling to get finished. My boss made a well-intentioned, but flippant comment “It’s not important, don’t kill yourself over this” and I know he was trying to minimise my stress, but it made me panic. I feared he could read my mind and would try to stop my plans for suicide. I hid my panic and the meeting carried on as normal, but as the day went on his words were echoing in my mind and I realised I needed to say something. I couldn’t find the words, so I emailed him and explained the way I was feeling.

He read my email and despite my requests in the email to discuss any action with me first, he immediately contacted HR. I felt betrayed by this, but understand why he did it. Thankfully, the HR manager was very supportive. The next day, she called me to discuss what could be done to help me. They asked if I wanted to take time off work and if I would see my GP, but I was too scared to take that step. We compromised and agreed that I would see Occupational Health instead. As my line manager was not concerned about my performance at work and I wanted to maintain a routine, we also agreed I could stay in work until I had been to occupational health. I was relieved to have finally said something and frightened about what would happen next.

Occupational Health was a big step for me. It was the first time I’d discussed my depression with a medical professional. I was scared of doctors. I feared he wouldn’t believe me or take me seriously. I shouldn’t have worried – he agreed that I was going through an episode of depression and again told me I needed to see my GP as he felt I would benefit from medication and therapy. I knew there was no point fighting it any longer and made an appointment.

Seeing my GP was really difficult and I didn’t find her particularly helpful or supportive. She wanted to start me on medication straight away, but I was unsure about this. She made a referral to the primary care mental health team and insisted on signing me off work and I reluctantly agreed to a two-week break. Little did I know that this would be the start of a two and a half year sickness absence.

The next year or so was very challenging – the worst of my life. My condition deteriorated rapidly after I stopped working – my work and routine had been holding me together until that point, but once you stop it can be hard to keep going. I agreed to try medication, which only made me worse as the drugs exacerbated my mood and made me dysphoric – agitated and paranoid, as well as desperately suicidal. I changed GPs and medication and still didn’t improve. I ended up spending time in and out of hospital, trying different medications and therapies and struggling to find anything that helped. I attempted to kill myself more than once and on one occasion I nearly succeeded. I even had ECT during the spring of 2009 in a desperate attempt to bring me out of depression. I was deeply unwell and at the time I really didn’t think I’d ever recover or return to work. I honestly thought I’d be dead by now and I suspect I wasn’t the only one that feared that. At one point, I was told the horrific fact that after two years out of the workplace due to illness, you are more likely to die within five years than you are likely to go back to work. Not exactly encouraging statistics.

Eventually, in January 2010, during a five-week stay in hospital, under the care of a new psychiatrist, I was started on a different combination of medication and this time the drugs started to work for me. It sounds like a cliché but it really did feel as if the clouds had parted and a weight had been taken off my shoulders. Slowly, I started to piece my life back together.

After a few more months, I started to think about work again and got back in touch with HR. I was referred back to occupational health and we agreed a very slow phased return to work. We started with just two hours a week at first, increasing over about six months to 12hrs a week divided over three days and then over the next year we eventually increased to full-time hours. It took a lot of time and patience, but the slow and steady increases were important. I thought they were joking at first when I was told I could only do 2 or 4 hours a week, but I was amazed at how tired those hours made me.

Soon after I returned, I was found an internal project working with our graduate HR and Training team. It has been a role which I’ve really enjoyed and found immensely rewarding. The work has been challenging, which has been important for rebuilding my confidence – I didn’t want to return to work and find myself counting paperclips – I needed a role that would help to strengthen and test my recovery, but I also needed a role which was flexible enough to accommodate me and my needs. Working internally has fulfilled that brief and I am so grateful to my employer for allowing me to return to work in this way. They have been very supportive, providing reasonable adjustments to allow me to manage my condition. Things such as a later start time and regular home-working allowed me to better manage the side effects of my medication. A company smartphone assists me with memory and concentration issues, which are both a residual symptom of mental illness and an unfortunate outcome of the ECT. Autonomy over my schedule and workload allowed me to flex things depending on my mood – if I work harder on a good day, I can compensate for the bad ones. These are just little tweaks to my work environment and adjustments which cost very little, but they can make a big difference. Overall I think I have been given the best possible chance to succeed in my return to work.

