My Guide to Mental Health at Work

Last November four Timpson colleagues independently asked me to write a book about mental health. They each had a good reason. One had struggled for two years before plucking up the courage to talk to her boss. Another was having difficulty in explaining to her team why they should be more sympathetic to a colleague who had to take time off due to stress. The third simply wanted to help a friend who was desperate to get help and my final request came from someone whose close relative had just taken his own life.

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They asked me because I have been writing small help guides for over 20 years. Most are about management but recently I have written three books to help people understand looked after children with attachment problems. The books have lots of pictures and very few words to make it easy for anyone to understand.

I started writing the following week. I have had my own stress and depression problems since 1976 and had a really tough time in the 1980s and still have bad spells today, so I had plenty of good reasons to write the book.

It only took me a week to write the first draft, based on personal experience a few web sites and some books including ‘Curse of the Strong’ by Tim Cantopher a very helpful read which was recommended by the Counsellor I was seeing at that time.

During the next four months I took the draft to a range of people who were happy to help. Everyone had constructive comments and some completely reshaped the book. I spoke to my GP, my Counsellor, several colleagues who have had challenging times, Paul Farmer of MIND and Lord Dennis Stevenson who, with Paul, was commissioned by Teresa May to write a report on mental health at work. I found a few fantastic people from other businesses who had the courage to share their stories and had guidance from Sir Ian Cheshire, who helps Heads Together work with business.

I learned a lot. Most people with stress and depression find it difficult to admit they have a problem. Many are reluctant to talk to a doctor and almost all find it hard to start a critical conversation with their boss. I also started to realise how threatening some work places can feel. Uncaring colleagues and hard hearted executives who stick to the rules can create a work place that is too hostile for fragile colleagues to cope.

Mental Health has become a hot topic with many companies adopting mental health policies and appointing mental health officers – but many still don’t really know what it is like to suffer from stress and depression. That is why the first part of my book describes what stress feels like with your life fluctuating from feeling miserable one minute to having butterflies in the stomach – jealously watching everyone else happily going about their daily routine, wishing you could have the same worry free life.

I hope that fellow sufferers who read the book will recognise the symptoms – constantly worrying about trivial problems, impatience, lack of self-esteem, not wanting to meet people, no energy and interrupted sleep.

But this isn’t just a book for those with a mental health problem, I try to show how fellow employees, supervisors and the big boss can make life better or worse. The stigma, that makes it so difficult for anyone to ask for help, is strongest in macho organisations where love and kindness play no part.

Stress and depression can hit anyone but the busiest and most conscientious people can be most at risk. There is a limit to hope much work anyone can do, but some people still force themselves to do even more, until they take on too much. In an organisation dominated by red tape and process, dedicated and talented colleagues can feel overworked and undervalued. They work extra hard to compensate for the rigid regime and may well become stressed. An organisation’s culture makes a big difference.

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