Imagine a physical injury that requires treatment, every day, for two months. We would think that was a significant injury.
Yet this is how broken a person’s mind can become.
My first experience of mental health issues was in 2014. I was working on a problem project and was getting little support from my line management. It reached a point in the middle of the year when I was under a huge amount of pressure and work eclipsed all other aspects of life.
I was commuting over four hours a day, the team on site had completely locked down, and senior management was putting me under too much pressure. My overwhelming feeling was anger. I couldn’t let this out on site – I didn’t want to show aggression. I carried that anger off site and back home with me. I channelled this anger onto myself; that’s when the nagging voices start to erode your own self-esteem.
It was one Friday afternoon when I folded. My line manager and his boss came down to view the project. I was left in the spotlight on my own to answer for all the problems that had occurred, which were not of my making. My line manager had nothing to say to support me in that meeting.
I was bitterly angry at what had happened. My senior manager said I would receive help on the project in six weeks, but I knew I didn’t even have six more minutes, let alone weeks, to get the support I needed to get myself out of that black hole.
“I was having suicidal thoughts and couldn’t trust myself, so I walked all the way across London back to the main line train station”
I was absolutely broken at that point. I tried to get on the tube that evening but I had to take myself out of the station. I was having suicidal thoughts and couldn’t trust myself, so I walked all the way across London back to the main line train station.
At this point, I put my hands up and said: “I can’t do this anymore.”
I was diagnosed with having experienced a major depressive episode. I hadn’t even stopped to notice the early or intermediate signs of stress, as I just didn’t know enough about it.
After receiving help from the Mace occupational health team and attending psychiatric daycare sessions, I returned back to work. I wouldn’t have been able to go back without the support I received.
“You’re going to need doctors and therapy appointments, and allowing people to take these is a good thing”
Compassionate line management is essential. If employers help people back into work for just half a day a week, then this will eventually turn into a day, which will turn into three days and so on. By supporting people back into work in this approach, you’re getting the best productivity out of your employee and opening the door will help them come back into contact with issues that cause stress in a manageable way.
It’s essential for both parties to be flexible. You’re going to need doctors and therapy appointments, and allowing people to take these is a good thing. It’s a two-way street – while your line manager should be helpful in your recovery, you should also fit these into the beginning or end of the day to create as little disturbance to the working week as possible.
It doesn’t take that much time out of the week to get someone back into work. For example, I need a routine to structure my day, which is essential to managing my mood. My line manager sat down and helped me structure my week; by doing this, I am 90 per cent able to manage my mental health and the other 10 per cent we can all cope with.
There isn’t a single day when you become ‘fixed’ after having had a mental health issue. But by ensuring the right support is in place for people re-entering work and greater awareness of mental health through proper education, the industry can go a long way in improving people’s lives and removing the stigma around mental health.
Warren Alexander-Pye is an associate director at Mace