Sunday, 29 October 2017

When Work Gets Mental Health Right

In the past on previous blogs, I have discussed on many occasion my issues with mental health in the work place. How throughout the UK there are far too many people who suffer with their mental health as a result of how they’re treated in their work place, or how despite obvious cries for help down to mental illness, managers dismiss their employees, giving them no help and support. I know this, because I have experienced these things. However, there is a side of mental health in the work place I’ve never discussed on my blogs before.

What about when the work place gets mental health right?

I’m struggling guys. A lot. We are 4 weeks away until the anniversary of my Mum’s death. One whole year since we lost her, and I never anticipated just how difficult it would be. For some reason, my mind perceives that there is still an element of closeness to my Mum prior to the one year anniversary, but as we get closer to that milestone, I feel like she’s drifting further and further away from me. Like I truly have to accept that she’s gone for good. I know, it's a strange way to look at the situation, but as I mentioned in this post, grief makes us deal with the loss of a loved one in the most weird and wonderful of ways.

As we get closer to that milestone, I find myself tearing up at the most random and inappropriate of times. The memories of that weekend are becoming more and more vivid again, as if I lived that nightmare only yesterday. They hit me at the most unexpected of times, meaning I’m having to take regular breaks away from the office at the moment whilst I calm myself down.

In true Siobhan style, I tried to suppress my feelings and just get on with life as I normally do. As if nothing was wrong. I thought I could treat my Mum’s anniversary as if it was any other day and get through it pretty unscathed.

We’re a few weeks away from that day still, and I can’t believe just how wrong I am.

The pressure I was putting myself under to be ok was crippling me. I literally felt the weight I was carrying over every inch of my body, and last week, I broke. I just couldn’t contain all of the pain and pressure I was feeling anymore. I couldn’t be ok for everybody anymore.

It happened at work late on in the morning. The tears started pouring as I was sat at my desk. I thought I’d concealed myself enough from my team. I thought wrong.

One of my colleagues, without saying a word, kindly passed me some tissue. I thanked him, and took myself off to the bathroom. During that time management had been made aware that I was upset, and once I’d composed myself I was taken aside by my manager.

I was petrified. Such bad experiences with a previous manager left me terrified of being judged for my mental state once again. I always expect that I’m going to be told to “pull myself together” or that “I’m just having a bad day”.

Again, I was wrong.

My manager couldn’t have been more understanding of my situation. She was aware that I’d suffered the loss of my Mum, but I hadn’t gone in to too much detail about the complexity of the situation in the wake of my Mum’s death. Losing my Mum also meant that she left behind two young daughters, one of which (My sister) also lost her Dad when she was only a baby. My sister was left with no parents by the age of 20, and since I have felt the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders.

The past year I have heard the same thing time and time again. “But you’re not her Mum, you’re her sister. You don’t have to take on that responsibility”.

I’m aware I’m not her Mum. I don’t want to, nor am I trying to replace our Mum. I would never try and act as replacement to my Mum. However, I do feel like I need to be more than a sister. I’ve always felt like that. I was 11 when my sister’s Dad died, so from 11, I always felt a level of responsibility to her. Instead of going out with my friends in the evenings during my school years, whilst my Mum worked all hours of the day and night on her computer upstairs, I was learning every Teletubbies dance there was to learn to entertain my baby sister. Whilst my friends in college were just starting to go on nights out with one another, I was dropping off and picking up my sister from school whilst our Mum worked weird and wonderful hours at Sheffield train station.

I realise that was a pretty long tangent I went on there, but there is a point to this. My manager is one of the only people to show understanding towards my situation. Instead of telling me to not take on the responsibility, she has worked with me to come up with solutions on how I can get my head back in shape so I can look after both my sister and myself.

This past year I have spent the majority of my time putting everybody else’s needs before my own. My manager picked up on this and said something that made sense to me. She said if I was to fall as a result of my mental health and be out of action for a long period of time as a result, how would I care for my sister then? In order to care for my sister, I have to take care of myself first.

I’d never really thought of it in that way before, but she hit the nail on the head, and gave me a lot to think about.

So we came up with a plan to help me. Over the next four weeks I will only be in work four days a week. I will be taking Wednesdays off of work to break my week up nicely and give myself the breathing space I clearly need after feeling suffocated over the past year. For the next four weeks I’m going to be having Siobhan days. Days where I do what I want, when I want. Time for my brain to have a break from everybody and everything else.

I’ve also signed up to a stress management course via Sheffield IAPT (A website I highly recommend to anybody who suffers with mental illness and requires help beyond their GP.), which I’m going to be starting on 6th November, and my manager has allowed me time out of work to attend. It’s a totally free course, where you are provided free work books and handouts, and plenty of resources and tools to take home with you and put in to practice out of the sessions.

These are two very small steps to helping me steer towards gaining control of my mental health again, but 12 months ago, under the manager I was at that time, I would never have even bothered considering doing anything like this. The fear of asking and the negative (And often anger fuelled.) response I would get from him would put me off immediately. To be able to take these steps for my mental health, knowing my manager is supporting me 100% is the biggest relief in the world.

It makes me want to come to work and work for somebody like that. Last year I resented going to work. I resented working for a man who instilled so much fear into me. I felt like from 8:00am – 5:00pm I had a ball and chain wrapped around my ankle. I felt trapped. I was beyond miserable, to the point I eventually left, with no job to walk in to, because feeling that sad, stressed, on edge, and everything else I felt on a daily basis in that job wasn’t worth the impact it was having on my entire life.

It just goes to show that if you treat your employees like human beings, and not robots who are merely there to crunch numbers, then you will get positive results.  I just hope that in the future, more employers will adapt this attitude towards mental health.


  1. Sounds like you have a great manager at the moment, its so good to work for a caring and understanding employer.

    I hope the 4 day week and the course gives you some comfort in the coming weeks. Big hugs. xx

    1. Thank you Jane. The midweek break from work is definitely doing me good at the moment, and giving me the head space I need, and the course starts tomorrow, so fingers crossed I will take some things away from it that I can put into practice in real life xxx


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