Telling my boss about my mental health was so hard but worth it

By Rachel O Neill

I was first diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder when I was 19 but really I’d been suffering from it for as long as I could remember. I thought it was normal to get obsessed with studying for exams and to cry if I got 85 out of 100 instead of 90. I thought it was completely normal to have your brain scream things at you that you would never dream of saying to another person. I thought it was normal to be sad all the time. In reality, getting my diagnosis was my first step to admitting that my normality wasn’t everyone else's.

I was prescribed antidepressants and started seeing a therapist. I was of the belief that I could cure myself by talking to someone and taking my pills. I didn’t understand that anxiety and depression need to be managed rather than cured. So I took myself out of therapy and weaned myself off my meds, convinced that I was fine. I would go on to have a breakdown a year later and would go back to therapy for nearly 15 months.

I’m very open about my struggles and my problems but that doesn’t make it easy to tell people about them. You don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable and most of all, you don’t want to be treated differently to anyone else. You just want to be seen as a colleague that works hard and does their best regardless. 

Telling my manager about my problems was hard. It’s something you have to prepare for. You rehearse in your head what you’ll say and how they might react. In reality, I had nothing to worry about. My manager was very understanding about my problems and has been incredibly supportive in managing workloads when I need it.

Our work lives are more hectic than they used to be. Ever-changing deadlines, longer commutes and increased pressure means that employees can often feel like they have nobody to talk to. I wanted to do something about it and was lucky enough to be  given the opportunity to help IAPI and TABS launch SMASH, a campaign around their new employee assistance programme.

The programme which is run by Spectrum and offers 24/7 support for a range of different issues including mental health support, financial advice, legal advice and career advice. 

It’s a really good programme and I’m so proud to be involved in the launch because I believe that every employee should have access to it. 

More and more of us are taking days off work for mental health reasons. We don’t always say it’s mental health because there is still a stigma attached to taking time off for it. But with an EAP like Spectrum available, we can feel more comfortable in recognising and tackling our problems before they turn into a major crisis.

For those of us like me, who have been managing their conditions for longer, it’s comforting to know that there is a resource there for you if you need it. 

My mental health problems haven’t gone away. They are conditions that I have to manage closely. I’ve been on antidepressants for the last 18 months and I see a therapist regularly too. Even in doing all that, I can still struggle to get out of bed or to see my friends regularly making my head a lonely place to be.

That being said, I’m optimistic that things always have the potential to get better and being able to share my story with my colleagues has shown that. Hopefully with a little more talk and a lot more action, more organisations will follow in IAPI’s footsteps and support their employees as much as they can.

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