Since returning to work, I’ve vowed to be open and honest about my condition. When I returned, someone in HR told me not to tell anyone I had been off on sick leave. I was unsure how I could walk back into the office after more than two years and just pretend nothing had happened. I know they wanted to protect me, but I didn’t feel I could do this – I am not a good liar. I suspect that if my absence was caused by pretty much any other health condition, I’d have been welcomed back with flowers and asked how I’m feeling. People wouldn’t have been afraid to talk about it and I certainly wouldn’t be expected to hide. Just because it is mental health does not mean it should be any different. Managing any long-term health condition is hard enough, without trying to hide it as well. I didn’t want to go through that again. Instead I chose to speak out.

One of the first things I did when I returned to work was joining our disability network. I have been actively involved in raising awareness and increasing membership of the network and have been a champion for mental health within the group. Last year, I approached our leadership and encouraged them to show their support for Time to Change. They agreed and in October 2012, we held an event ahead of World Mental Health Day. As well as organising the event, I spoke about my personal experience of returning to work after mental illness – a terrifying, but rewarding and liberating experience. A few years ago I didn’t have the courage to admit I was struggling with depression and now I was talking about it in front of our UK Managing Director and other Leadership. The event culminated in the MD and our disability network sponsor signing an organisational pledge to support Time to Change, alongside Time to Change director Sue Baker. It was a proud moment and a big step forward for my employer too. A few years previously there was a hesitation from HR and management to mention mental illness as it was seen as too serious or not relevant in the work place – instead there was a focus on softer terms such as “wellbeing” or stress as these were considered more acceptable. Now we were openly talking about depression, suicide and mental illness. At last there was recognition of the importance of this issue to the business. People were listening and more importantly, people were talking. There was a real buzz after the event and there are definitely signs of an improved awareness and desire to change. We are trying to maximise on this momentum, but there is still a long way to go.

However, I recognise that it’s one thing speaking out in a closed environment, in a workplace where I know there is a strong ethos of diversity, where I am already supported and where I have already proved my worth. I have to confess I was less certain about posting this blog under my real name in an open forum like this. Google is all-powerful and if a client ever finds this or perhaps a potential future employer, I wonder how they will react. I don’t know. However, I do know that if it reflects badly, then perhaps working for them wouldn’t work out well anyway. I hope my CV, my skills and my experience will speak for themselves and that they will give me an opportunity to address any concerns they may have. I hope that it is something we can talk about and that they recognise that actually, knowing about my condition means it is something that can be managed. I also hope that they realise the “me” they knew before, is still me. I don’t want to be defined by my illness or it to be the only thing I am known for, but at the same time, I don’t want to deny that it exists. It has shaped my experience and made me who I am. I want to share my experience and hope that people will learn from it and that in due course, time will change and I won’t need to worry.

So how about now and the future? I continue to live with a mental illness – a mood disorder. I recognise that I am likely to be living with this condition for the rest of my life and I will probably be taking medication for most, if not all, of that time. The medication ensures that the lows are not as low and the highs not as high and there is a stability in my life that had been missing before. I am never completely free of the effects of this illness – both residual symptoms and the side effects of treatment (current and past) leave their impact, but at the moment I am well and hope to stay that way. I am not under any illusions that I will never experience further episodes (and I live in fear of that moment), but I hope that I am better prepared and able to manage those if they happen. I have good insight and am able to monitor my moods and watch out for warning signs. I know how to get help if I need it and I am careful to manage my condition. I avoid alcohol, try to stick to a regular routine and try to manage stress. I tolerate the physical side effects of medication as horrible as they are and I keep taking the pills, because it is a small price to pay for being mentally well. All of this isn’t easy, but I do it because I want to stay well and I want to stay in work. I love my job, I love my career and I want to be successful. I refuse to let this illness stop that.

Recently I have embarked on the next step in my recovery – a return to client-facing consulting work. This is a massive step. I have to be honest and say I was unsure if I would ever make it to this point, but I now feel ready to take on this new challenge. And with it certainly comes new challenges – longer hours, lots of travel and more stress – all things which could potentially trigger that next episode which I fear so much. I need to balance my health needs with the needs of the project and those of my new team. I need to handle the expectations of the client and ensure that my illness doesn’t mean we don’t deliver. I am confident we can do this, but the team needs to work together to make it work. Key to this is openness and honesty – it is about talking. Unless I am honest with my employer and colleagues, it is hard for them to help me and hard for me to get the things I need – flexibility, understanding, support. I don’t need much from them – I want to take responsibility for my own condition and own recovery, but anything we can do to minimise the impact of my illness will certainly help towards making this a success. So far we’ve not done enough talking, but we are getting there. They know all they need to for now and with time, I am sure I will share more.

