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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Reblogged: Me, My Mental Health Battle and I: My University Story

In the blog-post linked below, a third-year university student, with dyspraxia and a multi-system disorder, shares his mental health struggles and crises, especially, during the second-year, and provides useful advice for addressing mental health difficulties, including social anxiety and depression, at university. A key piece of advice he offers, based on his own improvement, is sharing concerns and difficulties with trusted people by reaching out to university mental health and well-being services and amongst peers.

The student, Bukky, presents himself as outgoing and having a close group of friends and, yet, he found himself, in the second year, unable to leave his room – and, at times, even unable to answer his mother’s phone calls. He also describes struggling to eat and to look at people. He ascribes the difficulties to a combination of depression, social anxiety, stress anxiety and his existing challenges with dyspraxia and a rare multi-system disorder, known as Kabuki Syndrome.

“I realised on reflection,” he writes,  “these feelings stemmed from a multiple of reasons, such as being home sick, stressed about course work and deadlines, feel really about myself along with having a hard time progressing from first year to second year along with several breakdowns.” He adds, “(s)ome of my internal struggles came thinking and feeling like I was different, I wasn’t like everybody else.”

Bukky lists actions that benefited him, including reaching out to the university – including his uni mentor and the well-being service for advice and help. He received meetings with his mentor, regular counselling, food vouchers, more time for his coursework and he also scheduled extra time to visit his family. He describes being checked on every day by Student Well-being.

He also shared his difficulties with his family and his friends – who convinced whom to stay on because they “explained their own university experience would not be the same if I wasn’t around.”

Finally, Bukky recognised that he felt different and lacking compared to others. He outlines a series of actions he took on his own to boost his own mood and self-esteem, including listening to music with uplifting and relatable lyrics and reading positive quotes on social media in order to feel his own self-worth.

Whilst no two situations are alike, the experience of this student, who was fortunate to have a supportive friendship network, suggest that sharing difficulties and seeking help from friends and support services can be highly beneficial. They enable communication, attention and a relieving of the stresses of university academic life by, for example, adjustments to deadlines and exams. Moreover, peers can provide a support network to relieve isolation and loss of self-esteem. Finally, personal work to strengthen self-worth through connecting with interests and inspirational stories also benefited this individual.

Read the full blog-post by University of Derby third-year student, Bukky, at his blog.

CEO OF My Own Life

1:Introduction

My name is Bukky, I am a third-year Media and Communications student at the University of Derby. I would say my friends would describe me as very smiley, bubbly, chatty, humorous and laidback. As you can look at from the pictures above. However, I went from trying to do my best fortnight moves in Walkabout to feeling very anxious and refusing to leave my room. I’d like to share my story with you, in hope that if you relate, I can support you in improving your mental health while at university.

2:How I struggled?

1:Hold on, let’s rewind – Me refusing to leave my room, yep that was how I felt. Let’s just say, my second year at university was when my mental health really affected me more than ever. I had days where I would be so depressed, for no clear reason, to the point where I switched…

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