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World Mental Health Day: Jo's story on mental health in the workplace

05 October 2017

Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October 2017, Jo, a Personal Assistant working in the Home Ward Ealing service at West London Mental Health NHS Trust, has spoken about the unwavering support she received from the Trust’s Occupational Health team when she experienced a mental health crisis earlier this year.

World Mental Health Day is an annual fixture which helps to raise awareness of mental health. This year’s theme is mental health in the workplace, which reiterates the need for those working in the NHS to prioritise self-care, while also caring for others.

Jo, 58, says she experienced anxiety and depression following her divorce after 20 years of marriage, redundancy and feelings of inadequacy and anxiety about the future.

“After my redundancy, it took me two years to find a job. My self-esteem was shot.  I knew that I was stressed and unhappy as I had struggled with depression before, and as a single mum I thought I could cope with anything. But the breakdown took me by complete surprise.

“I felt like I couldn’t carry on. I didn’t do anything for weeks.”

“I didn’t like going out. I only saw my family. I had set up a book club with my sister and some friends which I had attended regularly otherwise, but at the time I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to chat and listens to others. I didn’t want to communicate or try and be jolly. It was very hard.

“I just gave up doing the housework and gardening. It wasn’t me at all.”

Jo was also experiencing suicidal thoughts. She adds: “It was really hard to tell people what was going on. I would just go and have a cry and cuddle with my mum. I’m very lucky to still have my parents.”

Although at its lowest figure, the 2016 NHS staff survey showed that 37% of staff had reported work-related stress. As well as this, a recent survey by Unite revealed that the number of NHS mental health staff who took sick leave because of their own mental health issues had risen by 22% in the past five years.

However, on World Mental Health Day, Jo is praising the work of her line manager and the Occupational Health team at the Trust, who supported her during her own mental health crisis.

“My line manager was fabulous – he didn’t pry or make me feel more anxious. I was referred to Occupational Health very quickly, and within weeks I met with one of the staff counselling team. Then, I chose to work with a therapist from Ealing Abbey Counselling Service on a weekly basis, as they suited my needs. It has helped me so much to talk about my feelings and the therapy has really made me think about my issues and my future, which I am now looking forward to.”

Now, after five months away following what she calls a “meltdown”, Jo has returned back to work for the Trust after it was suggested she had a ‘phased return’ by Occupational Health.

Jo said: “Immediately upon returning back to work, my partner said to me: ‘You’re a different person completely. You’re back to yourself. You’re so much better.’

“My self-esteem has improved and I’m not worried as much. I was almost terrified about coming back and explaining where I had been, but I received so much support from everyone – from my line manager to the Occupational Health team and other colleagues.

“At the Trust, I can talk to my line manager if I need to. He has told me to take breaks if I feel upset or need space. I feel much more optimistic now and am able to cope with work.

“I want other staff to know that there is help within the Trust and to not worry about asking for it.”

Anne Mulcahy, Occupational Health Manager at West London Mental Health NHS Trust, said: “Sometimes, workplace and personal pressures can impact a person’s health and wellbeing. However, we pride ourselves for having a Trust mental wellbeing policy that is focussed on supporting staff like Jo and reintegrating them back to work safely after they experience a crisis.

“Workplace wellbeing is at the top of our agenda. We are trying very hard to ensure that our staff have access to the right physical and mental health support so they remain happy and motivated while juggling the varying demands of their role.

“We have a confidential and supportive in-house counselling service, who also provide stress and resilience workshops. As well as this, we also promote exercise and healthy eating.”

Anyone wishing to access mental health support should speak to their GP in the first instance, or can self-refer to West London Mental Health NHS Trust’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services – these are located in the boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow and Hammersmith and Fulham:

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need urgent support, you can also contact West London Mental Health NHS Trust’s 24/7 helpline, Single Point of Access, on 0300 1234 244.