At the risk of sounding self-satisfied, I am excited about going to work today. This time last year, though, I didn’t feel excited.
I didn’t go to work, in fact, because I was in the Priory hospital, terribly ill with depression.
I had recently been promoted, but my illness had taken any quality of life away. I could barely get out of bed, shower, eat, or travel to work. I ignored calls from friends because I was afraid of having conversations. All I was doing was trying to get through one day so that it would be over, then the next one, and so on.
It’s hard to revisit this even now. But with there being nothing I could do to make myself feel better, my doctor and I decided to try hospital care to intensively treat my depression and restore a healthier me again.
I slowly got better. The medical support I received, the love and care of my husband, family and friends, and – critically – the support at KPMG, helped me.
I didn’t want to tell colleagues I was ill again with depression. Self-loathing, shame and feeling worthless are common symptoms of depression, but I knew rationally that there was nothing at all to be ashamed of because depression is an illness, so I was honest with my manager and my colleagues about why I was off work.
Their responses were so supportive. I received many emails and texts wishing me well, and it made a huge difference. I feared, then, I might never work again. Now I’m thinking about my next promotion.
This is why I am so pleased to read in the Business in the Community (BITC) Mental Health at Work Report 2017 that 53 per cent of employees surveyed say that they are comfortable talking about mental health at work – an increase from last year.
However, knowing the value of a proper support plan, I’m concerned that only 11 per cent of employees felt comfortable talking to a line manager about their mental health.
It makes me angry that the BITC Report found that, in 15 per cent of cases where an employee had disclosed a mental health issue to a line manager, that employee became subject to disciplinary procedures, dismissal or demotion. If you broke your arm and couldn’t type, you would not be disciplined.
At KPMG, we’re training our managers and colleagues to better understand mental health and how to help and support one another. I believe that training and understanding is pivotal in destigmatising mental health and should be applicable to all colleagues.
Organisations should support all colleagues to be their best selves at all times, including in times of ill health. I welcome the changes I’ve seen organisations start to make, to educate themselves about mental health, but there’s no reason why every organisations should not treat every colleague’s mental health with the same respect and support afforded physical health.
This is about decency and dignity. Think about how you talk in the office. If you find yourself whispering about mental ill health when you wouldn’t about physical ill health, ask yourself why?
Respect people’s privacy, of course, but don’t encourage stigma by treating mental health as something that shouldn’t be talked about. Fostering a culture of silence encourages people struggling to keep their pain to themselves, a contributing factor to the alarmingly high rates of suicide when that pain reaches crisis point.
Mental health is not shameful. It is not a weakness. We all have it. The most shameful thing is to forget the value of our brilliant colleagues and not to be kind when they need our support.
Read more: Eradicating the City's mental health stigma