Requesting Mental Health Support At Work and Becoming an Advocate

Ian Young_2019_AnxiousBirding
A pier in Essex, UK, by Ian Young (@ianyoung33)

Workplaces can be competitive, crowded, hierarchical, undemocratic and pressurised environments in which multi-tasking skills and personal organisation are put under particularly intense pressure. Workplace legal rights and employer sympathy can mean very little unless workers are able to advocate for themselves and their peers. The blogger linked below has experiences generalised and social anxiety, depression and dyspraxia symptoms and has become a mental health advocate at work.

A UK government civil service employee, blogger, Ian Young, has discussed his childhood difficulties with mental health, undiagnosed dyspraxia and bullying at boarding school: “I had never felt isolated until I went to boarding school. There I found myself among a group of unfamiliar people with whom I had little in common. I went to a public school which selected pupils to be ambitious and self-confident. This was just impossible for me: I was desperately homesick and every day was just a question of survival.”

Once in the workplace, Ian could not find support for his difficulties. He was missing deadlines and withdrawing. Finally, he took time off work when his depression symptoms got too much but when he felt ready to return, things continued to be difficult:  “I wasn’t offered a proper return to work interview and was just given a pile of papers to deal with. I found it very difficult to speak to my manager or colleagues about what had happened. Although work wasn’t solely to blame for my illness, the lack of support on my return hindered my recovery and made me feel even more isolated and vulnerable.”

Later in his career, coming off medication triggered another more difficult period for his mental health. Ian contrasts his treatment following being diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder with what occurred previously: “My manager encouraged me to make use of the Employee Assistance Programme. Making that first call was terrifying; I am not very confident on the phone at the best of times, and the prospect of speaking to a complete stranger about deeply personal issues was very scary. But I made that call and although I was trembling, I wasn’t made to feel silly and I was able to speak to a qualified counsellor that same day.”

He goes on to say: “I received several free sessions of counselling; I was treated with kindness and respect by my managers; if I needed to escape from the office, I was allowed to go and wander round the park. When my mother died during this period (a terrible shock), my managers allowed me to take a generous amount of compassionate leave. When I had another serious meltdown at work, a manager came along with me to A&E and waited with me until I was seen.”

Ian is now able to discuss his difficulties at work more openly with managers and occupational therapists. He has disability adjustments in place to make work more comfortable. His dyspraxia diagnosis only occurred in his late 50s. He had been struggling with personal organisation: “I have to manage large quantities of fast changing information and this is very challenging. Working out priorities and sticking to them is really difficult. I’m good at starting tasks and very poor at finishing them. My typing is messy and I can’t see my mistakes. Sometimes I miss out whole words even though my brain tells me I’ve typed them.”

He has workplace adjustments in place now: “Work has given a lot of support including mind mapping, text-to-speech and speech-to-text software. The IT is great for helping me organise myself. I now prioritise my to-do list using a mind map, with all my tasks colour -coded. It only takes a few seconds to see what I’m meant to be doing next. The bright colours make the tasks seem more ‘friendly’ and less of a threat.”

Ian is now a mental health advocate at work and beyond, writing openly about his difficulties on Twitter and his blogs, as well as his passion for bird-watching. In the workplace, he has joined forces with colleagues as part of a Wellbeing and Mental Health Group. Working alongside his workplace’s HR department, he has given talks about his experiences to colleagues. The blog-post linked below is a revised version of an article he wrote for publication on his workplace’s staff intranet during Mental Health Week in 2017.

Outside of work, Ian has found like-minded individuals with whom he has been able to connect with over their fascination with bird-life: “I’ve found birdwatching is a friendlier activity because everyone has the same aim. People are happy to share their discoveries. I have only been able to see Bitterns through the kindness of fellow birders who let me watch these rare birds through their telescopes.”

To read Ian Young’s bird-watching blog, “Anxious Birding,” click here. To read his blog focused on mental health issues, click the link below.

Image taken from AnxiousBirding.wordpress.com, Ian Young (c)

 

Me and my Mental Health

Note: this is a revised version of the blog I wrote for our work intranet during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2017.

I want to tell you a little about myself: I work here in the Civil Service. Outside work, my interests include birdwatching, running, drinking real ale (the good stuff) with my friends, and countryside walking. People describe me as easy going, dependable, cheerful. I have also lived with anxiety and depression for over 20 years. I’m telling my story now to promote Mental Health Awareness Week. I have long been an advocate of talking and being open about mental health issues but this was not always the case.
Looking back now, I’m sure that I was trying to cope with depression a long time before I visited my GP. I felt my depression was chipping away at the more positive aspects of my character. With hindsight, I…

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