Understanding mental ill health

Today is World Mental Health Day. To acknowledge it we asked our staff if they would be willing to share any instances when they had suffered from mental ill health.  This is the first of three anonymous articles in which personal experiences are shared.


Back in the 1990s the words “mental health” didn’t really feature in the country’s vernacular. If you were stressed, anxious or depressed at work you either “got on with it” quietly or were put on anti-depressants and were viewed with suspicion by your team and employer – were you going to be a liability to the company? If so would they try and get rid of you?
Nowadays the world is waking up to the fact people are not invincible and anxiety to varying degrees is a normal part of life. It’s when it becomes overwhelming that a company is judged on how it responds.
In the late 90s I was starting my career and was loving it. Young and free of the shackles of a partner or kids, I was living my best life in a job and city I loved.
But somewhat naively I didn’t factor in someone within the team being a bully. At first it was so subtle I almost didn’t notice, but it wasn’t long before I realised I was being deliberately targeted, with comments, both directed at me and my superiors, designed to undermine me and my capabilities.
Within a couple of years of starting the job I had my first panic attack. I had absolutely no idea what it was at the time and can’t really remember much about it. But it floored me completely. I was scared, felt alone and vulnerable and I got taken to the doctor by my manager.
I spoke to a solicitor friend who gave me very valuable advice and guidance on employment law, but the trouble was my company didn’t have an HR department to whom I could go with evidence and to lodge a complaint. Going back to work afterwards was dreadful as the feelings of insecurity, guilt and anxiety were dreadful and it took me a year or so to get the courage to start looking for another job let alone leave.
I had a couple of panic attacks during the Covid pandemic but this time I could at least recognise what was going on, although it was incredibly unsettling and scary at the time.
Fortunately, I had a good friend who was experiencing the same feelings and we swapped notes and helpful suggestions as to how to manage the symptoms and recognise if an attack came on.
I feel lucky working for SBK in that I am fairly confident the powers that be would understand if I had another attack – or worse – and I would be supported by my team.
But there is always a worry in the back of my mind I would be considered a liability if I took time off to focus on my mental health and wellbeing and I don’t think I’m necessarily alone in that thought.
Our lives are now so busy and we are supposed to be doing so much – caring for children or elderly parents, working to make ends meet and having the most amazing social life with millions of Facebook friends. And then there are other stresses such as climate change, the effects of the pandemic, cost of living crisis and now the economy. The pressure is immense and at some point the cracks start to show.
Added to that, there still seems to be a stigma amongst some people that mental ill health is all in the mind and you should just put on a brave face, stiff upper lip or pull yourself together. None of it helpful to someone going through a hard time.
And the trouble is, unlike a physical illness – broken arm, flu etc – mental health is generally invisible. You only notice if someone is being unusually quiet or secretive, or not doing so well in their work. Flagging this up with the person concerned is helpful – a friendly “hi are you ok” is a great start.
But we need more acceptance of the causes, effects and symptoms of mental ill health both in and out of the workplace if this stigma is to completely go away. Those genuinely suffering need to know there is help out there and they won’t be judged. I hope one day that stigma will be eradicated for good.