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“I wasn’t judged; I was listened to” - Posturite employee shares mental health experience

Mental health issues don’t just stop when we come to work.

For the one in four people believed to experience ill mental health each year, daily life goes on. In campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week, the message is always to seek help - to open up and talk to someone. But seeking help isn’t always easy, especially in the workplace, an environment we traditionally keep separate from our home and personal lives.

Talking about mental health is difficult in any situation, let alone at work. Talking can make us feel vulnerable and open to judgement. According to one study, 49% of people said they felt unable to speak to their manager about their mental health issues, while 57% who did speak to their manager felt that they did not receive any significant help. In another survey, respondents who hadn’t experienced poor mental health were asked what they would do if they did. The majority (42.5%), said they would say nothing and try to carry on as normal.

Customer service adviser Alice Kearns, a Posturite employee, decided to approach our HR team when she found it increasingly difficult to cope with her long-term mental health issues. Now, she has bravely volunteered to share her experience of seeking help at work. She hopes it will help break down the stigma around ill mental health that unfortunately still exists, and show that an open, supportive attitude towards mental health can end up benefiting both individuals and their employers.

Please be aware that this may not be a comfortable read for some people as self-harm and suicidal thoughts are mentioned.

“Around this time last year I hit breaking point,” she says. “I was severely depressed, I was waking up, trying to find the will to get out of bed and go to work, coming home and going back to bed all the while feeling numb and absent.

“To the outside world I was fine, over the years I had become better at pretending that everything was okay and acting like I had things together. In truth, I was having suicidal thoughts every day and I came close a number of times to doing it. The one thing that stopped me was the thought of my family and friends.

“I just wanted to feel something; I was devoid of any emotion. I just didn’t care what happened to me. In my past this is where I would self-harm; however, this time I avoided it with the help of things I had learned in the past. I continued living day-to-day taking things one step at a time. I isolated myself from everyone, becoming withdrawn and unsociable. To a lot of people who met me, I came across very quiet and not particularly friendly.

“The one thing about depression in particular is that it is difficult to recognise when it was getting worse, as you become used to feeling a certain way, so it was difficult to reach out and ask for help or accept it when it was offered. Last year when I recognised I was in a bad state I knew objectively that I had to do something, even if I didn’t believe it was worth it. I had no life outside of work and it was starting to affect even that.

“I did the only thing I could think of, I went to HR, sat down and explained what was going on, and the response I got was beyond what I could have hoped for. I wasn’t judged; I was listened to and they provided me with help. I was encouraged to go back to the doctors and get new medication, and they provided me with therapy. With the support I found a medication that works for me and going to therapy helped me get to grips with how I was feeling. I’m pleased to say that now I am doing much better with my mental health, however I still take each day as it comes, but good days are much more common now than bad days.

"When it comes to mental health it is an incredibly difficult thing to deal with and support someone through. Most people will at least know someone dealing with a mental health issue. Reach out to them, even if they isolate themselves, just knowing someone cares can be a huge help. For those of you this may have affected, I encourage you to talk to someone. HR departments can be a great resource to reach out to as they can provide practical help.”

While not everyone's experience of mental health issues will be like Alice's, her story shows that simply by listening and supporting, organisations can make a huge difference to their employees’ experience at work, and even their lives beyond office hours. This benefits the organisation just as much as it does the individual. Mental health is personal, but it plays a huge part in workplace productivity. An estimated 12.7% of sickness absence days each year are attributed to poor mental health. Experts estimate that as much as £8 billion could be saved each year if there was better mental health support in the workplace.

But what does a supportive workplace look like? It often involves the following key factors:

  • Good communication
  • Access to information and resources
  • Stress training for staff
  • A place to escape
  • Someone to talk to
  • Flexible working

If you would like further advice about dealing with mental health in the workplace, here are some good resources: Mind, the Mental Health Foundation, Anxiety UK, Samaritans.

To train staff quickly and effectively in techniques for identifying and managing stress, try our FeelRite stress awareness e-learning course.