At the moment it is early days in the new role. I think it is going well. The work is interesting and I am learning a lot. I am finding it tough at times, but rewarding and enjoyable. I think I am finding the balance. I am still struggling with my medication and the impact that has on my sleep – early starts and lots of travel compound these issues, but I hope with time things will improve. If not, then I am sure we will find a compromise which will enable me to manage this issue better. I am still learning how to live with this illness and what impact it has on my work, but I am confident that whatever happens, we will work it out.

So, for now I am hopeful. Hopeful that things are moving in the right direction with regards to mental health stigma in the workplace and hopeful that I can remain in my rightful place in the workplace. I hope too that posting this will be the right decision and that it won’t come back to bite. Only time will tell.

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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
  • 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
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)

tears

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 written by Hayley Brown, who you can find over on her blog or on Twitter @HaylsBrown.

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When I first saw Alison’s 25% club, I knew that it was something I wanted to get involved with. I have battled with mental ill-health for over 10 years now and know a lot of people who are in the same position that have felt ashamed, worried or alone and not able to talk about it. But the first few times I put pen to paper, it was hard! So, I have decided to write my contribution like a story, because it’s easier that way for me.

I want to introduce myself, my name is Hayley and I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. If people want to make a negative judgement about me, that’s their choice. I have made mistakes in my life; I have achieved great things, I am sure I will experience many more of both. Mental ill-health has been a part of these experiences and sometimes it has driven them, but not all of them. I will not allow a negative opinion, or judgement, to shake my perception of who I am. It has taken me 10 years to get to this point.

So, onto the story.

Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom far away, there was a little princess. The little princess was a clever young girl, with lots of wonderful friends, she lived in a big white castle with sparkling turrets and vast gardens along with her parents the king and queen, who adored her. Every day, the princess would wake up and look out of her window across the vast and beautiful kingdom, after eating her breakfast she would meet her friends to start their schooling and play together until it was time for supper.

From the outside, her life was perfect and untroubled. She was well liked, excelled at her studies; she had plenty of interesting past-times and a family who loved her.

However, little did they know of the great storm, which had brought rise to her troubles.

It had happened a few months ago. One dark night there was a great thunderstorm, lightning flashed and struck the sparkling turrets, heavy droplets of rain fell and stained the castle grey, wind shook and battered the perfectly manicured gardens and, in the midst of all this, the little princess was visited by an evil wizard.

The wizard was well-known throughout the realm, but no one dared speak his name, he had no rhyme or reason to his vengeance; he was an angry and cruel man, specialising in torturous spells, which were difficult to shake.

He appeared in front of her as she was daydreaming and raised his arms in spiteful glee, wielding powerful magic.

And then he was gone.

Days, then weeks, then months passed and nothing happened. Slowly, the princess began to think of herself as lucky, she had survived and after a few months, the wizard’s visit was forgotten.

Until tonight.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The little princess was woken from her sleep, in the dead of night.

Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap.

What was that?

She opened her eyes and leapt across the room screaming! A swarm of bees! A Smeagol! A shadowy figure! This was repeated many nights in the week, until she was scared to go to sleep.

The princess became exhausted as these ghouls visited her night after night. Each targeted to her deepest fears and worries.

Worse, she began to question her relationships: ‘they don’t really like me’ she mused, ‘they are only nice because they think I am a princess.’ She faced tests with a new sense of fear ‘I can’t do this’, she continued to visit her friends after school and try out her hobbies but when she got home, she locked herself away and cried inexplicably. She became worried about almost everything: ‘what if this carriage overturns?’, ‘what if the sun should explode’, ‘what if I am attacked’. Over time this became: ‘this carriage will overturn’, ‘this sun will explode’, ‘I will be attacked’.

She was determined to stay ahead and spent twice as long scrutinising and creating her work. So that no one could know. Apart from the people she lived with, from whom it was difficult to hide.

The king and queen became worried and encouraged the princess to visit the learned owl who knew about these things. 

 So, one bright, crisp morning she set out alone to see the owl. She did not tell her friends.

She arrived at his premises and entered through the front door. She saw an odd collection of creatures arranged in the owl’s old fashioned sitting room. An elephant sneezing vigorously, people with limbs bundled up in swathes of white, a cat with an eyepatch and a baby crying. The princess felt guilty.

