Outside, it is a gloriously sunny day. I look out of the office window and across to the tree-lined street beyond. New pale green leaves flutter in the summer breeze. But for all I care I could be sat in a prison cell. Every minute another intrusive, unwelcome thought, warped and wrong, creeps into my mind. I can’t concentrate and I certainly can’t get on with my work. I am surrounded by people, but my only wish is to be left alone. I don’t want to talk.
I have an anxiety disorder which, at the time this happened, was undiagnosed. When it was bad it would consume every facet of my life. It was all I could think about at home, at work, in the car, playing sport – anywhere!
A month after this, I tentatively walked into a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) session and took the first step towards getting back to being happy-go-lucky me… and today I couldn’t be better!
Fortunately for me, my boss at the time had also had similar issues in the past and was able to point me in the direction of some great self-help resources. However, it became clear that that wasn’t enough, and so he persuaded me to seek professional help.
I’ve been very fortunate but, sadly, there is still a huge stigma around mental illness. It is perceived by some as a weakness, particularly when experienced by men. We may be living in more progressive times, but there is still an expectation by many that, as blokes, we need to be seen as “strong” and not show our emotions. I am guilty of buying into this notion myself, as I felt like a complete fraud walking into the doctor’s surgery, surrounded by physically sick people. However, it was absolutely the right thing to do.
As I sit here writing this article, I have almost deleted it 10 times, fearful of what some people, friends, colleagues or clients might think. This is a classic example of the effect mental health stigma has, and another reason why initiatives like World Mental Health Day are so important. I want people to know it is okay to recognise when you are not okay; it is not a weakness. Whether it’s you, your colleague or a family member, nobody should be judged.
Although I no longer work for the company where I was first able to get help, I recognise I was really lucky to have their support. This is also something the company I have now moved on to recognises and that is why we’re proud to announce that VIMA Group have signed the ‘Charter for Employers Positive about Mental Health’, an initiative supported by the NHS. Find out more at www.mindfulemployer.net.
As employers and managers, we have a special responsibility to be there for our teams. Not only to support and listen, but to ensure we set a healthy example, like leaving work on time, using our full holiday allowance, having down time and asking for help if our workloads get too much.
There is support out there if you, or anyone you know, needs it. Here are just a few sites you can visit:
Mind Mental Health Charity: https://www.mind.org.uk/
NHS Moodzone: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/
City Mental Health Alliance’s ‘Thriving at Work’ Guide – http://citymha.org.uk/city-mental-health-alliance-launches-its-guide-to-thriving-at-work/