What I wish I could tell my boss: ‘You saved my life when I was suicidal’

The teacher: I am now a manager myself, and I never forget that a boss has the ability to change lives

To say I was feeling low would be an understatement. A dramatic and unforeseen turn of events transformed my happy life into a trauma overnight. Depression felt like my life was crumbling, the ground ripped from beneath my feet.

In desperate need for stability I threw myself into work with a new-found intensity. I was often the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. Work gave me purpose, but my sense of self became entwined in work – perhaps it wasn’t healthy, but pride in my work boosted my sense of worth and esteem.

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How to take a guilt-free holiday as a freelancer

Working for yourself means taking time off is not as simple as turning an out-of-office response on

I know the exact moment on my recent holiday where I finally relaxed after months of overdoing it. Towards the end of a trip to the US, my friend and I spent an afternoon of trashy pleasure on the Warner Bros studio tour in Los Angeles.

After winding through film sets, our tour cart stopped outside a building that housed props from the Harry Potter movies. I’m not a Potter addict, but I found myself staring into a glass case filled with magic wands. Without realising, I gasped in a moment of unthinking awe. After months of staring at a computer screen, my brain had finally unclenched.

Taking time away means turning down opportunities. Unless you’re being offered a career-defining gig, try to say no

Related: Wanderlust: five ways to keep your job while travelling the world

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Thinking of a career in therapy? Here are your options

Understanding the difference between counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist can be confusing. Here’s our guide to training as a therapist

The route towards a career in counselling or therapy is baffling. When I began my journey eight years ago, I was struck by the jargon and lack of clear, streamlined advice: would I need a PhD, masters or diploma? Should I specialise or generalise? Work with adults or children, individuals or groups, families or couples? Pursue humanistic, psychoanalytic or cognitive behavioural training?

I couldn’t even comprehend the difference between a counsellor, psychotherapist and psychologist, let alone the difference between a psychoanalyst and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist.

Related: ‘I feel privileged if someone says I trust you’: working with domestic abuse survivors

The courses are also intense and emotionally triggering, which is important to know before undergoing training

Related: Mental health workers struggle with stigma about their own issues

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Insecure work and zero-hour contracts hit ill women the hardest

The majority of workers on low pay or zero-hour contracts are women, which adds to the stress when they experience long-term health issues

When Sue Heller was diagnosed with multiple-sclerosis (MS) at the age of 33, she knew that her employer’s support was vital. She was offered a higher-paid job a few years ago, but she turned it down: “When I asked what would happen if my health deteriorated, they couldn’t make any guarantees. At that point I realised I was better off where I was, even at a lower wage.”

Women in the UK are three times more likely to get MS – often during their 20s and 30s, when most are navigating the early stages of their career. There are many chronic illnesses, like heart disease, that affect men more often than women: but a range of additional factors come into play with regards to women’s health problems and the workplace.

Related: ‘Be yourself and never apologise for it’ – career advice from successful women

Related: Three ways to succeed at work (if you’re a woman)

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What I wish I could tell my boss: ‘When I told you I was depressed, you fired me’

Watching you talk about how you support people will mental health makes me anxious – I hope no one else has to endure what I did

Before I started working for you, I idolised you. Your office looked incredible and I couldn’t think of anything better than having dogs running around my feet as I worked, and in-office play equipment which took me back to the days I spent running around soft play areas as a child. I couldn’t have been more infatuated, until you started talking about mental health. When you told the camera how supportive your company was, I knew I needed to work for you.

Related: What I wish I could tell my boss: ‘I was broken, and you fixed me’

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Freelancing made my depression worse – here’s how I learnt to cope

Unpredictable income, reduced human contact and over reliance on social media makes self-employment even harder for people with mental health issues

I remember the day I decided to take the plunge and go freelance. It was 2015, I was in a full-time job I wasn’t satisfied with, and the thought of it stretching out infinitely in front of me felt stifling.

In my inbox was an offer of a short-term contract that would give me the freedom and flexibility I craved; I envisaged mornings spent cooking myself healthy breakfasts and jogging before starting work, revelling in the fact that every day could bring new commissions and challenges I hadn’t expected.

I’d been so seduced by the millennial, Instagram-ideal of freelancing that I hadn’t even considered the negatives

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What I wish I could tell my boss: ‘I was broken, and you fixed me’

The teacher: I’d been suffering anxiety for weeks when I came to you, and you did everything in your power to help save my life

I was broken when I came to you. My life felt futile, my existence pointless. I had been crying for days. I was always tired and never hungry. My body weight was down by 15lbs. I’d been suffering anxiety attacks, both day and night, for several weeks. Muscles in my arms and legs were twitching uncontrollably. I’d been to the hospital’s emergency department twice with thoughts of suicide. I was trying to hide it, but I know I looked sick. I didn’t want to admit my mental illness to anyone, but I couldn’t go on hiding my depression. So I came to you.

My brain had turned against me, but you joined my side of the battle

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Mental health workers struggle with stigma about their own issues

Cuts and stretched services are affecting the mental health of carers in the sector, with many too ashamed to seek help

Understanding around mental health is improving: campaigns such as Time To Change have drawn public awareness to the issue and employers are realising the affects of dedicated wellbeing support to staff – which have led to a 30% reduction in mental health-related absences. But surprisingly, stigma still exists for those working in mental healthcare themselves.

Many people working in the sector are reluctant to talk about their own experiences, says Elizabeth Cotton, an academic at Middlesex University researching the topic. She was one of them. “I walked a thin line between being a competent professional and feeling like a fraud at managing my own mental health at work.”

Related: ‘I work full-time yet can’t afford to meet my basic needs’: care workers speak out

I still think every day about the patients I worked with and how the system is failing them

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