In our secret staff series, we ask real employees to discuss their experiences with how their employer has handled mental health challenges in the workplace.
I first realised I had depression and anxiety when I was at uni. As a man, I found it difficult to come to terms with having mental health problems, because it made me feel vulnerable and weak. While I live with a very supporting partner who I’m comfortable confiding in, I absolutely hate having to tell people about it, particularly my colleagues and bosses.
I’m an ambitious person and I’ve never wanted my mental health to hold me back at work. My biggest fear is that I’m seen as fragile, or can’t be trusted by my employer, because they think I’ll have to take time off whenever I’m feeling a bit sad, or that I won’t be able to handle responsibility.
That’s why I keep my mental health problems to myself when I start a job. It’s not something I have ever mentioned in application forms if they ask for health information, and it’s certainly not something I would EVER mention in an interview!
When I started my current job, I had been on antidepressants for around nine months. My plan (in conjunction with my doctor’s advice) was to settle into the job, and when I was happy, wean myself off the tablets. I work in a fast-paced environment, and I’m actually quite good at dealing with stress. I find boredom more of a trigger as I like to feel busy and needed.
After about three or four months I felt comfortable enough to wean myself off my tablets. Unfortunately, I didn’t react well to it. I had quite a few side effects, the worst of which was being unable to concentrate. My brain just couldn’t process information on a screen, I was just sat there staring and taking nothing in, which was really slowing me down.
I knew I had to tell my boss, and I was very worried. I’ll be upfront: he is a white man in his 50s, so I stereotyped him as being someone who wouldn’t ‘get’ mental health. I know you shouldn’t judge people in this way, but I did. Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
He didn’t just offer me a few understanding nods, or say the right things, his whole approach to supporting me was amazing. Not only did he make sure I was comfortable with my workload, he took the time to actually consider how I could be supported to do my job. I was provided with an ergonomic desk and chair, he let me work from home if I needed to (which wasn’t something the business previously did), and even better he spoke to me exactly the same as he did before.
A couple of months later he took me to the biggest conference in our industry (a week-long event in America). A little while later, he gave me a pay rise and more responsibility because he felt I was good enough at my job to deserve it. He didn’t see me as weak or fragile, or even a good employee with mental health issues, he just saw me as a good employee. My mental health has nothing to do with how he perceives me.
More recently I had a downturn in my mental health and couldn’t cope with work. For whatever reason, the jobs I normally enjoyed doing sent me into a tailspin of panic. I took him aside one morning and burst into tears, which was extremely embarrassing.
I was so upset because I hated the thought of letting him down. I’m a loyal person and I want to do my best for those I care about. This was only adding to my panic and anxiety. Without having to explain this to him, he instantly took the pressure off by telling me how much he admired me and my ability to manage my mental health in a high-pressure job. He told me to go home, because work will always be here for me when I’m ready.
After checking in on me, he told me how much he values my input in the business and to focus on feeling better. I was instantly relieved, and after a week at home, I was able to come back to work and pick up where I left off, feeling refreshed and more balanced. I have no doubt in my mind that with a less supportive boss I would have spent weeks at home panicking over my future, or, even worse, I would have just tried to get through it. Who knows what could have happened then.
Sometime later, during my annual review, I discussed his handling of my mental health and how he had done a great job supporting me. He told me how much he valued my honesty in coming forward to him about it. Unfortunately, he said, a lot of people don’t and that leaves him powerless to help.
I think my initial worry about coming forward was right, having a mental health problem is not easy to admit to somebody (particularly those paying your wage!), but I’m so glad I did.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect British Red Cross or British Red Cross Training.
Topics: Mental health & wellbeing