The theme of this year’s #mentalhealthawarenessweek is ‘surviving or thriving’ – but what if it feels like you can’t do either?
The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May) this year is “Surviving or Thriving”, focusing on the difference between the two. I guess the point is that, you know, lots of people living with poor mental health are managing to get out of bed occasionally and not die – but are we really thriving?
What even is thriving? When you have poor mental health, it’s pretty hard to thrive, especially under a government that’s seeking to destroy every single last vestige of hope we have for a realistic or healthy recovery. It’s bad enough struggling with your mental health when you’re at home in your bed, but when you have to drag yourself to work every single day and behave like a clean, human person, it’s a whole other story. Mind found recently that one in five workers would not disclose stress or mental health issues to their manager for fear of being made redundant, and it’s pretty clear that many of us find it difficult to maintain our mental health at work. Here are some tips from some actual people who’ve gone through it and are trying their best to thrive (or just survive) at work.
TRY TO BE HONEST
If you’re going through a slightly better time with your mental health, it can be tempting to just not bring it up at all and act like everything is always going to be fine. It’s probably not. If you don’t disclose your issues, nobody has a chance to support you in any kind of way. You don’t necessarily have to bring it up in the interview, but the sooner you let people know what you suffer with and what kind of allowances you may need, the better your managers can treat you when it comes to a time you aren’t feeling so great. “I find it incredibly useful and relaxing to speak to my employer about it as early as possible, sometimes even going straight to the boss and CEO to let them know,” says Joe, who works in social media and suffers from depression and anxiety. “Every time I've done so, they've reacted really helpfully and sympathetically, letting me know if I ever need time off to sort myself out, or even to just talk, then they're there. Knowing that people are aware of it diffuses the situation enough to make sure I don't feel guilty or flaky when things do go wrong sometimes.” The chances are your seniors won’t react in a negative way – if they do, it’s not really a work environment you’re suited for.
“Being inside all day made me feel trapped, so just getting out for your breaks instead of hanging in a break room is a way to take a mental break” – Jenna
BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN MANAGE
When you’re having a slightly better time or you’re trying to prove yourself, it can be tempting to go a bit mad and take on as much work as possible. You need to know your own limits – can you handle working at the weekend? Going on trips? Doing work after hours? Or do you need more time to recharge? Be upfront about what you can cope with, just as you would with any other disability. “Adding extra stress onto what you're already struggling with is just going to make everything multiply,” says Chris, who suffers from Bipolar. “Even if it works for a couple of days, it makes things worse, in the long run, every single time”.
GET THE FUCK OUTSIDE
Obviously, a Pret lunch in a park isn’t going to cure your depression. But sitting inside all day for at least 40 hours a week, trapped by the same windowless walls, certainly isn’t going to help it. Even if it’s grey outside, it’s still worth at least heading up the street to a cafe instead of eating a packed lunch at your desk. There are a tonne of reasons why this is a good idea – actually getting some sun, for one. Being away from colleagues and feeling like your own person. Getting some fresh air. Being so far away from your desk that nobody can make you do anything. “Try to get outside if you work in an office,” affirms Jenna, who has anxiety. “Being inside all day made me feel trapped, so just getting out for your breaks instead of hanging in a break room is a way to take a mental break as well.”
DO STUFF THAT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD
Work is usually boring. It’s bad. If you’re depressed and it’s a struggle just to get through the doors every morning, you’re probably going to feel awful all day long. Try to find things to break up the day that will make you feel a bit less awful. Reward yourself just for being awake and alive and at work - read on the tube if that’s what you’re into, have a nice breakfast, eat some sweets in the middle of the day, have an actually nice lunch with a pal. It won’t fix you, but it’ll make work a little more bearable if you have things throughout the day to look forward to. I spoke to Ben, who talked about the virtues of enjoying things both at work and outside of it. “Find time to invest in good entertainment, make lists of things you want to digest and tick them off”, he suggests.
HAVE A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM OUTSIDE OF WORK
Even the best, most understanding employers are still just that – employers. They (most of the time) care far more about making money and getting as much labour out of you as possible than they do about your feelings, home life, or emotional health. That’s not OK, it fucking sucks, and there are leaps and bounds to be made by corporations and the government in this area. Until you can find a job that does care about your mental health – and even if you already do – it’s important to make sure you have everything in place outside of work. Take your pills, make time for therapy, exercise if it helps, and if possible have great friends that you can speak to when work (and anything else) is getting you down. The better your all-round wellbeing is, the better your chances are of ‘thriving’ at work, in spite of how you may feel. “Eat good – having a stocked kitchen and fridge, take time out to do a real shop once a week and buy fresh fruit and veg,” stresses Ben. “Find time to clean your house, do the laundry – having a clean and tidy home to come home to will make things at least five per cent easier.”