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Managing my mental health at work

As today is World Mental Health Day, I wanted to take a little time to talk to you about mental health at work. More specifically, how my mental health problems have impacted on my work, and the strategies and support I have in place that enable me to work day-to-day and minimise the impact of the problems that my bipolar occasionally likes to throw at me!

I have been in some form of employment pretty much the whole of my adult life – bar the three years I did my nurse training (which often felt like having a full-time job, as placement required you to work a full-time schedule!). I have been in one job or another since I was 16 years old.

However, it wasn’t until I began to work full-time at 21 that my mental health started to cause me problems at work. I was working in an office-based civil service job, and I ended up taking a period of long-term sickness due to my mental health. I struggled at this point in my life to articulate how I felt, and I never once spoke to with my manager or colleagues about how I felt. As a result of this, I impulsively decided to leave that job and become a nurse instead (as you do).

Fast forward 12 years to the present day, and my current job. I’m a registered nurse and I work within a clinical specialty. Last year I had a marked and rapid deterioration in my mental health, and I was struggling to cope. My sleeping pattern had gone out of the window and I had swung into a deep depression. I emailed my manager and asked if I could speak to her in private, and it was like the floodgates just opened and it all just came rushing out. I told her everything that had happened over the years, and about my diagnosis.

I felt so ashamed, and so guilty. I hadn’t been in the job long, and I felt like such a failure. But my manager was wonderful: she comforted me, and made sure that I knew that my welfare and taking the time needed to get better was the priority.

Staying in the loop

I was off work for three months in total. During my absence, she kept in touch with me via text message, which I really appreciated as I often found it impossible to talk on the telephone. She would keep me updated on developments at work, which I liked because I felt ‘in the loop’ about what was going on, and when I was ready to go back it helped that I wasn’t suddenly overwhelmed with three month’s worth of information to digest!

I had a few appointments with occupational health, and with them, we (myself, my occupational health nurse and my manager) devised a plan of reasonable adjustments to help me at work. These include things like taking additional short ‘reset breaks’ when I’m feeling stressed, and adjusting my working time with earlier starts/finishes to allow me to spend more time with my husband, who is my main source of support.  We also have a ‘catch up’ session together each week (usually over a coffee) where we talk about how I’m feeling, which I find really helpful.

I haven’t always been ‘out’ about my mental health problems – in fact, this is the first job where my manager and immediate colleagues have even known about them.

I have found their support invaluable, and with some tweaks to my working pattern, I am better able to manage my mental health at work.

I’ve been back for 8 months now, and I’m doing well. I still get bad days, sometimes bad weeks too. But by making some reasonable adjustments, they are helping me manage my bipolar and keep me healthy at work.

Joanne

Joanne is a research nurse and a mental health campaigner with lived experience of bipolar disorder.

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