Over the past couple of years, there has been an increasing spotlight into mental health. We all know it’s important, but sometimes what’s said about mental health can feel so generic. I believe we need to make it personal and share our own stories, particularly when we’ve recovered, to show others they can do the same.
If we’re going to change things for the better, we need to create safe places where people feel they are being listened to. The more voices there are, and the more diverse those voices are, the more we can all learn.
Every day, each of us face pressures – whether small or large. I myself faced many pressures when I left home at 18 to join PwC on their school leaver scheme. I’d enjoyed a lovely suburban lifestyle, but London was very different. Living independently and managing a household was hard.
I was keen to make a good impression at work but having not gone to university myself, I worried about how little I knew. I also carried the weight of family expectations on my shoulders because I hadn’t done very well in my A-levels. I felt like I’d let my parents down and was trying to make up for it by being successful in my new job.
A few years ago, something bad happened in my personal life and it had a very profound impact on my life, especially at work. It’s hard to put into words what daily life was like.
I would come into work, and although my body was there, my mind was somewhere else. I could see the world moving, but I remained stationary. I just couldn’t concentrate.
I had a heavy workload with huge deadlines. I’d also just been promoted to Manager and I felt I needed to do well to show I was on top of everything. But I just couldn’t keep up. On the outside, I seemed like my usual bubbly self, but inside I was so, so, sad. Keeping up appearances took its toll. I was exhausted and was relieved I could drop the mask as soon as I left the office and give myself permission to be miserable.
There are many reasons why I didn’t reach out and ask for help. I guess I just didn’t know who I could trust. I was afraid my career prospects would be damaged if I opened up and that I’d look weak. I didn’t want to be a source of gossip and, if I did speak up, I wasn’t sure what would happen to that information. What’s more, being from a South Asian background, it’s not part of my culture to ask for help.
I reached breaking point when I missed a deadline. I ended up going to see my people manager for work support but ended up breaking down and telling him everything. He immediately put in place support from Human Resources. It was the first time somebody listened without interrupting, allowing me to tell my story from beginning to end. Better still, they helped me put a label on it which was a huge weight off my shoulders. I’d never been educated on mental health, it was something I knew of but thought would never happen to me. I’d been struggling unsuccessfully to deal with my problems on my own and ultimately lost my sense of perspective. However, talking things through with others helped me start seeing things clearly again. I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel and ultimately put my health first. I recovered and was able to continue to thrive in the workplace.
One way to challenge mental health stigma in the workplace is to share our stories. It means reaching out to someone you trust and talking about how you’re feeling. Of course, we’re not all going to be ready to share our full story. It took me a few years to get to a point where I felt ready to talk but what each of us can do is encourage a culture of looking out for each other where sharing our vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
I’m proud to have helped set up Thriving from the Start, a mental health community for those early in their careers where we will share inspirational stories, produce vital information booklets for City organisations and provide a forum for networking with like-minded individuals. Working together, we can continue to educate and support our organisations with their mental health and wellbeing strategy.
PwC’s openness and support enabled me to get to where I am today and having honest conversations has prepared me to be a future leader. Our shared experiences can bring about positive change and I’d encourage you to be there for someone who’s reaching out.