Very few people in my professional network will know that I recently went through a turbulent time in my personal life, and it resulted in very bad mental health.

It seems fitting to share this today on World Mental Health Day. Living and working in a community where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health is key to breaking the stigma that sadly still exists and enabling us all to provide support to those who need it.

When my mental health really started to suffer, I had only worked at Gateway for a few months. The anxiety I felt about calling in sick to my new job was off-the-charts, but I needn’t have worried. Every single person in the company did everything they could to make a very difficult time feel less difficult.

They did this by:

  • Asking me what level of contact I wanted whilst I was off sick from work.
  • Making it clear there was absolutely no pressure on me to return before I was ready.
  • Also making it clear that I was welcome to come in anytime even if I just wanted a coffee and a chat.
  • Once I did return, telling me that they would be led by me in terms of what I felt able to do. If I didn’t feel up to performing certain tasks, not a problem.
  • Asking how I was, listening without judgement and always, always being ready with an endless supply of tissues, useful books, and little coffees.

I could go on because each and every one of my managers and colleagues showed up for me in so many little ways and it made a big difference. Not having to worry about work on top of everything else really helped.

They did it because as individuals they’re all lovely people, as a team they’re amazing to work with and as a company they are fantastic to work for. The company values are embedded into the culture, and it shows.

I was fully supported both during my absence and upon my return to work. I can’t say I’m “better”; as I always say mental health is not linear and sometimes it can feel like taking one step forward and two steps back, but luckily for me, I am certainly enjoying being back to work and focusing on performing well in a role that I love.

As somebody who has been both an employee suffering with poor mental health and a HR professional, Mental Health First Aider and a Mental Health Champion supporting others, I think I can safely say that a little can go a long way. I really appreciated being asked what I needed. Let’s face it, we’re all different and the support that I valued so much might not have been as useful to somebody else. Fostering an open and honest culture where people feel comfortable discussing the good, the bad and the ugly times in their lives without fear of judgement is one of the best things you can do for both your employees and for your business. For me, the no-pressure approach and open lines of communication helped to ease some of my anxiety and enabled me to return feeling keen to be my bright and shining best sooner than I might have done if the company had added to my stress instead of relieving it. Life happens; everybody has mental health, and everybody will experience ups and downs to varying degrees. Companies who support that and fully embrace doing the right thing will ultimately end up getting the best from their employees.

Having discussions around mental health certainly does not need to be difficult or something to be afraid of but if you need any help or support with approaching a conversation with an employee, please feel free to give us a call.