October 9, 2013

Living with some fairly colourful mental health challenges over most of my working life has meant I’ve developed a good understanding of how my colleagues’ perceive mental health issues and indeed deal with their own.

A couple of years back a work mate was really struggling. His workload and responsibilities were getting to him and I could sense he was under pressure. He became much quieter and detached from his colleagues and clearly didn’t want to openly discuss his issues.

Eventually he went to the GP and started to address things. But what really saddened me was how a couple of senior staff responded to this. Independently from each other they both explained to me…’it’s ok, he’s not ill, he’s just stressed; he needs to toughen up’.

This just simply re-affirmed the uncertainties and stigma attached to mental health in the workplace, and how we often fail to deal with the causes before it’s too late.

Am I going mad?

My own issues had started about ten years ago. I didn’t talk to anyone at the time either. Emotionally I was all over the place. I was stressed and depressed. I had a busy, stressful job, a young family and my first mortgage. I didn’t know how to get on top of the situation. It continued to develop and my symptoms increased. I started to experience chronic anxiety and panic attacks; and this frightened the life out of me at the time.

‘Am I going mad?’ I would ask myself.

Things came to a head when I had a massive panic attack in front of several colleagues whilst chairing a high profile meeting. Wow…the embarrassment, confusion and emotion was crippling, but at least it dawned on me I needed help!

I went to my GP who assured me…’I know you’re not going mad sir. If you were losing your mind you wouldn’t be so self-aware’ he said. This actually really helped me.

Acceptance and openness - Taking the pressure off

Starting to open up to my work colleagues was a massive breakthrough for me but what a difficult breakthrough to make. All kinds of thoughts went through my head…’they’ll be laughing behind my back, think I’m being soft, being lazy, weak etc’…

I knew it was my only way forward though. What had dawned on me was that I could never beat my issues by masking them. It was absolutely exhausting trying to remain calm on the exterior whilst struggling like mad on the inside. I couldn’t continue the act any longer. I had to face up to my issues and learn to accept them.

I’d been off work for a while so people knew things weren’t right. Naturally they started to ask me how I felt.

I started to explain I was experiencing anxiety, panic and stress issues and that life was a struggle at times but I was learning to deal with them and not hide away.

This acceptance and openness released a massive amount of pressure off me from trying to permanently portray that cool, calm and confident professional that we often pressurise ourselves to be.

What also amazed me was how many others opened up about their issues once provoked. This often created such a positive experience for both of us. Listening to each other’s issues, sharing stories and experiences (often quite humorous on reflection!) and ideas on dealing with issues in our working lives.

Others perhaps didn’t understand, or perhaps felt uncomfortable. That’s absolutely fine. At least I’ve been honest with them, they are aware of my challenges and I’ve also raised awareness of mental health in the workplace. All positives!

I can’t articulate in the blog enough just how important talking through and sharing your issues with colleagues is. For me, it really does take the pressure off from trying to be someone who I’m not. What I am is a professional businessman who lives with anxiety, panic and stress challenges. Sometimes they impact my work life but that’s absolutely fine. They can be managed and I’m comfortable with that.

I don’t expect everyone to understand my issues, I just ask for acceptance. If they can’t accept it then they’re the one with the problems, not me.

My ultimate point to all this is we must collectively (employees and employers) look to continuously and proactively address the causes of mental health in the workplace. It’s an old cliché but prevention is so much better than cure when it comes to mental health.

It’s time to talk and listen about mental health

It’s time to understand and learn

It’s time to fight and beat it!

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the aboves post

Well done you are a brave star, I wish more people acknowledged this awful illness and stop it becoming a stigma

Thank you

It is commendable and brave for you to share this. When i was young, my Dad told me i was too young to have depression. He said to wait until i was an adult and i'd see what it was really like to struggle. But it hurt to hear that he thought that instead of trying to understand and help me cope with it. It was viewed as a weak excuse and caused me serious damage emotionally. That sort of disregard causes people to stay silent from fear of rejection.


Hi Graham, I just read your blog with interest and I'm really pleased that things turned out well for you. I think you were lucky in some respects, however. I was always very open and honest about my mental health issues as I didn't see them as a problem or as something to hide. After being bullied out of two very good jobs, having disclosed to my employers that I did have issues, I'm now much more cautious about who I tell. I hate to say it but stigma is very much alive and well in some areas of the workplace, particularly since the recession started, and I've worked both in the private and public sectors. I wish there was more that could be done to stop it as I feel there are a great many talented people out there who need help either to get back into work or to deal with difficulties whilst at work.

Graham's Blog

Well said Graham, I for one know what you went through. At present I am off work sick with depression and anxiety me job is also high pressured with ever increasing target to be met. But unlike you I have tried to keep my illness a secret. I am getting on in years and of the era when depression was frowned upon, therefore my mentality is one of I can't be suffering from this and should just pull myself together. So I thank you for your blog and now one of my goals will be to try and be more open and honest about things and true to me.


Its so hard to deal with anxiety and you feel so alone . I think your so brave to talk about this and wish you well xx

I have suffered all my life

I have suffered all my life from general anxiety disorder and depression. I know from experience that disclosing a mental health issue can be detrimental to your Career prospects.I now hide my issue from anyone at work. A referee told my would be employers that I should not be left with children due to panic attacks that I suffered from at the time. Another time I was encouraged to leave my jobwhilst going through a bad patch after returning to work after having my child. When undertaking a post grad course the occupational health team asked me if I was 'chemically imbalanced' 98% of the time I cope well with my job and have had a successful career.

