Putting Mental Health in its Proper Workplace…

Lochnagar in a dark mood

Last Wednesday was World Mental Health Day 2018.  The day aims to raise awareness of mental health and the issues around it, particularly those that arise from mental ILL-health.

I even put out a post on LinkedIn to publicise it, asking followers of my posts “are you going to do anything to mark it?”.

At that stage, I was planning to write a blog post covering one of the ‘hot’ topics around mental health.  I envisaged something that covered:

  • mental health being wider than mental illness
  • the need for employers to take work-related stress (and other mental health issues) as seriously as they take physical health & safety
  • the equal need for workers to also take work-related stress (and other mental health issues) as seriously as they take physical health & safety
  • the growing, and increasingly expensive, trend towards presenteeism
  • etc.

It felt like it would be an article that would almost write itself, with a wealth of research and worthy opinions to which I could refer.

But I didn’t write that article

OK, the immediate question is WHY didn’t I write the article, but to answer that, I need to give some context.

Back when I was in my 20s, I went through a period of around 6 years during which I struggled seriously with depression.  I started having strange emotional reactions to events and situations, sometimes feeling almost numb to things that should be upsetting, then finding a quiet corner to cry in over irrelevant small events.  I eventually recognised this wasn’t right, and went to see my doctor, not sure what was wrong.  He was excellent and openly explored both the problem and my treatment options.

That’s not to say I felt down all the time

I found I could hide from the symptoms with adrenaline, so I flung myself into work projects and put in loads of unpaid overtime, because although I felt stressed, it felt normal to be stressed under that pressure.  Indeed, I might have gone on like that for considerably longer had the project work not eased off.

Around this time, I remember a poster campaign by the Samaritans that really struck a note.  There were 2 posters, one said “Can’t face going to work?”, the other “Can’t face going home?”.  At the moment I noticed them, I recognised I was stuck in the limbo in between.

After resisting drug treatment for several months, I eventually agreed to take antidepressants.  It took 3 attempts to find one that worked well enough and that didn’t give me significant side-effects, but I realised I’d found the right one when, after 3 weeks or so I woke up feeling ‘normal’.  It wasn’t uniform, but the world wasn’t the uniformly dark place it had become and I started to re-emerge.  Luckily, I was able to re-engage with the talking therapies I’d already tried, though this time I was able to understand and work through the underlying reasons I felt the way I did.

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t until I was well into my recovery that I felt able to share with friends and colleagues what I was going through.  The fear of stigma has a basis in reality, but the obstacles to being open seem insurmountable when you’re in a ditch.

So, why didn’t I write that article?

It’s simple.  Although I’ve recovered from my depression, and haven’t been there for more than 2 decades, there is a slippery slope towards mental ill-health that I have learnt to recognise and avoid.  The several days running up to World Mental Health Day were crazy, with too much travelling, a heavy workload and not enough down time to recover.  I recognised that, to write it, I would have to risk compromising my own mental health. 

In the end, I made a pragmatic decision: I marked World Mental Health Day by NOT writing that article.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject, so please leave a comment, but if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly please contact me at malcolm@strathesk.co.uk or give me a call on 07736068787.

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