Three little words that have elicited such differing responses from people that I have met; “Cheer up”, “Are you okay?”, “What’s wrong with you?”, “Pull yourself together”, “Watch Out! Here comes the nutter!”.
A condition that has promoted such stark emotions; despair, anger, frustration, shame, secrecy and, perversely, a deep emotional comfort borne of the certainty that I am a failure/ worthless/ irredeemable (delete as appropriate).
It is now nearly three decades since my first diagnosed depressive experience, a result of some quite vicious bullying that left me feeling thoroughly isolated. On that occasion the professional medical advice that I received was ‘Pull yourself together, man.’
I was thirteen years old.
Fortunately, medical attitudes have changed quite dramatically over the subsequent thirty-two years, to the point where I am now able to discuss mental symptoms with a Doctor and receive similar diagnostic treatment as I would if I were discussing a physical ailment.
Since that event in 1985 I have suffered four further significant depressive ‘episodes’. I have also been through a dozen or more ‘near misses’; depressions that I have managed to escape by applying some of the techniques that I have found to work for me over those years.
I have also been really fortunate in that time to have been able to access some really exceptional support, both medically and through my employer’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
Some of that is due to changing attitudes to mental illness and some if it is due to the fact that my experiences have equipped me with the right questions to ask to ensure that I can access all of the help that is available.
I am also extremely fortunate in that I have a diagnosed condition (which has both forced me to face up to it and help me with related conversations) that means that I am constantly on guard, looking for trigger activity that may suggest that an ‘episode’ is imminent. Not all of us are as fortunate.
We all work in extremely tough times, in difficult conditions at such a pace that allows little time for acknowledgment of achievement or any level of reflection. People are also extremely good at identifying what is wrong and ‘pouncing’ on the perceived inadequacies of others.
Given this environment it is wholly understandable that many of us will experience some kind of work-related mental illness during our lives.
All employers have a legal duty of care for all of their employees. This extends to care for our mental wellbeing, whether it be for chronic conditions (such as mine) or those brought on through workplace stress and other significant life events. The EAP, while having it’s limitations, is a facility that can be accessed many employees, and additional support can be made available on request.
Where there is an Occupational Health Service available, this is also a facility that all employees can make use of. It is worth being clear that the function of Occupational Health is to support the employer/employee relationship in understanding how the employer can assist the employee in overcoming health problems to be able to continue to excel in their roles.
As a Union, the RBA is committed to supporting all members with a Mental Health condition, ensuring that everyone can access the care that they need. I would also stress the importance of preventative intervention. While too often we can only get involved once an Employee has reached crisis, we take an active role in identifying work related issues that may create a negative environment for all employees, and we continue to act on everyone’s behalf in discussing such matters with employers, wherever they work.
A number of us have also taken the time to receive training as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). This provides training in recognising possible crisis situations and enables us to advise as to what support is available.
Every Mental Health condition is different, and I can only speak from my own experiences. I would never be so arrogant as to imply that my experience makes me specially qualified in any way.
But I hope that, by sharing my experiences, you might be less anxious about talking to someone and seeking support for any troubles that you may be experiencing, whether it be through your Line Manager, the RBA, or a colleague at work.
You really have nothing to lose by talking to someone and you may be surprised at how many people around you have had similar feelings. I know I was.