It comes as no surprise to me to read the annual report from Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies that states more must be done to help keep people with mental illnesses gainfully employed. The 70 million working days lost to mental illness last year cost £70-£100billion to the economy... and that's before you take into account the personal suffering of those who simply don't feel well enough to work.
I can relate. In 14 years of full-time employment, I've only had three panic attacks at work. Each time I was demoted, had my shifts reduced and, at worst, put through a humiliating disciplinary procedure that left me broken for months... You see, I had asthma as a child and it developed into anxiety attacks. My Dad has epilepsy. Can you imagine someone being demoted after having an epileptic fit at work? Of course not.
Anxiety is a disease of the mind but it's not ALL in the mind. Telling someone having a panic attack to 'calm down' is frankly insulting. But I understand completely why some colleagues, and especially small business owners, don't or won't take it seriously.
There are two things that people who are lucky enough never to experience this need to know. Firstly - a panic attack sends the body into fight or flight mode. With me, it goes one of two ways. I either throw up so much that I can't catch my breath, no oxygen goes to my brain and I collapse. Or all the blood rushes to the heart, my legs turn to 'entropy' and I collapse. Either way, I collapse.
The second thing I'd like people to know is that anti-anxiety medication makes you worse before you are better. A LOT worse. I was signed off for three weeks in May and too scared to leave the house. So when you change meds or, heaven forbid, forget to take them, buckle up for a rough ride.
I've written a lot in the past about how I dislike SSRIs but I am on them at the moment. When you get to a certain low, they can be life-changing. But, when I'm at my best, I don't take any meds. I eat well, exercise, go to the beach, talk to my friends... I'm also at my best when I'm self-employed, and have control over my schedule, so I can just batten down the hatches on a bad day.
But generally, being gainfully employed is good for my anxiety as it boosts my self-esteem, keeps me busy so I don't brood so much and gives me that all-important human contact day to day.
So of course more should be done to help those with mental illnesses stay in work. If you've got a right to live, you've got a right to work - right?