Being Told to "Toughen Up"

I'm really sorry that you had such a unhelpful experience with the medical staff you saw. I've suffered from mental health issues myself, and I know how hurtful something like that can be when you feel vulnerable. I honestly despair at the blinding ignorance of such treatment. I really applaud your willingness to share your experiences with others. I have found that far from meaning someone has "toughened up". What usually happens is that they have dissociated from the pain and then advocate the same for others. The courageous stay the course and feel their own suffering. With the result that they can then genuinely empathise with the suffering of others, and know from experience the bravery it takes to integrate and grow in spite of their suffering. Warm Regards and Best Wishes David.

Grahams post

If you are having problems at work you may think you are hiding your problems from everyone but all you are doing is fooling yourself and delaying getting help and support. A really brave post Graham! Hope others find it inspiring.....

I was hounded out of a job I

I was hounded out of a job I had for over 20 years because I became ill with depression. Since then I don't tell prospective employers until after I have been given the position.

mental health

I have suffered from work place stress and depression, and have also suffered from health related mental health problems. It is so easy to judge people from the outside, without any idea of what they are facing in their own lives. Suppression, competition, lack of empathy are all things which make us feel like we are coping alone. People can suffer mental distress from all walks of life and for all sorts of reasons, no-one is immune.


Well done Graham. I know what dealing with aniexty and panic attacks is like so you have done so well to deal with it, and, in a open way. I have suffered from mental health for the last 4 to 5 years, and this was bought on through bullying at work. I am a professional person and I have always been a very strong confident and outgoing person. But I am not me anymore, and some days I don't know who I am. 5 years ago I had a new boss and because I didn't want to join his clan with other managers I became isolated from general conversations at meetings, and, I got picked upon and challenge about things, when others didn't. I thought at the time it was because I was so good at my job and that I wouldn't be his friend, that this happened. I spoke to others about this and they said he was bullying me. And this became more often and more serious to the point that I worked in isolation, which ended with me making wrong decisions because I was so stressed that I couldn't ask for help. I felt going to another manager higher up the chain of command would make me seem weak and pathetic, so I kept quiet. The manager left and I had a knew one and I told him what had happened, and at this point, I was suffering really bady with panic attacks, isolation, lack of concentration, lack of confidence and I felt really low and completly alone. And this affected my home life and the way I did my job. I just felt that I didn't know who I was anymore, and was so low and emotional I just shut myself of from the world. Having been off work for months, and having been on medication (which I am still on), and with seeing my doctor every 4 weeks, my therapist weekly as well as the works Occ Health, I started to improve. I felt I understood what had happened to me and decided to return to work against my doctors wishes. What a mistake this was for me. My knew boss didn't really understand what had happend to me, and, didn't really want to know, so, I found I was constantly telling my councellor what was happening. Then things got worse as my new boss started to bully me and I just started to fall apart again. Not only did he do it to me but to other staff that also suffered from mental health and I was gutted, because I didn't feel I could protect them, as I couldn't protect myself. But then I saw a light at the end of a tunnel. My doctor was so supportive and I now see a phycologist every 2 weeks, and I have an emotional mentor at work, as well as a work mentor. Both of these people are aware of my mental health illness. My emotional mentor is like my best friend. I tell her everything, she emails me a lot just to say hello and see how I am, and I know I can call upon her when I need to talk, as she just listens to me, and helps me get through my darkest times. She meets with me regularly so we can chat, and I feel better when I have talked to her, as I know she does not judge me and keeps things confidential. What is sad though, is that my organisational managers want me to keep my illness away from my staff, and other managers, and this is making me feel as though it is showing a weakness on my part. I would like people to know, even though I know they will think I am not all there, but that doesn't bother me know. My new boss has played with my head (the only way I can describe it) and suggested I should look for another job, as I am currently doing lower graded work in order to get my confidence, concentration and sustain working full time, before I return to my role. I get very low and emotional a lot, and I can't explain why, but most weeks are good, so I just see my bad days as off days, as they are less frequent than my good days. From all of this I am trying to say that, even though organisations say they want to support mental health, I don't think they do, because they don't understand it. And in some cases I don't think they really want to. And, they don't understand that, someones behaviour can have such a bad impact on someones life. I am now dealing with my work issues, which was extremely hard for me to do. And having done this, I now feel that I have helped others, and I have been told how brave I was to do it. I have made a committment to myself and family that I will not stand for this behaviour anymore, and I will speak up if it happens again. I hope that anyone that reads this will find someone that they can confide in and that they can talk to, as this has helped me tremendously. Having a doctor and therapist/Phycologist that listens and understands is also helping (as I wouldn't seek help at the beginning), and having emotional support at work was my saviour. I could talk for hours some days, and she never trys to push me off. I wouldn't be back at work if it wasn't for all this support. I also read a lot of self help books (Susan Jefferies and others) and read a lot on the internet about mental health, and I have found that his has helped me as well, so I do recommed you do some reading. Having nearly committed suicide some 5 years ago, I am now trying to find the triggers for my panic attacks, and what makes me feel low, that I can learn from it. I hope this helps somone out there realise that there are people that really care.

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