‘Hello my dear’, said the owl ‘How may I help you’. ‘Well’, began the princess, going on to explain her troubles, talking as quickly as she could, for she knew the owl was busy.

The owl listened, and once he was satisfied that he had heard enough, reached into his drawer and pulled out a magic capsule.

‘Swallow one per day, it will give you temporary reprieve and also you should see the giraffe, she knows more about these things – but her time is short, you may wait for a number of weeks’ he said.

The princess took the capsule and placed it into her pocket, pleased that she would be allowed some relief from the evil spell, and started back to the castle.

When she returned the queen asked, ‘what advice did the wise owl give you’?

The princess explained her journey and showed the queen her magic capsule.

‘Pooh!’ said the queen, ‘that owl is clearly busy and foolish. You must not take the magic capsule; I have read it in the news, go and see the giraffe’.

Months passed and the princess battled to hide the effects of the spell and carry on, whilst the capsule sat untouched, inviting, on her dresser.

Until finally the morning came, she travelled to see the giraffe, who lived far, far away from the castle. No carriages went that way, and all of the castle’s horsemen were busy, so she walked.

When she got to the giraffe’s house, a bluebird met her ‘Hello’, it twittered, ‘are you here to see the giraffe?’

‘Yes’ she answered

‘I’m sorry, the giraffe is not well today, you will have to make another appointment, we can fit you in, in about 6 week’s time’.

The princess left, disheartened.

She found a place to sit, and mulled.

‘When will this torture end?’ she thought ‘and what is so bad about the magic capsule’?

She travelled home and consulted the magic mirror.

‘The capsule will provide you relief’ it said ‘but at this cost – ‘

The princess sighed:

‘Would not anyone in pain, accept some form of relief for these trade offs’

She could take no more, she walked into the chambers, up to the dresser and swallowed the capsule and waited……………………

 Nothing happened.

‘This was the way with the spell’ she thought.

So she kept taking the capsules. She did not tell the queen.

Slowly but surely, the ghouls did not visit, her worrying became less, and the appointment with the giraffe drew near. She stopped crying. She forgot about the wizard.

On the morning of the appointment the princess felt almost like her normal self.

‘I will go to see the giraffe’, she thought ‘as I have the appointment anyway’.

‘How are you?’ asked the giraffe

‘Well I feel fine now, but…’ she started.

They talked and talked for what felt like hours, until the little princess was exhausted.

The giraffe told her to keep taking the magic capsules and they made another appointment, and then another, and then another until the little princess felt that she could talk no more.

They kept diaries, monitored and developed strategies to beat the spell.

‘It’s a strong one’ the giraffe thought, ‘that might not ever go away’.

After a few visits, the giraffe and the princess decided they did not need to meet anymore.

Then, after some time, she revisited the owl, and asked for a smaller magic capsule. He agreed.

Then, after more time still, she began to look at others, in the same way she looked at herself and she found the courage to talk about that fateful night, when the evil wizard came.

She found that they too, had been visited, by the wizard.

And they talked and talked, and they understood and they vowed that they would talk to others and spread the word of the magic capsule and the giraffe, and their power when used together, in harmony so that no one would ever need to suffer in silence again.

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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
  • 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
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)

calm

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 anonymous, others will be accredited – 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.

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I’m a user.

Yes, I am reliant on drugs to get me through every day.  But I’m OK with this.  I haven’t always been OK with it, but I am now.

All my adult life I’ve been dealing with mental health issues.  I say “dealing with”, these days rather than “struggling with,” which is what I used to say.  I’m not struggling any more though, I’m accepting and working with what I’ve got now.  It makes for a far more peaceful life and peace is what I crave.

It’s not that I’m not a fighter, you understand, it’s just that I have decided to use chemical warfare in my battle.

I’ve tried the other stuff alone and in conjunction with my medication. I’ve been counselled and CBT’d, I’ve yoga’d and meditated, I’ve even tried to snap out of it *cue wry smiles from other depressed people*.  But every time I’ve tried to reduce and ultimately stop antidepressant medication, I’ve lasted a few weeks or months before the old feelings return.  Re-starting medication in those circumstances is an unpleasant experience.  The side-effects kick in before the positive aspects leading to several weeks of utter misery.

