Last Monday was World Mental Health Day - a day to raise global awareness of mental health problems. For someone like me, who has suffered from mental health problems for a number of years, it's a great opportunity to share my story and let other people know they're not alone.
So here goes. I'm Chris and I've been affected by mental health problems since I was a teenager. Like many of you who might be reading this, my illness used to make me feel frightened, alone and unsure where to turn for support. However, help can often be found in the most unlikely of places - for me, it was through my employer.
I began working for Pizza Hut Restaurants in 1998, initially cleaning tables and then quickly promoted to Deputy Manager. My Area Manager was keen to support my progression further but the demons that haunted me as a teenager returned and I felt completely unable to cope.
My mental health hadn't compromised my performance at work, but I knew it wouldn't be long before it did. I was terrified of telling anyone in case they judged me. Eventually I built up the courage to call the employee support line and they immediately put me at ease. They explained that I was entitled to counselling through the company, then organised a weekly session to start the very next morning.
This gave me the confidence to tell my managers, and I felt overwhelmed by their support. I took time off to consider my future and returned a couple of months later as a waiter to give myself a break from management. Later, with the support of my manager, I applied for the role of Area Trainer and was thrilled to get the job. I'm still here 18 years later and am proud to be one of the reasons behind Pizza Hut Restaurants' new partnership with Mental Health UK - a network of four national charities working across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to improve the lives of people with mental illness.
So why am I sharing my story?
One of the worst things about mental illness is that it makes you feel completely alone. At the beginning, it's really unfamiliar - you're not sure what's happening, how long it will last and if there's a way out. That is why I want to encourage people to have the courage to speak out and seek support - whether this is from friends, family or your employer. I'm living proof that it does get better.
I'm passionate about support for one reason: I received so much of it myself when I needed it the most. I want the growing movement of people like me, who have been through a mental illness, to offer help to those who are experiencing it for the first time. This might mean just giving one or two hours a month to a mental health support network. You'll be surprised what a big difference this can make to someone who has no one else to talk to.
I also want to encourage more businesses to put mental health on their agenda - the support and flexibility I got from Pizza Hut Restaurants gave me the time I needed to recover. And it's a win-win situation as I'm a much more loyal employee as a result of being part of such a supportive culture. But I know other people aren't always as lucky and their job can suffer as a result. This needs to change.
Once you start talking about mental health, you realise it affects so many more people (both directly and indirectly) than you first thought. It's like 'the big C' 30 years ago. That's not to say that dealing with cancer has got any easier - but now, with much more information available, feelings of loneliness can be replaced with feelings of hope. This is how we should be talking about mental health. We have a long way to go; but I hope within the next few decades, we can end the taboo once and for all.
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