World Mental Health Day: 'Create workplace cultures in which it's OK to not be OK'

On World Mental Health Day, Business in the Community's Kate Hinder discusses 'the mixed bag of responses' she has experienced from employers regarding her mental health, and the benefits a humane approach can have on employees.

Thursday 3 October was a Big Day for me.

Business in the Community (BITC) was launching a report into Scotland's mental health at work, in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits and the BITC Wellbeing Leadership Team. I'd worked on both the Scotland report and the creation and delivery of the event itself for weeks, so I had invested a great deal in the success of the event.

But that wasn't what made it a Big Day. It was a Big Day because I had agreed to join a panel of three speakers to share our lived experience of mental ill health with a room full of 100 people.

Sharing 25 years of my life in about five minutes, I talked about the severe depressive episode that cut short the final year of my university education in the early 1990s and put me in a psychiatric hospital for several months – a life-saving intervention, I have no doubt. I talked about returning to university, gaining my degree and how I felt when I joined the world of work – like I was carrying a shameful secret.

I shared the mixed bag of responses I have received employers over the years. One boss was very pragmatic about me leaving early once a week to see a therapist; another organisation took a bureaucratic approach that felt punitive and wasn't helpful. Others never knew my diagnosis at all because, basically, it still didn't feel OK to sometimes not be OK. 

The good news, which really struck home with me on my Big Day: that's not how I feel now. 

What's changed to make me feel differently? I've been in the BITC family for more than six years now and, during this period, have experienced some fair bumps in the road in terms of my mental health. A real game changer for me has been the response of my employer when I've been unwell. I have been treated with compassion, empathy, dignity and respect – in short humanely. Practical, sensible adjustments have been made to my hours and duties for short periods of time and without fuss to allow me to recover while remaining in work, done with the knowledge that work is vital to my health and sense of identity and that I can still contribute.

I work very hard to stay well, knowing that my diagnosis of anxiety and depression is a lifelong companion. I take very effective medication, see a therapist regularly, practice a martial art and go bouldering as often as time allows. I am honest with my family and with my colleagues about how I'm doing. I know that, just any other health condition, as long as mine is treated effectively and appropriately, I am just as able as any other person to deliver the goods at work. 

We will all be affected by mental health issues at some point in our lives, either first-hand, or because someone we know is unwell. This makes it all the more important that we create workplace cultures in which it's OK to not be OK. So, my secret is out, and I feel no shame.

This is me – and that's OK. 

Kate Hinder is Senior Manager, Communications and Campaigns for BITC Scotland. She is Co-Chair of BITC’s Be Well network, and sits on the Steering Committee of This is Me Scotland.  

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