Living with depression – Emma’s story

24 April 2016

Emma Final Main

Emma Baker, 29, from Eastbourne, works in employee relations and has been receiving treatment for depression. We talked to her about our recent research into mental health in the work place and she was not surprised by the finding that over a third of employees living with a mental health condition would not be open about their illness at work. Emma was keen to share her story, and the lessons she learned, in order to help others.

Recognise you have a problem

Emma’s mental health declined following the breakup of her marriage in 2012. She did not recognise she needed help until her condition resulted in her taking an overdose of painkillers and alcohol.

Talk to someone

Even though Emma had worked in employee relations for eight years, she said it was initially daunting discussing her mental health at work. She admits it took her a long time to accept that she needed support and was afraid to discuss it in case her colleagues and manager had a negative response towards her.

“I was hung up for a long time that I had to take anti-depressants at my age. I was scared my colleagues would make assumptions about me or may stop talking to me if they knew about the overdose and my medication, but I’ve come a long way since then.”

She continues: “I wish I hadn’t felt ashamed about what I was going through and I now know I should have been open about my mental health from the start – long before I reached my lowest point. People who judge me don’t understand the illness. After realising this, I am now more embarrassed discussing my love for TV soaps than my depression and I want others who may be in a similar situation to know they shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about their mental health.”

The research also revealed that nearly half of the employees surveyed say they would be more comfortable talking to their employer about their physical health than about their mental health.

Emma can identify with the findings and to help those in a similar situation she has shared her advice on how to start a conversation about your mental health.

Emma’s 5 top tips – How to speak to your manager about depression

1.    Speak up if you feel you need support. Don’t wait. If you know what kind of support you think would help, ask for it.
2.    Use whatever words help you explain what you’re going through. Don’t worry about watching what you say.
3.    Treat the conversation the same way as if you had a broken leg, where you would talk about the facts without being embarrassed.
4.    Be open and frank.
5.    The more you speak to your manager about your mental health, the easier it becomes.

To further help tackle stigma that hinders people from talking about mental health at work, Emma has also outlined her recommendations on how to approach a colleague who is living with depression.

Emma’s 5 top tips -- How to speak to a colleague with depression

1.    Instead of asking ‘How are you?’ which can be difficult to answer, ask ‘How are you feeling today?’ This has a narrower focus and is much easier to respond to.
2.    If you’re brushed off but think they’re not doing okay, ask them again how they really are. This might result in a more honest answer.
3.    Don’t be scared of saying the wrong thing – in my experience it’s worse not to speak to them at all than to say the wrong thing.
4.    Equally, let them know that it’s okay if they don’t feel ok and they don’t have to put a brave face on.
5.    Make it clear how you want to help. Instead of ‘Do you want a chat?’, try ‘Are you free at lunchtime? I fancy popping out for some fresh air and a chat.’ That shows you’re committing to help them and it’s an easier, more specific question to answer.

Taking action to make things better

Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare, comments: “Employers have a responsibility to create a work environment where employees feel able to be open and honest with their manager. Equally, managers need to feel confident to have a conversation with their employees about how they are and whether they need any support. This confidence can be built with training and support from their employer.’
“A manager asking simply ‘How are you feeling today?’ shows they care. It is also essential that managers can reassure employees that it’s okay not to feel okay and they should feel able to let the employee know about support available to them in the workplace and how to access it. For example, the manager could suggest the employee seeks professional help or uses support such as an employee assistance programme that their employer may offer.”

*Online survey of 1,000 British adults in employment, 328 of whom said they been diagnosed with or treated for a mental health related condition such as stress, anxiety or depression by a health professional such as a doctor, nurse, psychologist or counsellor. Research was conducted during December 2015 by OnePoll.