It’s no longer time to talk, it’s time to take action.
“Sorry I can’t come into work today, I’m feeling overwhelming sadness.”
I mean, who would seriously say this when calling in sick to the office? But why shouldn’t we be able to? Because poor mental health can look like overwhelming sadness. It can also look like crippling anxiety or insurmountable stress. And the paradox is that poor mental health can be completely invisible so it can also look like nothing at all.
I’ve worked in many different organisations over the last 20 years or so and at least half of those have been at a time my mental health was less that okay. I’ve had days off sick and I’ve had months off sick but have I ever truly felt supported, understood and made to feel okay about it? That’s a tough one to answer.
First, here are a few facts and figures I got from doing a small bit of research. When I say small, I mean really small. I just asked my Instagram followers, but it was still better than getting a very narrow view on this topic. A whopping 75% said they had lied about their poor mental health when applying for a new job. Reasons for this included worrying about being seen as weak, being managed differently and being judged. 65% also said they had lied when to taking time off for mental health reasons, again for fear of looking weak or being made to feel like it wasn’t a legitimate reason to take time off work.
So, the question is, with all these campaigns around attempting to normalise mental health issues, addressing mental health in the workplace and the constant reminder that ‘it’s ok, not to be ok’. Why are we still not seeing a change in how mental health is perceived in the workplace?
Take your workplace for example. I’m sure there’s a lovely poster about it on the notice board in the canteen or where the health and safety stuff is. And maybe it gets talked about in the monthly newsletter or there’s a link somewhere on your intranet. But are these just your organisation’s way of paying lip service to the staff, the government, and the general public?
I work for myself now, but the last organisation I was at was a pretty big government organisation. So, you’d think they would have all this mental health stuff nailed! And for the most part they did a great job. I had some pretty rough times during my years working there. My issues were not related to work but inevitably my work was impacted.
Initially the support was incredible. But there came a point towards the end where it became fairly obvious that my well-being was no longer a priority to the organisation. The support turned into scrutiny. I went from informal chats with my line manager to having meetings with HR sprung on me. I felt like I was being watched, talked about and if I’m honest…pushed out.
The final straw came one afternoon as I was sat in the office working away when, *ping* – I received an email from HR. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I was basically being notified of a disciplinary meeting that was to be held in a month’s time in relation to an unauthorised absence.
I was stunned. Speechless. My stomach began to churn.
The absence which they were referring to ( even though they hadn’t specified this) was from a few weeks previous when I had a severe mental health episode and pretty much disappeared. Not just from work, but from home. The police had classified me as a high-risk missing person. I’m not proud of those few days and it’s still something I haven’t been able to discuss with the people even closest to me. But to have my employer call me in for a disciplinary meeting because of it? How was this even ethical? Oh, and by the way, they did know why I hadn’t come into work because the head of my department was notified by my parents.
The next few months were an ordeal to say the least. The Union got involved, I was signed off work because my anxiety was through the roof and, long story short, we came to an ‘agreement’ and I left the organisation. Some might say that I should have stayed and fought my corner, but to be honest, I just wanted out.
I share this little snippet of my mental health journey, not for sympathy and a virtual hug. But because I fully believe that mental health in the workplace is still a massive problem.
Too many of us are still too scared to speak out about our suffering. Too many of us are being treated differently as a result of our mental illnesses. And too many of us are being pushed out of the back door to save an organisation’s reputation.
You wanna talk? Fine, let’s talk! But let’s talk about what’s really going on.
Useful links to check out…
Supporting mental health at work – Acas – Know your rights. This little link shows you want the employers responsibilities are in regards to mental health and wellbeing.
Taking care of yourself | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems– A little assistance from MIND on looking after your mental health at work.
Home – Mental Health At Work– This is packed full of resources for all things mental health at work.
About the Author
Shaena is an Empowerment Coach. She shows women how to fall in love with themselves so they can fall in love with life.
Check out Shaena’s socials and website here…