It was just your average Thursday morning. I was on route to my plush office, overlooking the Thames, to work alongside people I genuinely care about, and make some money to buy a few nice things. In theory, everything was fine. Yet there I was, crying on the tube, not for the first time that week.
The first time I was properly acquainted with the uninvited guest to my mental party, a former love interest asked me if I’d ever considered ‘seeing someone’. That’s another story. You’ve probably heard that 1 in 4 people experience some form of mental health issue throughout their lifetime, so the chances of suffering at some point are likely.
Mental health charity ‘Mind’ reports, that on average 3.3 people in every 100 experience depression. This number increases to 7.8 in every 100 if you look at those who experience mixed anxiety and depression. Just like any other illness, mental health issues can wreak havoc on almost every aspect of life. Work can slip, relationships can fall apart, friendships can be lost, and your physical health is also likely be affected.
“The ‘I’m okay, promise’ mask is worn the most”
Mental health issues show their faces in many ways and tend to wear many different masks. Usually to function in day to day life, the ‘I’m okay, promise’ mask is worn the most. It’s hard enough to handle at the best of times, without being surrounded by people and being expected to conform to the ‘social norms’ of a working environment.
What are you supposed to say when your colleague asks how you are? You don’t feel you can tell them that you cried on the way to work and you don’t even know why. Therefore, you reply with something more generic than your out of office email, “I’m good thanks, how are you?”
Next, your client wants to know how your weekend was, what is this, the Spanish inquisition? Instead of telling them that you barely managed to leave your bed and saw food shopping as an achievement, you say “good thanks, pretty chilled. Yours?”
“Nearly half of people surveyed said they would feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about a mental health issue”
The average full-time employee spends around 37.5 hours a week, or around 1,800 hours a year at work. Not to upset you, but based on these figures, a fifth of your adult life will be spent at work. Unfortunately, there still appears to be a stigma around mental health issues in the workplace. Nearly half (48%) of people surveyed by the NHS Mental Health Network said they would feel uncomfortable talking to their employer about their mental health issue. A staggering number, considering ‘Mind’ reports that 1 in 6 workers are affected by a mental health issue.
You’re not alone and there’s many things that can be done to help yourself out within the work environment:
– Be open and be honest. There’s strong evidence to suggest that feeling close to and valued by other people is a human need. One which also contributes to helping you function well in the world.
If you feel comfortable about telling someone at work, this puts them in the best steed to help. If you don’t feel comfortable talking directly to someone in the workplace, this is understandable. However, don’t be afraid to admit that you require to take some time off to attend a counselling session, or work from home as you just can’t ‘people’ that day.
– Be present to the moment. Research suggests that being aware of what is taking place in the present, directly enhances your well-being. Make a few changes in your routine that help make things slightly different. Take a slightly longer route home, via a shop to buy yourself something nice for dinner. Have that overdue clear out of your wardrobe, even if it’s just to make way for more clothes. If you always thought some flowers would look nice in your house, find your nearest florist. Do whatever small things will help you ‘enjoy the moment’.
– Try to get the work life balance right. If you find yourself being the last person in the office every night, it’s time to ask yourself why. Is there someone you can talk to about sharing the workload more effectively? Are the things you’re doing after hours necessary that day, or can they wait? The more under control you have this balance, the less stressed you’ll feel both inside and outside of the office.
– Take those holidays. You’re allocated days of annual leave for a reason. Take them. Even if it’s just to have a day of ‘life admin’. Don’t think that because you’re not going anywhere on holiday or leaving the country, that you’re wasting this time. See it as an extended weekend, just you, yourself, and time to get stuff done.
– Finally, and this one is easier said than done. Give yourself a break. When there’s already so much going on, don’t feel it necessary to take on extra tasks and additional responsibilities. You’re doing enough. A key trait of a mental health issue is taking on anything and everything on the good days and not being able to follow through with said task on the bad days. Before putting your hand up, or saying yes to anything, be realistic on timings and factor in ‘mental health time’.
On the flipside, if you’re worried about someone suffering at work, there’s also some things you can do to help. Just a heads up, repeating things like ‘positive mental attitude’, or ‘smile more’ to someone suffering from depression, isn’t going to make them ‘snap out of it’. Highlighting their low mood, or calling them out in front of others for it is also going to escalate a situation. Instead, make them a cup of tea without asking, ask them if there’s anything you can help with, or even if they just fancy a walk and a chat. To be honest, it’s quite simple. Just don’t be a d*ck.