April 30, 2014

HR Director James Saville talks about how he felt able to open up to colleagues after his workplace decided to sign the Time to Change Organisational Pledge.

“Even though I have been a HR Director in various industries for quite a long time, it took me a while to learn that I have a tendency towards depression. I would have peaks and troughs in my performance, and I had always muddled through them and come out the other side.

I couldn't think, I couldn't answer the phone

It wasn’t until six years ago when I had a personal family tragedy that things became really serious. My sister was dying 12,000 miles away in Australia, and for a period of seven weeks I was commuting back and forth to look after her and to be there for my family. I went straight back into work after she passed and took on bigger projects and more work. After 12 months I keeled over. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t answer the phone, and I was turning up to meetings unprepared.

My employers were brilliant

My employers were brilliant. My manager was very supportive and we discussed what I was dealing with and agreed that I should take a few weeks off. Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse and I didn’t go back to work for another six months. During this time they were incredibly supportive and understanding. They gave me the space and time I needed and also gave me a ‘buddy’ who kept in touch and met up with me a few times during my time off. And when I eventually went back to work I had a phased return.

Talking about my story was one of the hardest presentations I've ever had to do

Fast forward to 2013 and my current organisation. As part of the programme to support staff, a colleague suggested that the company sign the Time to Change pledge. I thought this was a great idea, and saw an opportunity to add a personal side to the signing, to talk about how it feels to cope with mental health problems at work. I wanted to break down the perception that you have to deal with things privately, and that actually if you open up then people can support you. Standing up and talking about my story was one of the hardest presentations I’ve ever had to do. I felt vulnerable and nervous about the reaction I would get. Afterwards I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I no longer had to deal with things in private.

It became much easier when I opened up

When you work closely with people they are bound to notice a change in your behaviour. In my previous organisation, before people knew about my mental health problems, my team couldn’t understand what I was going through, and because they didn’t know there was a problem they couldn’t make allowances or put support in place. They could only judge me as if I was ‘normal’ and assume I was unreliable and not good at my job, which was quite stressful and challenging. It became much easier when I opened up and I’m confident that if I ever have problems again people will be able to support me better. The overall reaction was positive; my team were glad that they understood my issues, and some were surprised because they hadn’t spotted anything wrong, and others were surprised that I was prepared to talk about it.

Since I spoke out I haven’t seen any evidence that anybody looks at me differently. Mental health isn’t a taboo subject at work anymore, and people are starting to feel more comfortable knowing that they can open up if they need to and they will get the support they need. It’s brought about more of a culture of talking.

I wouldn’t have opened up without the Time to Change pledge signing. It was something I had wanted to do before but now I felt that I was in a trusted environment. The pledge gave me the opportunity to feel comfortable about speaking out.”

This blog has been taken from our free magazine ‘the workplace issue’, download your free copy.

For more information about talking about mental health problems at work visit: www.time-to-change.org.uk/your-organisation/support-workplace/telling-my-manager


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