This blog was written by a Frontline employee with anxiety and depression.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a very anxious person: always needing to be the best possible version of myself, running through every bad situation that could happen in my life to take steps to mitigate against them. It has taken me a long time to realise that someone can appreciate your weaknesses as much as your strengths.
For me, it has been a blessing and a curse that I work at a social work charity. I’ve learnt so much about myself, which has enabled me to face up to a disability that I had been ignoring for years, but also I’ve had to do a lot of hard work to get myself to a position where I can proudly say on a day-to-day basis I feel stable. I know I wouldn’t be feeling how I am today without talking about mental health at work.
Around four years ago I moved in with my partner and that was the moment I realised how unwell I was. When living with friends and family it can be easy to hide your symptoms. You are usually in a much bigger space, have more time to yourself and quite frankly they have more than just you going on in their lives. However, when you move into a small one-bedroom flat with a partner, all of this changes. It becomes much harder to hide those symptoms you’ve come to normalise and I very quickly realised I needed to get help.
Despite having supported a number of friends with complex mental health, I had no idea where to start when it came to addressing my own. Then I remembered a colleague at work who had mentioned in passing that they saw a therapist. This seemed like the best place to start. At the time, I didn’t know the colleague that well, but I took a risk and asked if they would be happy to share their experiences with me. We went out for a coffee before work and they took me through their journey of therapy. Therapy is often pitched as only for those who are really unwell or as something quite taboo. This conversation helped to normalise the idea of seeking help and also demonstrated the huge benefits it can have.
The next day I booked a doctor’s appointment. Without my colleague being open about their own mental health, I’m not sure I would have sought support. This then started a very turbulent journey to where I am now. I’m happy to say that I’m ok with that journey continuing for the rest of my life. The hardest part was the formal diagnosis. There is debate over how helpful labels are, but when I first had them they were incredibly helpful. It gave me a way to communicate how I was feeling with friends and family, and most importantly for me, colleagues.
Work is a massively important part of life for me. It creates structure, encourages me to connect with others and helps provide a purpose to each week day. This meant that colleagues being in the loop with my journey was really important. My manager was the second person I told after my partner. That conversation was not easy. None of those early ones were. We discussed what my symptoms were and what I was thinking about in terms of treatment. I discussed the side effects that medication was likely to have and we agreed that I could work from home more, mainly focussing on the mornings when things tended to be foggiest.
Now that I manage a team myself, I see the importance of talking about mental health from a completely different angle. This has encouraged me to open up even further to my own manager, at times sharing themes from therapy when I think it is likely to interact with work. This helps me to feel more supported and also helps my manager to understand what is going on for me inside and outside of work. I’ve detailed some big stand out moments to show the impact that seemingly small things can have on people. What I haven’t detailed here is all the ongoing support I get from friends at work, flexible working hours and support from the HR department, to just name a few.
On this Time to Talk Day, I encourage you to talk about mental health at work. I know it can be daunting. I’m asking you to recognise that and give it a go anyway. It helped me in ways that I never thought it could.