Mental Health Awareness Day is a topic close to my heart given my own personal experiences with depression over the years. Coronavirus has affected everyone’s lives this year and me directly, leaving me and many others in situations they could have never envisaged a few months ago.

DEPRESSION

Depression affects 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives and it’s something that never leaves you. It lurks in the background waiting to make its presence felt at the most inopportune moment. Its effects are magnified when you notice and feel everything that goes on around you more than most people.

Everyone can be affected by it. We are living in different times where it’s commonly accepted, although how to deal with it brings its own challenges. There has never been sufficient support in the medical profession and that will never change. Medical professionals are faced with their own unique challenges from having to deal with coronavirus. Mental health will be the next ticking timebomb that society is faced with.

I have had no choice at times to take medication to pull me out of a black hole twice over the years. I thankfully had the best and most sympathetic bosses I could ever wish for at the time and I still keep in touch with them. Medication isn’t the long term answer though. Anti-depressants are highly addictive and difficult to come off.

Counselling is great if you can access it to get your head around everything with an impartial third party. I have found that having a good network of supportive friends, watching live music, doing light gardening, pottering about, cooking and going for long walks is good for the soul and helps. Whatever you enjoy doing basically – be kind to yourself.

COMPANY TICKBOX EXERCISES

Firms often make the right noises and platitudes about making positive changes to address the issue of mental health in the workplace. In reality, most firms have no real desire to make a difference. The primary aim is to promote the business as one that cares about its employees as part of its own self promotion and avoid having blood on their hands.

I have worked for well-known employers who have introduced Mental Health First Aiders. Staff actually described the initiatives as offensive. I couldn’t agree more. The culture of secrecy, nepotism and corruption inside and out was disgusting.

I left one firm after 3 months at the end of my probation period because it was destroying my mental health. It hasn’t changed since, with long-serving staff being forced to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements on redundancy with no option to say farewell or discuss it with anyone else. No support was offered either. You can always judge a firm by the way they treat you on the way out. This is the pits.

VULNERABILITY

Coronavirus has left many people vulnerable now through no fault of their own.

Employers need to renew their focus and align it on looking after their employees who will be having difficult conversations with customers.

Working from home now means that people are now living at work. Isolation and loneliness with lack of human contact and support will bring its own problems in years to come. Staff Handbooks are in parts obsolete and employers have a duty of care to look after the mental health and wellbeing of staff now more than ever.

We are living in different times and life as we know it will never be the same again.

WORLD HOMELESS DAY

I thought I would try and make a difference to someone’s life in 2018 and offer to buy a sandwich for someone who often sat on a sleeping bag with his dog and a cardboard notice by my office. I handed him the sandwich of his choice and asked his story. He floored me with a brazen reply along the lines that he has a flat that has just been carpeted and he only has to put a few hours in here and there to top his giro up and doesn’t need to work. He did say that he had drug and alcohol issues years ago, but that didn’t detract from the fact that I felt conned.

I could only look in dismay as he was packing up to meet his Mother for a coffee and say, “I thought you were homeless”. He shook my hand, thanked me for the sandwich and strolled off having took advantage of kind hearted people who genuinely believed that he was down on his luck and wanted to help him out. No doubt he will be back tomorrow and the next day to put in his shift outside a busy block of offices and the Co-Op with his props (an old army jacket, dog, a dirty sleeping bag, a cardboard notice and a back-pack) to fleece other generous folk.

I am now very cynical when I see beggars around Edinburgh, many of which appear to be from Eastern Europe.

JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS

I am a great advocate of justice and fairness which was the driving force for writing and publishing my first book and setting up this website to help the underdog right wrongs and seek redress.

Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. I judge myself by my own standards and not by those that judge me by theirs and although I am not perfect, I do aspire to be the best person I can be. I just felt a deep sense of disappointment in being taken advantage of when I wanted to do a small act of kindness to make the world a better place.

You can achieve much more together than you ever can alone – it’s power in numbers. That was the first piece of advice I was given by a well-known and respected journalist, and one that has never left me.

What does Mental Health Awareness Day mean to you?

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