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Mental health support at work

Thursday, 12 February 2015 Fiona

Fiona blogs about her journey to find a supportive workplace with an understanding of mental health.

Having depression and anxiety has meant that I often have low self-esteem and little confidence, particularly in my ability to make the right decisions, leaving me unable to stand conflict and avoiding any situation that’s potentially inflammatory.

After working in a difficult environment with managers that haven’t understood my mental health and feeling bullied, a few years ago I searched for a more empathetic working environment – one with supportive management with sensitivity to an individual’s needs to negotiate through the bumps in their lives. And I thought working for a charity would better match my background and sensibilities a little more closely. How wrong could I be?

It would be the last place that I would have expected that, when I was struggling with extreme medication side effects, including inability to sleep and suicidal thoughts, I would have had no support. Instead, despite explaining the situation and being forced to share very personal details and thoughts when I was signed off by my psychiatrist for 2 weeks, I received numerous phone calls at home from a manager at head office. He wanted me to say when I would be back, to go into the city to meet him to discuss my illness and told me that I would have to decide whether I wanted to stay in the job.

At no time in his interactions with me did I detect a glimmer of compassion, something I so wished I could find within a sector whose basis is in benevolence and kindness. Management that respects the individual was what I needed.

As I was unable to cope generally, all these calls did was to pile on additional pressure to someone who was already feeling that they were a burden - that the world would be better off without them. Unable to answer his questions and handle the pressure he was causing, I resigned…after all, feeling as much of a burden as I did, how could I not when he explicitly told me that, as a charity, they needed me functioning properly?

To the colleagues who never knew the reasons, we got on so well and had loads of laughs, I am truly sorry I didn’t tell you the real reason I resigned: I felt bullied and discriminated against and just couldn’t cope. I should have said something. It may even have been happening to you too.

I’m now in a job with an understanding manager, and realise now that when I am supported with my mental health at work I can thrive. But this has not always been my experience, and clearly more needs to be done in the many workplaces where there is a lack of understanding of mental health. We have work to do.

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