I am ashamed to say that most of my life I have ignored mental health stigma. It’s only through my own personal experience and coming out the other side that I’ve now decided to make a change. Better late than never, I guess. Fighting the stigma doesn’t have to be a big public gesture or brave declaration. It can simply mean talking about and sharing experiences.
Progress has definitely been made in encouraging people to talk about mental health. I want to continue the good work by sharing a personal story that I became aware of shortly after launching an initiative to improve and protect wellbeing at work.
Break the stigma
Having to pretend that you don’t ever feel sad, anxious, overwhelmed, or even panicked is not healthy. I hope by sharing this story, it encourages more people to talk and to listen, and helps to further break down the stigma that still exists around mental health in the workplace. I would like to thank Garry for taking time to share his journey with me.
How would you describe your experience?
“At the time at which I had my mental health challenge, I am not sure if it was stress or something else, but on one particular day during the summer of 2016 I felt the pressure, literally, in my head raise through the roof.
"I am, on reflection, aware that this was not actually a one-off but some form of ‘mission-creep’ over the preceding couple of weeks that led to me ‘exploding.’
“I was aware that it was an unnatural feeling and something that I had never experienced before. I was aware that I was dealing with some personal challenges, but the main driver was that I was getting increasingly frustrated on multiple levels with my workplace.
Businesses should have a clear strategy around providing support on mental health issues in general to help drive lasting changes.
“That said, the same workplace that was causing me so much unhappiness was also the place that I did not feel I could turn to when I went ‘bang.’
“My way of dealing with it was to call the Employee Assistance Line who were excellent and did exactly what I needed them to do (talk with me and empower me to make a choice about my next step).
“Again, in hindsight, I realise that so much of what I was fearing and getting frustrated with was (a) out of my control, and (b) self-inflicted (no one had told me the things that I was telling myself).”
How did you feel?
“I literally felt like my head was going to explode. I could sense and feel the top half of my body getting hotter, but so much, if not all of the pressure was in my head.
“I ran away to the south coast to try and get myself together, which resulted in me leaving the business for three working days. It really was a survival instinct of fight, freeze or flight.
People are looking for more ‘connection’ and ‘authenticity.’
“I felt out of control for the first day or so. I think I rang the Employee Assistance Line on day two.
“I felt trapped, alone and completely lost within a system that did not represent who I was or what I believed in.
“I felt angry, upset and deflated. I stayed that way for a few days afterwards. The Employee Assistance Line support, however, was amazing. But it should not have needed me to get help outside of my organisation (which, sadly, I do not think is uncommon).”
What has your experience taught you?
“My experience has taught me to look after myself more – to truly prioritise my own wellbeing above all else. To speak up and seek support from people when the pressure starts building in my head. It is not a weakness to struggle mentally.”
Any advice you'd share with others?
“Meditate daily – I do it religiously morning and night for 15 minutes to just download the day and let my thoughts wander.
“Talk to people. Don’t be ashamed to talk about the mental challenges you have from time to time whether that be stress, anxiety or whatever.”
Cultures where no one has to lie, hide or fake
Garry’s story and my own experiences have taught me the importance a healthy work/life balance. Throughout the working week, we need a break from technology (we need a break full-stop).
People are looking for more ‘connection’ and ‘authenticity,’ businesses need to help to recognise the digital overkill and appeal to people on a physical level (from talking, to mindfulness and one-to-one support).
Efforts should not be made in isolation. Rather businesses should have a clear strategy around providing support on mental health issues in general to help drive lasting changes.
A healthy, balanced and engaged workforce can be one of the single most valuable assets a business can have. Making strides towards a culture where no one has to lie, hide or fake (when it comes to stress and anxiety) should be top of the agenda for the evolution of the workplace in 2018.
It’s a win/win – a happy and healthy workforce will be more productive and engaged. In this way, mental health is truly ‘everyone’s business'.
Interested in this topic? Read Mindfulness at work: supporting employees for positive mental health.