The Government's Department of Health say that one in four of us will experience mental ill health at some point in our lives, but the number of people who seek out and receive support, either from medical professionals or through their employer’s health and wellbeing teams, is far less. So how should an employee approach the conversation of mental health with their employer? And what should they expect once they have made such a disclosure? We spoke to forty-three year old Retail Manager Steven, to understand this better.
“If I look back, I’ve probably had depression for most of my life but I just didn't recognise it. I lost the three people closest to me in quick succession in my late teens and early 20s, and this had a profound effect on me. I used to have awful rages. I’d kick walls, punch doors or lock myself in a room and just let rip. It was never directed at people but it was harmful to relationships nonetheless.
“I first sought help in my 30s. It was my partner who made me go to the doctor. She was the only person who really knew what I was like and what I was feeling, and I needed that push from someone who loved me unconditionally to make the change. I got counselling and medication and for a long time things were better.
“More recently, my situation at work had been getting me down and I found myself slipping back to that dark place. I have faced redundancy and restructures twice this year, and each time I had to reapply for my own job. Many of my colleagues were let go, and whilst I was lucky enough to stay and even got promoted, I found it very hard. One of the biggest problems I faced was being moved into a new role that I didn't feel equipped to deal with.
“I recognised the signs quite quickly this time. My mood had dropped. I was lacking motivation. I had stopped doing the things that I knew made me happy, and then the anger started to resurface. I went to see my GP and they got me the support I needed straight away. It was through a counsellor I was seeing that I got referred to a Working Win Employment Specialist.
“This practical support helped me to focus, specifically around my mental health in the workplace. When I think back, I was so low, I think my intention had been to leave my current role because I felt it was making me unhappy. In actual fact, there were a number of changes I was able to make that have made it possible for me to stay in work and even help other people in my team who are having similar struggles.
“The first positive change I made was to speak up for myself. You might think that as a manager, this is something I should be able to do anyway. The truth is, I found it very difficult. When you are in charge, there is very little reassurance. You basically don’t know that you have done something wrong until you mess up and this can erode your confidence and your self-esteem. Once I had recognised what support I needed, I felt able to approach the Area Manager and explain that I didn't feel able to fulfill my duties safely and legally because of a lack of training. Whilst online training had been provided, I didn't feel like this was adequate.
“To my surprise, my employer was extremely positive. They booked me straight onto a Health and Safety course that had practical lessons and access to police and council inspectors, who were able to explain in person what my responsibilities were and how to go about my daily checks properly. This is the kind of stuff you just can't get from an online course. I now feel that I can keep my staff and customers safe because I know exactly what I am doing. This has been massively beneficial to how I feel about myself and about my job.
“This is just one of the ways that my situation at work has changed for the better. The other is that I now feel confident to talk openly about the depression I have experienced and support other
people to talk about it too. Two of my team members have now disclosed to me the battles that they are having, and I’ve been able to access counselling for them through my employer. I have also helped them to make that difficult first step and talk to a GP about it. This is often the hardest thing for someone; admitting you need help, but as I have learned, it is life saving.
“I see depression as a series of battles that you have to win. Each time it rears its head you are under attack again and you have to take on and win one fight at a time if you are going to survive. Disclosing what you are experiencing should unlock support from an employer. It should add to your armour and strengthen your charge. As an employee that experiences depression, I see the support of my employer as critical to my wellbeing. As someone in a senior position, I believe that I have a duty of care to support my team well. I think we all play a role in supporting each other.”
If you are an employer and would like to find out more about supporting your staff, Working Win offers free training and guidance for health and wellbeing in the workplace. Detailed information about the Employer’s Support Service can be found on the employment side of this website.