February 20, 2013

Louise, Vice-President Community and Welfare at UWE Last year, I completely and utterly fell in love with the Time To Change campaign. At a time where I felt broken, I was desperately looking for a safety net, I really needed something telling me that things were going to be ok.

Life had gotten really tough and I was struggling to focus at work. It got to the point that there were only two options: ask for help or quit my job.

I asked to have a meeting with the Manager and was already dreading the conversation in my head “Sorry Louise, You can’t work for us anymore. Y’know, your mental health...”

I was preparing myself to be asked nicely to leave that very day. I didn’t really feel much use to anyone, my mind was overshadowed with horrible feelings and I really didn’t see it clearing away any time soon. It was a really scary moment.

I had read up everything you could possible find out about what kind of support you can get from your employer when you have a mental health problem but I’d also read some sad stories from people who had lost their job after disclosing. I was in pieces.

I couldn’t continue in the state I was in so I just had to take deep breathes and hope for the best.

It was a moment I never forgot

I was shaky throughout the meeting and trying very hard to not break into pieces in front of my manager. The response I received was so supportive. Here was me, thinking I would lose my job by the end of the day, and here was my Manager, asking if I wanted time off to rest. This is a moment that I will never forget. I felt valued as a person.

One of the things that worried me was telling them how dependant I was on therapy and how dysfunctional I felt without it. Before I was too scared to ask for time off to go to therapy so I didn’t go for months and just got worse. Their response was incredible and they allowed me to be flexible with my work hours. It may seem like such a little thing but it made such a massive difference.

Often you just want to get on with it and disclosing to your employer that you have a mental health problem feels like disclosing a weakness. And no one likes to showcase our weaknesses.

I was keen to see UWE sign the Time to Change pledge

Through my experience of having such great support from my employer, I was very keen to see the University of the West of England sign up to the Time to Change pledge. I had experienced firsthand the impact that a supportive employer made. It literally makes the difference between you staying in a job, and you leaving.

Having a mental illness is not and should not be a barrier to your ability to work. This year, I have learnt to accept my mental health as part of me. There are times that I get really frustrated that I can’t get out of bed or that I’ve got to turn down socials. But I’ve learnt the importance of looking after myself.

With the support of my employer I've stayed in my job

For so long I saw my mental health as a hindrance to my ability to work. Now, with the support and understanding from my employer, I have managed to stay in my job and I am happy. There’s been challenging days, of course, but the difference is that I don’t feel alone.

"Caring for myself is not a self indulgence, it is a self preservation and is an act of political warfare!" Audre Lorde

Louise is Vice-President Community and Welfare at the Univeristy of the West of England.

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