So here’s the thing.  I’m never going to come off them again.  There are lots of other medical conditions for which it is essential for some to take daily medication for life, and this is mine.  I’ve been asked why I don’t want to try to end my reliance on medication.  Funny, you never hear someone say that to a diabetic…

If ever anyone asks me (and they do) if the medication makes me “someone different” I recount the story of the day, all those years ago, when I sat sobbing in a locum GP’s office for half an hour.  When I managed to get out through the tears the words “I’m worried that medication will distort my perception of reality” … she gently pointed out that my perception of reality was already distorted because of the condition and the medication might help to set it right.  I can’t remember her name but I remember her face when she said it, you could say it was a defining moment in my relationship with my condition – although it was many years before I would come to realise this. 

That wasn’t the real me back then (and at countless subsequent points before I made my decision to medicate for life), terrified to make a decision, incapable of sleep and constantly nauseous – the real me is happy, confident and outgoing, loving my work and loving my life.

So, I deal with depression.  I deal with it my way and it works for me.  I am a supporter of a combined approach to treating mental health issues and I have a series of techniques to help me through periods of particular difficulty. But in the main, my stable and positive state is thanks to my drugs and I am OK with that. 

Is everyone else OK with that too?

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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
  • 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
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)

 

road

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. Todays’s post is written by Wayne Singleton, who can be found on Twitter @SingletonWayne. 

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I’ve read the other blogs about mental health that Alison has posted and feel that my story can’t really add a great deal to what’s already been said.  I was off work for a while due to many things that happened in my life that happened at the same time which ended in me suffering from a period of stress/anxiety.  This was around five years ago, and, honestly, I’m probably only just recovering fully now.

I knew it probably wasnt right to throw up every morning after brushing my teeth, but I carried on.  Then one day, I threw up, and carried on, and couldn’t stop.  Then I sat down on the bathroom floor, I realised I couldn’t go into work and the shutters came down…

I don’t want to focus on what happened or why, but to focus on what I believe helped me, some of the tools and techniques that I really found useful and helped me recover much quicker than I probably would have done without them.  I thought myself as a bit of a stress expert before I became ill, and enjoyed reading about it as a pet subject, so I was well versed in the symptoms.  This also helped when I went to the doctor and he reached for the prescription pad while saying ‘I’ll just arrange for you to have some drugs’….  No, no you won’t thanks very much Doctor.

A couple of the keys for me were rehabilitation and exercise.  I knew that, despite being in a shocker of a state, I needed to get back to work as soon as possible, even though this put a bit of extra pressure on me at a time when I needed to rest.  I think that this was a bit of anchor for me and proved to be something to work towards.  I eventually returned a matter of weeks after I’d been signed off, and thanks to an understanding line manager and supportive department, I returned on a rehabilitation programme in a different job, building my hours up over a few months.  I think that, if I had gone back to work full-time straight away, I would have ended up truly broken and probably wouldn’t have returned to my employer at the time.  I’d seen this rehab approach work incredibly well before my issues, and can vouch for it wholeheartedly now.

Within the rehab aspect is also sleep.  I think that all of us fret about work and have sleepless nights, and I think that this contributed to my illness significantly.  I LOVE sleep at the best of times and can generally snatch a snooze whenever and wherever (when I was a child I ‘famously’ fell asleep between leaving the top of a slide and reaching the bottom!), but this definitely hadn’t been the case in the months leading up to me being off.  I found myself sleeping for hours during the day, and in some circumstances zoning out for long periods while I was awake.  The latter was particularly frightening when I was out running on the fells, which brings me on to exercise…

I’d started running after giving up smoking a number of years ago, and had worked my way up from 10k to marathon distances.  For various reasons, I hadn’t been doing enough of this hobby/pastime/love and realise now that this is essential to bring a bit of balance and stability to my life.  I’m fortunate to live in the South Lakes so have access to an incredible playground to exercise in, and spending anything up to eight hours trotting round the fells leaves me feeling exhilarated and my head ‘empty’ as far as worries and work thoughts are concerned.  Running gives me time to work through the anger and frustrations that we each experience in day-to-day life, and I’m a big advocate of supporting people in discovering a sport/exercise that they can enjoy.  I think it’s really important that in times when we’re struggling, we need to be a bit selfish and take time out to reset and ponder things – exercise can be a good way of having some ‘time off’.

