With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem this year alone, if a colleague says they’re fine, they might not be. It’s easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that only affects others, but this can happen to any of us. Having someone in your corner can make all the difference when experiencing a mental health problem – at home or at work.
On the 10th October, in collaboration with Time To Change, the Etch Group signed a mental health pledge to challenge the stigma attached to mental health in everything we do.
As a human first company, we have been empowering and supporting our employees with mental health and wellbeing for some time. Our people and our network are very important to us. So much so, we have an innovation breakout that has helped launch a new sleep start–up business, Somnia. We also run non-profit, highly dynamic experiments with brands and start-ups to combat “wicked” problems. Our pledge is to continue on this path, to raise more mental health awareness and support people more.
We pledge to make a change
As part of our continued focus on mental health, we are shining a light on the experiences of one of our team members. Kamila Mielczarek, an Etch Group web developer, talks openly and honestly about her mental health journey and shares the things that have helped her in and out of work.
Until recently, I was guilty of thinking that mental health issues were taboo (and - to some extent - this is still true today). Then I listened to the Burdens podcast and saw the Heads Together interview with Prince Harry and Prince William.
This was when things started changing for me. Or rather; I slowly started changing things for myself. Saying that, I needed support along the way. I have gone from thinking “I can’t deal with my life... and I never will” every single day to “Today is bad, tomorrow might be bad, but I can deal with it, even if it will be hard and painful”.
I can now say out loud, I suffer from anxiety and depression.
I’ve struggled with mental health most of my life, from childhood, through my school years, until now. I am aware that I will probably never be able to fully recover.
My biggest mistake was thinking that everyone struggled and somehow managed to live their lives without speaking out about their problems. I thought no one was open about what they were feeling, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, as explained in Mandy Stevens interview. I didn’t think I could break down. I pushed myself beyond what was humanly bearable until I had a serious mental breakdown.
Apart from some personal life problems, I also experienced symptoms of social phobia, severe depression and very severe anxiety. I wish I never had to go through it, but I have gained a lot from the experience and have grown as a person; becoming a lot stronger than I would have ever been. I have learned to live with my demons and I accept it as part of who I am. Well...most of the time.
Everyone is different and of those of us who have ever suffered from any kind of mental health issues, there will never be two people with the same experience. I would like to briefly introduce you to my experience and then follow up with some of my personal survival tips.
HAPPY LOOKING LIFE = HAPPY LIFE?
Often you just can’t tell. I couldn’t believe it when people were shocked to find out that I wasn’t well. They told me that I seemed happy. A happy looking person is not the same as a happy person. A lot of people will bury even the most troubling problems.
SHARING IS GOOD
By far, this is the best thing I have done. I started by sharing with just a friend, and slowly worked my courage up to talk to more people. I was then able to talk about my mental health publicly. I joined the Elefriends community, which is run by Mind, the mental health charity. I also wrote a private diary, a personal blog and drew comics as part of a work arts competition. I was also able to combat my fear of public speaking at work.
Sharing is difficult, but ultimately it was what I needed in order to feel connected and supported. I received a lot of moral support from my friends, work and new friends I met through either therapy or online communities.
I’M NOT ALONE
I have read a lot of other people’s stories. Medium has a lot of amazing articles, so does The Mighty. I also read an amazing book by Matt Haig, called “Reasons to Stay Alive”. Simply finding out that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through meant a lot and has helped me accept my illness for what it is. I still come back to a blog post about living with anxiety, as it was the most influential thing I have read about it.
I DIDN’T LOSE MY JOB
Telling my manager that I suffered with mental health issues didn’t mean that my job was in any danger. If anything, sharing helped my team understand why my performance wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I feel very lucky to work where I work, surrounded by such lovely people. Inturn, I am now a ‘mental health champion’ at work. This is a volunteer that will support raising awareness and an extra confidant to those who need it. The Etch Group will also be hosting mental health talks to educate people and provide employee training to be better spot changing mental health and recognise when someone may need help
PEOPLE ARE HAPPY TO HELP
Whether it’s an anonymous online community, an NHS therapy group session, friends and family or your employer, people are nice. They will want to help. I also didn’t realise how many people have been going through a similar experience to me and that alone is very comforting.
KEEPING BUSY CAN BE A GOOD DISTRACTION
It’s a little contradictory that having experienced elements of social phobia, I wanted to spend as much time as possible connecting with other people. I went to the cinema, the pub, visited my friends, went on some walks and joined my local parkrun. But, not everyone has the luxury of having people around all the time. There were months where my friends were too busy to go out so writing, origami making, drawing, running and long walks helped me stay busy.
I WENT ON FREE NHS THERAPY
I was terrified of the idea of going to my GP to talk about my mental health. So, I self-referred myself to Steps2Wellbeing (also known as IAPT services). Through group and one-to-one therapy, I learned to deal with my panic attacks as well as overcome my social fears.
There are a lot of online resources that can be useful including; The Mind, Psychology Tools, Get Self Help website, Calm Clinic and many more. Some are more professional than others, but through a mixture of those I was able to find the support that worked for me.
You’re probably tired of hearing about this one, everywhere. It does work, though I found certain types of mindfulness better than others. I found both taking long walks, walking down to the nearby beach, origami making and drawing were the most helpful for me. I think mindfulness is about keeping your mind busy, whilst doing something that doesn’t require a lot of thinking. Meditation can be as simple as mindful breathing or yoga, but it can also be achieved by drawing detailed comic strips or creating origami shapes, whilst some people might find watching TV or playing video games helpful.
TAKING THINGS EASY IS OK
I needed a period of time where I could just forgive myself for all of the mistakes I had made. It was extremely hard to do, but in the end helped me get back into doing things again. I needed to let go of the guilt, which helped me to stop doing the things that made me feel guilty. It was kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I got so hung up on the idea of failing that I couldn’t stop myself from actually failing. In the end, letting go worked!
No matter how big or small, my commitment to the local community has made me feel proud. I have volunteered at a local cafe, by helping to serve food to those in need. Just being in a place full of people felt like a supportive experience, not to mention the sense of achievement I got from helping others and having a reason to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. Seeing people who perhaps lived in worse conditions than mine really helped me to appreciate what I had, even if I didn’t see it back then.
After having completed my three month group therapy for “social phobia” (which literally changed my life) I was able to give a short talk to the new group and to my surprise, I wasn’t worried about what people would think of me.
A POSITIVE OUTLOOK
All these things took me a while to work out and I didn’t feel any improvement for a very long time, but I believe that all we can do is keep trying, keep taking the small steps and one day things will start improving.
I think that because we’re all so different, everyone needs to work out their own way of finding those little things but I believe it’s worth trying as many things as possible to find them.
I hope others find this useful and if you ever find yourself struggling with mental health then please share it with people around you and let them help.