As you’ll know if you’ve read my last blog, there have been a few changes in my life recently, one of which was a change of job. When anything changes in your life there is an opportunity for anxiety to set in. Your mind can start running riot with all questions that all too soon you will start getting the answers to – “will I be able to do the job?”, “will people I fit in with the team?”, “will I enjoy it?” – the list goes on. Fortunately, when I started my new job I managed to keep any of those anxious thoughts at bay but there was one thing that made me feel anxious – the dreaded health questionnaire!
I don’t know whether the health questionnaire causes as much stress in everyone but as soon as I find out I need to complete one, it starts my mind racing. I’m quite lucky in that despite having issues with my mental health, I have never had any time off work because of it and by taking my medication it is kept under control well. This is not what worries me when I fill in the questionnaire as my anxiety comes from the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. There has been a lot of good work done to try and break the stigma of mental illness, but it does remain. As you are the new face in the office you don’t want to introduce yourself by telling everyone your history but equally it is something that I’ve tried to be open about. One analogy would be that if you went to a party you wouldn’t introduce yourself with “Hi, I’m Stuart and I suffer from depression” so why would you do that with a new job?
I’ve had a few roles since I was diagnosed with depression but since Dan’s passing I’ve tried to be more open about it and have disclosed it when completing the medical questionnaires. It always prompts the same dilemma though about whether you should tell them or not and whether that will then have an impact on your role and your future career with the company. This is especially the case when you have never taken any time off because of the illness. On the other side of that argument there is the principle that your medical history should be kept private so it shouldn’t have any bearing on your job, but it is better that your employer knows so that they can help if you do find that you are struggling. It’s always a dilemma that I need to reconcile but I’m very much of the view now that I should be as open as possible about it so that people can see the reality of having a hidden illness. If I had a broken arm it would be obvious to everyone and your employer would then make the necessary arrangements to get you back to normal as soon as possible so why shouldn’t this be the case for hidden illnesses?
One thing that made this time slightly different from previous new jobs (where I don’t think anyone looked at the forms after they had been completed) was that I received a phone call from an occupational health nurse. When she left the message, she said that there was nothing to worry about but even with such reassurance it still set alarm bells ringing! When I spoke to her my mind was put to rest as we went through everything and I explained where I was and how I manage my condition. I told her about my self-care and the things that I do to keep myself on an even keel and she was happy with the answers. It’s something that I must try and keep on top of especially if I see any signs that things are changing. It was nice that they had taken some action following completion of the form, but it hadn’t caused any concern over my ability to do my job. You never know what is going to happen if things do take a turn for the worse but given the level of support I’ve had so far, I would like to think the support would be there. Hopefully I won’t ever need to find out, but the more employers take mental illness seriously, the better for all employees. As it is a growing problem across the world, the more support that there can be the better it will be for everyone.
One thing that I have noticed that I would like to do in the future is a Mental Health First Aid course. I’ve found the course in Leeds which aims to teach people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental illness. The course prepares you on how to recognise the crucial signs of mental ill health. By learning the signs and being able to recognise them you can then provide initial help or be able to guide the person towards appropriate help. If you want any further details have a look here. By doing the course I would be able to have a greater impact at work and with the Foundation.
Onwards and upwards