Talking mental health this men’s health week

mens health week

Supporting your employees with mental health awareness and wellbeing at work learning programmes is essential to nurture and develop your teams in the workplace.

With recent campaigns and initiatives for companies too including mental health awareness week in May, wellbeing a major theme for the CIPD festival of work and this week brings men’s health week we thought important to share real life stories with the aim of supporting each other in this area.

This week’s blog is written by one of our lovely team members, sharing their experiences in relation to mental health.

“When Mental Health week came up, we were talking about what we can do as a company to show our support for this. I had the idea to talk about my own experiences to help highlight how important it is to talk.

Firstly what is Mental Health? Well I guess the best way I can describe it from my own point of view. For me Mental Health is how am I feeling, emotionally, physically and spiritually. If either of these are out then I struggle, if more than one is out then I really struggle.

I suffer from a severe anxiety disorder, and I have done since I was at secondary school. When one morning I woke up and thought that I was dying, I couldn’t catch my breath no matter how hard I tried to breathe in, my body wouldn’t take in any air. This passed, and I went on and thought it was weird but thought nothing more of it. Until it happened again…

It happened a few more times and I wasn’t sure what the problem was, again I carried on ignoring it, I didn’t tell anyone, what could I say? I felt fine physically, I just assumed it was my teenage body doing something weird.

It did get worse though, it progressed from what I later found out to be anxiety initiated panic attacks, into voices in my head. This is the part I find hard to describe when I talk about my lowest part, not because I don’t like talking about it, it just seems inconceivable unless you have experienced this yourself. The best way I can describe it is like being in a busy bar or restaurant and you can hear lots of people talking around you, then through this you hear one distinct voice, it sounded cruel and evil, and it would tell me to do things. These weren’t nice things to hear, and you end up having a conversation or an argument in your own head, which is scary anyway, let alone for a teenager who at the time didn’t know what was going on.

I continued to try and ignore everything for about 6-7 months, but as it grew continually worse I felt like I needed to try and find out what was wrong with me. So as you do, you use Google, if you go on there now and search up ‘hearing voices in your head’ the thing that comes up is Paranoid Schizophrenia, so doubly scary! I decided it was time to talk to my mum about what was going on with me, luckily for me she worked for the Mental Health service and was able to speak to someone on my behalf.

She came home and asked me if I felt anxious about anything, I can honestly genuinely say that I didn’t. No more than any kid who has just changed schools anyway. But as it carried on it was decided that I had better speak with them and discuss what was truly going on.

As I talked more about everything in my life, how I was feeling and what the voices were saying, it was only then that I found out about my anxiety. I just thought I was some weird angry kid, but apparently my anxiety was leading to stress, which led to frustration, leading to the anger. I always felt on the verge of some kind of eruption where I would lash out at those closest to me over something small and stupid.

After further discussion I found out that I was what is called a ‘supertanker’ where I would speak to my friends and family and take their problems and issues, store them and make them my own issues. Which as I am sure you can imagine doesn’t go well with everything I have spoken about previously.

Anyway I had about 6 or 7 sessions with my counsellor over the course of 18-months, as he listened to my problems, gave me advice and the tools to help cope with my anxiety, before I was signed off from the programme.

It was hard, I am not going to sit here and say that opening up about how I was feeling, right down to the core depths of my emotions to someone that I hadn’t spoken to before is easy. But I needed it. Admitting to myself and then my mum and then my councillor that I had an issue and I needed help was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, I felt like a coward and a failure that I needed help. I felt weak. I felt broken. I felt damaged beyond repair.

Only through talking about it did I begin to realise that I could begin to feel normal again, and that I wasn’t a coward. Looking back all these years later, I actually feel very brave for being able to make that decision, where so many men or young people feel like they can’t or that they shouldn’t.

Everyday is different, there is no cure to my anxiety, some days I still struggle, I still feel like I am not enough or that I am failing as a parent or a husband. But I know that this will pass and tomorrow is a new day, the good out weighs the bad. I know that if I have a bad day I can talk to my wife, a friend, or a colleague. It isn’t the end of the world. I have loving people around me, and at the end of the day I go home and hug my children and wife and it all seems better than before.

I have always talked about writing my experiences down more for my own clarity, to lay it all out on the table. But maybe my story can help someone else struggling share their own. I am proud of who I am now, a socially awkward but polite and friendly guy. I still struggle in big environments when it comes to putting myself out there and meeting new people or doing new things, but I will keep trying.

Talking to someone was the start of me getting better, to becoming me again, a new version of me, stronger than before. If someone else reads this and they are struggling, you are not alone, talk to someone, anyone, I promise it will help, it will be the start of your journey to finding the new you, the better you.”