Friday 20th July 2018. That was the first time I’d ever discussed my challenges with mental ill health. I was attending a training course and was asked to speak about a time I had faced and overcome, adversity. At first, my mind went blank as my initial reaction was I’d never had to conquer what seemed like impossible odds.
Then out of nowhere I was taken back 17 years to my second year at Bournemouth University. It was during this time as a student that I experienced suicidal thoughts.
Back in the training course room, I found myself telling my story to a group of strangers and their collective jaw dropped. Their reaction and their subsequent feedback compelled me to make time in my life for a new purpose: to use what I’d been through to create positive, meaningful and lasting change in the awareness and acceptance of mental health.
I work for Sainsbury’s Argos as a Digital Product Manager. When I got into the office on the Monday morning, the first thing I did was write to Mark Steel, our Digital Director and the Board Exec I ultimately report to, to ask what was being done about mental health in our workplace. Handily for me, the answer was although there was work underway, there was a significant opportunity to do A LOT more.
Within weeks this led to Mark and I creating the first Mental Health and Wellbeing Group at Sainsbury’s Argos, working with our colleagues in the Sainsbury’s Group Wellbeing & Diversity teams. We had 5 or 6 passionate colleagues who wanted to support, and I was nominated to Chair the newly formed group. Within a few more weeks we were organising our first event where we shared our ambitions as a group and I shared my story. Over 120 colleagues came to that event and the reaction was completely unexpected.
The event inspired and motivated colleagues on the topic of mental health. It generated momentum and enthusiasm from across the business including our Board of Directors. Since that first event we’ve hosted one further event and co-hosted another event on ‘Wellbeing’ in partnership with colleagues in our Gender Balance Network. Also, the Mental Health and Wellbeing group we created on our internal comms platform (we use Yammer) has over 700 members with content and discussions being posted multiple times every day.
We are making progress and it feels like we’re at the start of a transformational journey. We know there is still much to do, with ambitious plans being created by our Group Wellbeing Manager, Catherine Earley, to make our 200,000 colleagues feel more supported, more comfortable and more empowered to have conversations about mental health.
Sharing my story in the workplace
I had no fear and no doubt about sharing my story publicly. I felt completely supported and encouraged by Sainsbury’s Argos and particularly by Mark (Digital Director). The Sainsbury’s Group takes inclusion and diversity seriously and encourages all its colleagues to be themselves at work.
Since sharing my story and taking a lead on championing the broader mental health agenda I’ve felt no stigma. I’ve been supported to spend a % of my working week (as well as my personal time) on mental health activities. All of this is in the context of continuing to grow my career, develop my skills and work towards a promotion.
How I manage my mental health at work
My 10(ish!) top tips for how to better manage your mental health at work:
- Spend some time looking at the support your employer offers. Do they offer an Employee Assistance Programme for example?
- It’s okay not to be okay. Talk to someone; a friend or family member, a colleague, your boss, or a charity like The Samaritans
- Take a break. Even if it’s for 20 minutes, step away from your desk and clear your head
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. You’ll feel brighter and less sluggish
- Get active. The benefits of physical exercise on mental health are well documented. Skip the tube and walk to the office, or take a 30 min HIT class at lunchtime
- Read a book. If work becomes overwhelming do something else. Give your mind a chance to switch off and focus elsewhere. You’ll come back to your work with a fresh perspective
- Find balance. Consciously manage what’s important in your life. Family, friends, hobbies and passions need their fair share of time and attention
- Put work into perspective. Unless you’re a healthcare professional you’re unlikely to be making life or death decisions at work
- Be the master of your diary. Block time throughout the week where you can focus on what’s most important for you to get done, and not what others deem important
- Eat the frog. Start your day with the task you least want to do or the task which is most complicated. Once that’s done, the rest of your day can only get better 🙂
- Bonus tip…How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you’re working on a project that seems insurmountable start small and it’ll become less intimidating
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