I think that all of the ‘normal’ recommendations also apply when looking at stress/anxiety in particular are also helpful – less booze, less caffeine, eat more healthily, all have their place and I guess all contribute to leading a more balanced lifestyle.

I’m not sure that my ‘story’ is groundbreaking, or innovative, but I promised myself that I’d always try to share what worked for me in an effort to prevent anyone else suffering what was a pretty horrendous period in my life.  I’d urge anyone working in HR to do a bit of research on mental health and the wide spectrum of illness/affliction that this covers, in an effort to understand it for all number of reasons.  Not least of which is to help ourselves should it happen to us.

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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
  • 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
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)

 

mind

On Tuesday 5th February we held the HR for Mental Health evening with Mind. So many people have asked me how it went and what was discussed, that I thought it would be helpful if I pulled something together for those who were not able to attend.

The agenda and speakers for the event were organised by Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero) in less than three weeks since the Courage post first appeared on my blog. Someone asked me the other day, whether either he or I had any idea of the response that would be generated from posting this: the honest answer is no, not at all! But, once it was clear that so many people were affected by the post and keen to do something tangible to try to make a difference, Jon and I discussed what we could do to maintain some momentum. I offered to post a series of guest posts by anyone who wanted to share their experience of dealing with a mental health issue (cue the 25% Club series); Jon had the great idea of creating and hosting an event with Mind.

Around 60 people attended from a wide variety of organisations and sectors, many of whom I did not know personally, but all of whom without exception were engaged, interested to find out more and keen to be there. David Goddin did a wonderful job of explaining what would happen at the event, introducing each of the speakers, and expertly facilitating throughout.

The evening started with a number of speakers, all of whom were fascinating and compelling to listen to. First up, Jon stepped forward and introduced himself as the author of Courage. This was a huge deal: as he explains in this post which he published at the start of the event, he has never previously spoken about his bipolar disorder in public. He talked movingly and at times haltingly of the path that his life has taken and how difficult it has been to get to this point of disclosure. He will say that he stumbled over his words and was tongue-tied at times. For me, and for many in the audience, it was simply spellbinding to listen.

Charlotte (@BipolarBlogger), who is an Expert by Experience for Mind gave a fantastic talk about what it is like to live with an enduring mental health condition. I found her the most inspiring of all: she was so bright, impressive, insightful and articulate. She talked about her condition as being like living on a beach: it can be normal and lovely and enable you to build the constructs of a normal life, but every so often there is a tidal wave, which devastates everything. She has published a transcript of her talk on her blog, which I can’t recommend reading highly enough. I would also like to highlight the tweet that became most shared throughout the evening, by Charlotte herself, which sums up so much of how we still view the topic of mental health: “Very nice of people to say that I am brave to speak up about my mental health, but I live for the day when bravery is not required.”

Ruth Warden from the NHS gave an employer’s perspective and shared a lot of research they had undertaken in their organisation, which was fascinating and definitely relevant beyond her sector and organisation. She has kindly provided a copy of her detailed notes, which you can view here –

 

 

Emma Mamo from Mind talked about the great work that they do with businesses and the excellent resources that are available. She has provided a visual overview of her presentation here, as well as a detailed example of a workplace WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), which was discussed.

 

 

 

 

Following the speakers and a question and answer session with the panel, we separated into groups (thanks to Natasha Stallard and Julie Drybrough for their excellent work in facilitating us!) and brainstormed some answers to questions that had been set by Mind to help their research. These were –

  • What topics would be useful for Mind to produce information & guidance on?
  • What format would be most useful? E.g. short guides, Webinar events, check lists
  • What issues do HR Professionals find most challenging when it comes to managing Mental Health at work?

I know that Mind will be keen to continue to get feedback from HR professionals on these topics, so please do leave a comment or drop me an email if you have some views on the above points.

The evening wrapped up, we retired to the pub for drinks and a chat and my head was buzzing for hours, if not days afterwards with ideas for what I would do within in my organisation and a sense of huge pride and achievement for the success of the event.

