Aimee O'Leary
Written by
Aimee O'Leary

A couple of years ago when we were all in the office (remember those days?), I woke up to a racing heart, knot in my stomach and lump in my throat that I’m sure most people with anxiety would recognise. Today was going to be one of those days. Without thinking I wrote out what had become my default message in times like these about waking up with some kind of illness. But as I was about to hit send, I paused.

I’m lucky enough to work with amazing people who are understanding, open and are working hard to create psychologically safe workplaces where people can be 100% themselves. We’d had numerous conversations about mental health and the importance of breaking the stigma. So why was I not telling them the truth?

Because the stigma around mental health is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to feel safe even when you know the people around you are supportive and non judgemental. But I remembered those conversations, so I decided to be honest.

“Hey Aimee, no problem. Hope you feel better today. Is there anything we can do to help? Do you need a hand with work related stuff? We can have a call later”

The knot in my stomach loosened a little. Being honest meant I didn’t have to deal with the guilt of making up an illness or the stress of hiding what was going on. The work day continued as normal and I got everything done that I had planned. But most importantly, I felt like the stigma was shrinking and in today’s battle against anxiety I had won.

That experience meant that when I started therapy 6 weeks ago, instead of making up a recurring appointment, I sent a calendar invite “Aimee therapy” to the team. A few minutes later I received one message asking if I needed any additional support and another saying how happy they were for me. Sitting alone in my bedroom, I had never felt more connected to, or supported by my colleagues.

It can’t be underestimated how much impact this kind of openness can have. Employers that take the time to understand what you are struggling with, and how it affects your work, gives the chance to tailor your environment to your needs. One open conversation about mental health can be the difference between a colleague battling silently and alone, or asking for the support they need.

Do you talk about mental health in the workplace? How has your workplace supported you? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.

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