Mind Week focus on work stress

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THIS week is Mind Week and the mental health charity is focusing on a campaign to help people experiencing stress at work.

The campaign, called Taking Care of Business, aims to improve working life for people experiencing stress and mental health issues within their jobs.

Mind is particularly focusing on making sure that staff can talk about stress and mental health at work, without fear of discrimination.

To highlight this issue, local man Mat Watkinson has shared his experiences of what happened in his life when the pressures of work began to weigh heavily on his shoulders.

Mat’s story: “A crazy little thing”

It was work that finally tipped me off the fine line I’ve trodden for many years, between having the thickest skin you could imagine and with wondering why anyone would ever think the things I do have any real worth at all.

Give me a job and some good company and I’m unstoppable, a winner, no contest.

I lost the job I’d had for 20 years as a journalist very much in the public eye after I couldn’t cope with the work I loved so much and to which I would return, late into the night, perfecting, perfecting ...

I’d started to miss things, rich irony for a perfectionist, and I came under heavy scrutiny and with an even heavier workload.

I became stressed like I had never imagined possible, pulled every which way, a servant of more and more masters, waking up feeling terrified in the early hours of the morning, unable then to go back to sleep until, finally, I went to my GP.

He diagnosed work-related stress, anxiety and depression and prescribed medication and time off. But this was no holiday. I felt swallowed up by absolute despair, while even the simple act of going shopping filled me with fear.

The pain simply of getting going, of walking up the garden on a sunny day, is hard to imagine but it is a real, physical feeling. But I persevered, took my medication and tried to get back to the job I loved, driven by financial need and the need to know I was still capable of putting together entertaining, informative and accurate news reports.

My employers sacked me and I left two days after interviewing the heir to the throne. I felt relieved but later, quite devastated.

I had a project – a book to write – which I hoped would see me through the long days of isolation, my family being at college, at university and at work. But it took more than a year of fighting against the desperate pull of depression and the lack of any measure of what I was worth, because writing is a lonely thing and depression loves a lonely soul to suffocate.

I found friendship and understanding with a part-time post recruiting volunteers for Scarborough, Whitby and Ryedale Mind, to support other people with mental health problems, a job with a real purpose.

And when that came to an end, I agreed to help with much-needed fundraising. Oh, and I was lucky enough to get an hour of fame on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth to shout about mental health and who are its unsung heroes.

What I have learnt from depression is not to be judgemental, to be understanding and even kind. Not to get impatient with the person in the supermarket who seems to be holding the queue up.

Depression thrives on negativity and though some days I just want to hide, there are other better days. And the support of a family is something you can’t buy, though we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought they didn’t suffer almost as much. Updating Mind’s Information Guide has been a great help, reminding me of things I’d forgotten, offering simple ways to make changes, a bit at a time.

What no longer surprises me is how many people I know who are in very similar positions.

l For more information about the Information Guide or to request a copy contact Mind on 0845 603 4723 (local call rate) or e-mail info@swrmind.co.uk

Go to www.mind.org.uk