Some food for thought that I have been reflecting on since the event and have shared with my HR and board colleagues is as follows –

  • line manager competency is, unsurprisingly, the single most important thing to how individuals with mental health issues experience support in the workplace
  • in order to create a more supportive environment, it helps to give people the tools to start a conversation. For example, for a manager to ask any individual who works for them, “how do you manage your own health and wellbeing? What can I do to support you with that?” Or even doing something as simple as regularly asking and properly listening to the answer of “how are you?” 
  • there is so much stigma still. Mind’s research shows that mental health illness has increased massively since the recession, but most people are too fearful to declare it and lie when they call in sick. This of course causes further problems and stress for the individual, as well as undermines the trust between the person and the organisation
  • it is important to integrate any mental health initiatives into wider support and training, not as a stand-alone activity. Also it’s helpful to talk about wellness as a whole, including mental wellness, versus illness which includes both mental and physical symptoms. We talked about how lots of managers and employers can be amazing if someone has cancer or diabetes, but terrible if the individual has a mental health issue. We also should be very mindful of the language we use
  • the employment rate for those with enduring mental health conditions is shockingly low.
  • it’s important to think about what the person can do, not just what they can’t. Often the individual themselves will know what will make a difference to them, for example flexibility in coming in slightly later, working from home, stepping out of conflict situations etc. Often continuing to work is vital to an individual’s ability to manage a mental health condition.
  • organisational restructures can be triggers for individuals – due to the increase in workload, the introduction of flatter, less defined structures, and a feeling of being out of control of their daily work. This is rarely taken into account in any change management programmes.

In terms of next steps, the most important thing is that we start to take action as a result of the evening event with Mind and our collective good intentions. For me, I will be getting a team together from across my business and agreeing our plans to improve the environment that we work in and are responsible for. Two particular possibilities that I am reflecting on are incorporating mental health into our management training at every level and also creating a strategic strand of wellness into our CSR strategy. In addition to this I will be making a case for bringing Mind in to upskill our HR and senior managers about mental health and helping us to deal with it more effectively. Watch this space for more details and I will update you on the actions that I take. I hope very much that there will be others doing the same.

Were you at the event? What points particularly resonated with you? If you weren’t there, what would you like to ask that I haven’t answered? And most importantly of all….what are you going to do to make a difference? I would love to know!

silence

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 anonymous, others will be accredited – 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. It is also true that these posts have been difficult for people to write and perhaps even more difficult to send in. Today’s post is an example of someone who has left much out, but still has an incredible amount to say.

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I’ve cut a lot of my first draft. In replying, I mainly wanted to pipe up and explain why I have never spoken up about having panic attacks. I’ve been ok for a long time and can’t remember the last time I had one. Right now, I feel a fraud for writing this because I am fine – but at one stage my panic attacks were so bad I would avoid staying away at friends, or even at my parents’ home. Ironically, work is/has been like a safe-haven. Being at work helps because I am distracted and focused on something.

There are 3 reasons why I’ve not spoken up:

1. I have responsibilities. People rely on me – at work and in personal life – and I don’t want anyone to think they can’t rely on me or for them to ever think “I had better not ask X, just in case”. When someone lets you down there’s a fear they’ll do it again isn’t there? When my panic attacks were at their worst, I would think I couldn’t quit because I’d be unemployable, and I daren’t speak up because what if I ended up sidelined? Then what … I guess that’s common to a lot of people? 

2. I don’t want friends or family to worry for me or be upset. Ultimately, there isn’t much they can do, and then there’s the embarrassment amongst friends (for both me and them). I tend to be private. I know my panic attack will pass eventually. I will fail to convince myself that at the time, but it is a fact – it doesn’t last.

3. I have private health insurance (!) Nearly every day of each year I am fine, but not a day passes that I’m not reminded of a panic attack. I feel in control and this isn’t a problem. So it won’t be an issue for any insurer, but I’m afraid I would lose any argument if it came up and don’t want to have to explain any of this to anyone to justify my cover. For a while it was this last point more than anything else that made me pause and question should I really put something in writing for all to see?

The first two are probably the same for a lot of people. The third one… that’s just me.

I had written more, but I’ve struggled with what I want to say and how, in a large part because it has been a long while that I’ve suffered (touch wood) and trying to recall how I felt and what was important to me then (rather than retrospectively). Also I think my situation is very mild compared to others.

I shall hit send now. I don’t know who this helps or how. All my thinking and writing my draft has helped me stop and consider how/where I am. “Courage” and Lorna’s post are thought-provoking, important pieces and I hope these will help people consider their views to work, stress, wellbeing, people outside of work … Thank you

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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
  • 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
  • we are forming an #HRforMentalHealth team to fundraise for Mind by running the Royal Parks half marathon in October. Register here if you’d like to join us – we’re a friendly bunch with some first-time half-marathon runners joining us :)

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