Navigating Mental Illness at Work – My Story

Catherine Recruiting

There are times in your life when you just know something is wrong. That was me at the beginning of this year. I realised I was spending more time stressing about work than I was achieving anything at work. I would have bouts of uncontrollable crying. Scariest of all were the days where I didn’t want to get out of bed. When I just wanted to close my eyes and not open them again.

There is a still a stigma around issues of mental health, even though according to the World Health Organisation, it’s estimated that 20% of the adult working population is dealing with some kind of mental health issue. When a fifth of the workplace is going through something, it’s important to acknowledge and deal with it. And while I’m not on the other side of my problems yet, here are five lessons I have learnt along the way.

1. Be honest with yourself

The first thing I had to do was admit to myself that there were things that weren’t working. Understanding that I am a human being with physical limits was the first step to fixing the problem. Although when you’re struggling with mental health it can be difficult to know what you’re really feeling and why you’re feeling it, it’s an important thing to take stock of. Admitting to myself that there were things at work that I found overwhelming and difficult to deal with was an important first step to making sure I didn’t completely burn out.

2. Be honest with your employer

The next thing I had to do (as scary as this step can be) was to tell my Manager what was going on. While it’s true that some bosses are more understanding than others, not speaking up will get you nowhere and can make things worse. I was thankfully in the fortunate position of having two managers who were supportive and willing to give me the space to figure out what I wanted to do going forward. Even if this isn’t the case, however, it’s a good thing to know. You don’t want to find yourself stuck at a company that doesn’t value it’s employees enough to support them through rough patches. Assessing your Manager’s reaction, whether supportive or unsupportive, will give you a good indication of what your next steps will be.

3. Have a plan

This part can be super tough, especially if you are struggling to see past the day ahead of you, but it’s vital. The only way you can move forward is to move forward, even if it’s just one step at a time. In my case, that meant cutting back on some of my responsibilities at work and focussing on the things I knew I could do well. I know I’m a good writer, so I wanted to keep posting blogs for Job Crystal. I know I’m good at proofreading and editing, so I wanted to focus more on CV typing.

Further than work, however, it’s also important to have a mental health plan in place. For me, this meant finding hobbies outside of work that filled my emotional tank. It also meant seeing a therapist and working with a doctor to find a medication that helped settle the chemical imbalances that were causing my anxiety and depression. For you, reducing some of your responsibilities might already fix the problem. Perhaps finding a new work environment might be what’s needed. Perhaps therapy and/or medication would be helpful for you. As long as you have a strategy, you’ll be able to take steps in the right direction.

4. Know it gets better

A few months ago, it was a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I feel motivated when I wake up. As overwhelming as tackling your mental health may seem now, with the right help and support, it really does get better. Know who your supporters are and don’t be afraid to admit when you need help. It may seem like too much and like things will never change, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t give up before you get there.

5. Know it’s a process

I’m still recovering and know I will be for a long time to come. As much as I want to be on the other side of it, like any illness it’s a process. We don’t expect people recovering from physical illnesses to be 100% healthy straight away. We acknowledge that it takes time and the right conditions for them to get healthy again. It’s no different with mental illnesses. Recovery is an ongoing thing and making peace with that will mitigate some of the frustrations you might feel. Get enough rest. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Know the things that fill you up outside of work. These are all things that will make the process easier to deal with.

Most importantly

Be kind to yourself. Mental illness is a hectic thing to go through and being mad at yourself only makes it worse. Know that even by admitting that there’s something wrong, you’re a fighter. There is support out there and it really does get better (even if it takes a while).

If you or anyone you know is dealing with any kind of issue with mental health, you can find support and help here: https://www.opencounseling.com/hotlines-za