THE BLOG

All in Your Head? Protecting Your Mental Health at Work

10/03/2015 12:23 GMT | Updated 09/05/2015 10:59 BST

I studied Law at university and didn't do the best I probably could've done. Amongst nights out and missed lectures, the one thing I note now when I look back is the lack of anxiety in my life in a situation many found incredibly stressful.

When I left university I barrelled straight in to my first job, working in a media agency as a 'grad'. I was told it would be 'fast-paced'. The term 'baptism of fire' was mentioned so many times that seven years later it remains etched in to my brain.

I was working in central London and absolutely loved the buzz of it all.

In total I worked five jobs in London.

Last year I walked out of my job on the verge of a full on meltdown.

Keep calm and carry on

It started years back with small things. In meetings I noticed I would feel panicky if I wasn't sat by the door- I felt trapped in the room, as if everyone's eyes were on me. I much preferred to be at my desk, head down, getting on with my work.

I was anxious on the tube, to the point where I had to run off and sit, head in hands on the station. My heart beat ridiculously fast at the thought I was trapped in that metal box, face-to-pit with sweaty commuters.

I was exhausted and emotional when I got home at night. I felt I was negotiating my way through a daily sea of anxiety and washing up on the shore every evening.

Eventually I stopped going out of my flat, stopped seeing friends very much or even going to the supermarket. The only way I could socialise was with the crutch of alcohol fuelling my sails.

The invisible curse

Whilst employers are aware of the concept of 'stress' and (some) seek to address the problem, they still aren't taking the broad spectrum of mental health problems seriously.

How is it that something which affects a quarter of the population is still referred to as 'the last workplace taboo'?

How is it that in 2010, 72% of workplaces still had no formal mental health policy?

It's the age old problem; if you can't see it, how do you know it's real?

Prevention is better than cure

The Department of Health suggests a number of 'workplace adjustments' to be applied based on an individual's disclosure. These include flexibility on working times, minimising noise, creating a calm workspace and providing a mediator in case of any issues.

But why aren't these standard practice, whether or not you've disclosed your problem?

I've suffered with anxiety and depression over the past four years and would never approach an employer with a proactive admission of my problems. A number of my previous bosses would've ignored it or made snide comments. Others were too busy to approach.

Who really wants to meet with HR about their mental health 'issues' when studies show 40% of employers view workers with mental health conditions as a 'significant risk'?

As an employee, you can't expect your boss to be a mind reader. What you can and must demand is an infrastructure within your company to promote mental wellbeing for employees; to feel that someone is responsible and accountable for day to day issues.

Whilst your mental health is your own responsibility and something you carry with you on a daily basis, your employer has a duty of care. Creating an environment that both stimulates and calms is essential, considering that you spend more time in their workplace than anywhere else.

Whether it's a permanent home-working pilot system for all employees, enforced monthly duvet days for all or hot desking around the building, these shouldn't be one-off gestures. They are not designed to inspire gratitude in your staff.

They're ongoing, genuine measures, just because you can (and must).