Preventing a mental health pandemic

I would urge all of us to take heed of the mental health narrative currently popular in the media.

As a survivor of burnout, my eyes and ears are tuned to the frequency with which we are warned, post pandemic, about its prevalence particularly in schools and the workplace. Thankfully, lock down inadvertently created a slow rising tide of action in the business community regarding mental health awareness and I would encourage business leaders to use the post pandemic dialogue as a catalyst for embedding sound mental health strategies in the workplace.  We must ensure we do not pay lip service to the problem in a similar fashion to politicians and unwittingly follow the climate crisis approach. We will need more meaningful creativity than dress down Fridays and Whack-a-mole Mondays.

1st June 2019 11pm saw the arrival of my burnout (most survivors can pinpoint time and place).  A tsunami washed me away, mentally, emotionally and physically. Like most, I had ignored my symptoms for decades, until my wife’s forceful coaxing as the family couldn’t tolerate my behaviours anymore.

Unaware of my impending unravelling, I opened my mouth to defend and an immeasurable emotional torrent hammered me from nowhere. I fell off the face of the earth for the first 3 months and mostly slept (coma fashion) as walking a few paces, standing upright, generally functioning, were all bone achingly exhausting. Sights, sounds, inter-acting, were all overwhelming.

After 3 months, I returned to work (previous employer and 3 months too early) as full pay ended and it took a good 9-12 months before I was able to contribute again meaningfully.  Personally, my family would say, they’re still awaiting a complete return.

Not sure who I was during this phase, but with the support of my family, counsellor, dogs, nature, friends and colleagues, I slowly started to re-emerge and 2 1/2yrs on, thankfully, I have not returned to my old normal self and have embraced a version of me that continues to thrive.

We owe it to ourselves and each other to have meaningful conversations and encourage meaningful actions to prevent the need for sticking plaster solutions. The impact from both a business and, much more importantly, a personal perspective is too important to ignore. It is the responsibility of all to change the narrative of celebrating long hours and overwork at the expense of personal time and instead strategically plan in an impactful, reflective manner to reduce pressure points and celebrate a visible, well-practiced wellbeing culture. Seeking professional help is not failure – I’ve accepted my continuing essential counselling sessions as an MOT or regular service.

DNA makes us all wonderfully unique and our individual life experiences mean our chemical and emotional responses to events will be different, along with our coping and healing strategies.  Each business will require flexibility in their approach to mental health and, with compassion for ourselves and others, now is the perfect time for positive action.

If anyone would like to find out more or share experiences, please do get in touch.