Today's post is the third in the Mental Health at Work series, featuring Lauren, Rob & Vanessa. You can read my own story of mental health in the workplace here.

Lauren

Has your mental health been affected by your work or affected your ability to work? Can you explain how? 
When I was first diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, I was really struggling with work. I was in a job where they were adding a lot of pressure on me and one day I just broke. I was signed off for a couple of weeks before returning, then I ended up in a worse state and signed off again. This is when I was at my worst. I was suffering panic attacks and heart palpitations many times a day and I was in a job with the public so I would work myself up more. I wasn’t able to do my job and I wasn’t able to be around people. I eventually left and cut ties so I could carry on with my recovery and focus on myself.

Were you supported at work? If not, what helped you deal with the situation?
I was with my area manager but my store manager who I worked with daily added to it and made me feel guilty for struggling and being this way. My area manager visited me my first day back each time after I was signed off and was amazing. She wanted what was best for me and not the company, whereas my store manager wasn’t.

What do you think are the biggest problems in companies in terms of MH in the workplace?
For me, it was confidentially and how my store manager would talk about me to members of staff. I was also a manager so made my job harder knowing that people knew I was weak. I found that my store manager put the company first and didn’t care for me which made me feel a million times worse. Where I work now, I find the company are so supportive and encourage people to talk which is definitely what’s needed in the workplace. I think if people were sympathetic when people declare their MH illnesses then it would be different. Like it’s completely different if you call in with a cough, a cold etc and I think it should be dealt with differently.

What do you think companies could do that would help support people with mental health issues at work?
No pressure on people who declare MH so no rush when coming back to work and being checked in on and able to support and modify work if needed.

You can find Lauren over on her blog at https://laurenhannahjadex.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter at @lhjfx.
                                         

Rob


Has your mental health been affected by your work or affected your ability to work? Can you explain how?
My anxiety has overwhelmed me in the past making it almost impossible for me to concentrate at work. I just tried to struggle on and get through the essential tasks each day. It completely limited my ability to excel in my job and made it difficult to even interact with colleagues at times.
It has definitely been more of a case of my conditions affecting work than the other way round.

Were you supported at work? If not, what helped you deal with the situation?
My manager was extremely supportive when I told her about my mental health conditions.
Before I opened up though, I had spent months struggling silently because I thought that being honest would adversely affect my job & progression.
When I eventually did, just knowing that my manager understood why I was quiet or why I wasn’t performing to my normal standard without having to explain each time really helped take the pressure off. Simple minor adjustments like having a flexible start time in the morning really helped me and stopped the additional stress I felt when I had been late because of my anxiety.

What do you think are the biggest problems in companies in terms of MH in the workplace?
I think that companies fail to understand the benefit of good mental health to their organisation. It underpins everything. There is way too much short-term thinking which creates pressure and causes people to conceal mental health conditions. This then often leads to the condition getting worse resulting in long-term sick leave etc. In turn this actually costs companies more money. If companies create open, supportive environments where people feel able to ask for minor adjustments or mental health days off then staff wellbeing will be better and so will the organisations productivity. It’s far more beneficial in monetary terms for companies in the long-term!

What do you think companies could do that would help support people with mental health issues at work?
Line managers need to be trained to know how to respond to employees who are experiencing mental health challenges. They are key and prioritising staff wellbeing needs to be implemented right from the top of the organisation down. Managers should feel comfortable in offering reasonable adjustments such as flexible working hours or time off. Colleagues should also have a better awareness of mental health in order to support one another. An organisation could adopt staff wellbeing champions who are advertised like first-aiders are.

You can find Rob on Twitter at @robtalksMH or on his blog at Rob Talks Mental Health!

                                         

Vanessa


Has your mental health been affected by your work or affected your ability to work? Can you explain how?
Mental health never use to affect me at work as going to work was my escape. I had never let it interfere… well that's what I thought anyways. Work has a huge impact on my mental health as having a stressful day at work can lead to me feeling as though I want to give up and not even try. The amount of times I have been inches away from a breakdown and walking out of work is unreal. I have even snapped at colleagues and been a little bit harsh when it was needed just because the anxiety and depression has started to take over and I don’t have anyway to let it out!
I can sit at my desk on a daily basis breaking down into tears as the anxiety and stress has become all too much. The ironic thing is when this happens I just want to scream, as some of my colleagues think I am ‘overreacting’ or just wanting to ‘get attention’. Work can make or break me! I find that if I am having a bad day then being able to concentrate and deal with customer can become a little bit too difficult and I feel as though I may as well be in bed as I am no use sitting at my desk not being able to focus.
Anxiety has had a huge impact on my work, as it can stop me from doing things which could give me such a big opportunity. Going to a certain meeting or being part of a voluntary day but for some reason the anxiety can become too much and all I want to do is stay at home and hide away from the world. It can make me look as if I don’t care but a lot of the time it is because I care too much.

Were you supported at work? If not, what helped you deal with the situation?
When I was off work for a number of months with my illness I felt very supportive but sometimes I think they can ask you too often how you are?, how you are getting on!. It got to a place where by them supporting me it made me feel worse as I felt as though I was under a telescope constantly being watch and everyone wondering when my next breakdown would be. They have provided a lot of support in ensuring that work loads don’t get too much, they have been able to provide me with a lot of tools to help me cope. Work have been brilliant, even though I do think they can do better sometimes.

What do you think are the biggest problems in companies in terms of MH in the workplace?
I think the biggest problem at work and mental health is that people still do not understand the strain and pain someone can go through suffering. People use the phrases stressed/depressed far too lightly and don’t understand that even going to work is a challenge. A lot of work places don’t look out for the signs of people who could be suffering and not providing the support earlier on, it normally ends up being too far down the line before work step in to provide a helping hand. Work can see you as just a number in the office when you’re actually a human being who suffers with a lot more than just the standard work stresses.

What do you think companies could do that would help support people with mental health issues at work?
I think work places should have a process in place when they see people who are starting to struggle, as this could help those who are suffering and even catch people before it becomes to much of an issue. They should allow people to have days where they don’t have as much pressures as normal to allow people to refocus their minds. Allowing people with this down time will do a lot for someones mental health. Most work places will not want to talk about mental health and they will push it under the carpet but their should be actions and resources available if someone is suffering or believes they may need a help in hand. Just by having resources available to colleagues such as contact numbers or just ways to deal with stress could have a huge impact of peoples working lives/mental health.

You can find Vanessa on her blog over at https://stampoutthestigma.co.uk on Twitter at @VanessaSharpe13 or on her Instagram here.



If you're interested in being featured on the MHAW series, please feel free to get in touch - details on the contact page!


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