Nicola volunteers on the Dispelling Mental Health Myths via the Workplace project. This is a Time to Change grant-funded project, which enables volunteers with personal experience of mental health problems to visit workplaces, engaging employers and employees in conversations about mental health over tea, cake and a quiz. The project reachers a range of small, medium and large employers in the area of Brighton & Hove.
I first got involved with the project because I'd received help and support from my local Mind (in Brighton & Hove). I had only recently signed the Time to Change pledge wall so it was really exciting to find out there was a project in my area.
I've lived with depression and anxiety for as long as I remember
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for as long as I remember, and have managed it with medication and therapy, and also support from my friends and family. I can spot the signs that I’m starting to feel unwell, and know to ask for help. I’ve also had to be signed off work before, but was lucky enough to have an employer who handled it with respect and understanding.
I thanked my lucky stars I had a line manager who understood and helped me with a phased return to work
It was still a horrendous experience – as anyone whose mental health problems have stopped them from living their daily life will know. I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I had a HR team and line manager who understood why I was off sick and helped me with a phased return to work when my doctor felt I was ready.
No one should have to hide their condition from their boss or colleagues for fear they will be discriminated against
Why did I feel ‘lucky’? Because I know so many other people who have been unable to work and have had an employer that’s pressured them to come back, and generally handled the situation without sympathy or tact. However it saddens me that I should put this down to good fortune; as luck shouldn’t come into it. Anyone experiencing mental health difficulties, no matter how acute or minor, shouldn’t have to suffer alone. No one should have to hide their condition from their boss or colleagues for fear they will be judged, or worse – discriminated against.
We go into workplaces and have open conversations with people about mental health
This is why I feel so passionately about our Time to Change project. Our team of volunteers go into workplaces and have open conversations with people about mental health, while letting them know that we ourselves have had our own mental health issues. By doing this we hope to dispel myths and misconceptions people may have.
We’ve spoken to employees who have been very open and honest about their own mental health issues, and there have also been some who haven’t wanted to engage with us at all. But on the whole the employees we’ve spoken to have been really positive about our visits, as have managers and senior staff – which is really encouraging. We’ve even had feedback that a conversation with our volunteers gave one person the confidence to speak out about the problems she is having with her mental health, and how it affects her work. And we’ve had others tell us that they feel more aware about the continuum of different diagnoses, from anxiety and stress to bipolar, and how important it is to talk openly and support people having difficulties.
I've become a lead volunteer which has helped me develop new skills
One of the best things about the project is how valued and well looked after we feel as volunteers. I’ve become a Lead Volunteer which has helped me develop new skills, such as running peer group supervision sessions and being more involved in leadership. I even went on the radio with one of the other volunteers to talk about the project! It’s been amazing to meet other people who feel as strongly as I do about ending mental health discrimination, and empowering to feel like we’re helping change attitudes and opinions.