My experience of depression at work
Posted Thursday 19 May 2011
Guest blog from John Binns, Partner at accounting and consultancy firm Deloitte. The post is part of our series on mental health at work.
I was pleased to speak at Mind’s business summit this Tuesday, which brought together a range of employers to explore the challenges and solutions to addressing mental heath in the workplace. I shared my personal experience as a partner in the leading professional services firm Deloitte.
In 2007, I experienced a period of significant depression. It meant me taking two months off work, and it changed forever how I and Deloitte see and respond to colleagues with mental health difficulties.
Once I had admitted my depression to senior managers, I thought my career would be over. But despite all my fears to the contrary, my colleagues reacted to my depression with unfaltering kindness and common sense. This allowed me to rest and recover in the same way that someone would who had a physical illness like a broken leg or a bad back.
When I returned to work on a graduated return, the positive way the company treated me meant that I felt even more engaged and energised with Deloitte than before, which meant I was more productive than ever. Even without knowing the figures, this made the business case for investing in staff wellbeing crystal clear to me.
Now I wish I’d spoken up earlier, so I could have got support an at earlier stage, before falling off the edge. Maybe if I’d opened up sooner I might have had enough support to manage my depression and stay in work, rather than take two months off.
My experience made me want to open the way for others in the early stages of depression – or managing someone in that situation – to talk openly about what is still a taboo subject for many.
Nationally, depression affects at least one in six of us, and this figure can be higher in high performing organisations where a lot of pressure is placed on employees to deliver. But, as Mind’s campaign this week highlights, stress and mental health problems are the elephant in the room at work. I wanted to ensure we tackled this at Deloitte and offered people communication channels to seek support.
So, on my return to work I spoke to senior partners within the firm about how people could spot the symptoms of stress and depression at the earliest stage and talk to someone about their fears and concerns. Working together with Mind and others within the firm, I developed the idea for Deloitte to set up our Mental Health Champions network.
Deloitte now has seven partners trained so people can talk to them in confidence about their mental health, outside of formal line management structures. This sends a signal that employees can be open about their mental health and access support at an early stage.
Some 30 people across the firm have sought help from Deloitte’s Mental Health Champions, and we have also boosted the firm’s Well Now programme to focus on managing pressure, building resilience and offering early help to colleagues.
Many more people (around 30 per month) also access our onsite Occupational Health Advisor for support. We’re now looking at what more we can do to ensure employees feel confident to come forward about stress and mental health issues.
I spoke about my experiences on BBC Breakfast TV this Monday. I had to think hard about agreeing to the TV appearance and I consulted with my family beforehand. But it’s so important to have senior and successful role models prepared to talk about this subject, to challenge some of the stigmas around mental health problems at work.
John Binns, Deloitte Partner
Read Mind's information and advice on work — whether it's how to stay well at work, dealing with stress or workplace bullying.
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