Mental health under the surface
10 May 2022
How are you? And how are those around you?
Organised by the Mental Health UK charity and running from 9 to 15 May, Mental Health Awareness Week has adopted the official theme of ‘loneliness’, and individuals are encouraged to build meaningful connections with friends, family, colleagues and communities.
Some earlier blog posts have addressed the issue of mental health and how it has been highlighted by the disruption caused by the pandemic. And it is important to remember that the impact can be long-term in nature.
This point was brought home to me recently when a hire industry professional who will be known to many people reached out to tell me about their own mental health issues.
I am not identifying them, but they work for a major equipment supplier and they hope that others can take heart from their story.
This person has always been outgoing, confident and humorous – and they still are outwardly – but underneath the surface at times it has been a different situation, one triggered by the pandemic.
“I was furloughed back in April 2020 and at first it was a bit of a novelty,” Sam (not their real name) told me. “But soon it began to have an impact. Friends and family started telling me I wasn’t my normal self, and at home I was inwardly focused and sullen. Previously there had always been a lot of laughter in the house.
“I was taken back off furlough in stages, with more days a week being added as the scheme wound down, but things came to a head in summer 2021.
“I’d go to work and be jolly, upbeat and happy. But at home I was a different person: non-communicative, indecisive, down, full of self-doubt and really not very pleasant. I was internalising everything and it was just getting worse.”
Sam went to their GP who was supportive, prescribed anti-depressants and gave details of a counselling service. But it was largely based around a self-help group and Sam, feeling it was too public, didn’t want to participate.
The anti-depressants did help, although finding the right dosage takes time. And a few months ago Sam’s recovery plateaued, which the GP had warned about. Sam also realises that the medication is not an answer in itself, and that ways of dealing with the issue might best be found within oneself.
Sam says that, throughout this period, their employer has been very supportive. And they add that it was the routine of work and the regular contact with other people that played a big part in their recovery.
“Thinking about it now, when you can’t work it makes you realise how big a part of you your job is. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who will have been affected like this, so that’s why I want to tell people about it.
"And above all, my family have supported me throughout this whole period, which I am hugely grateful for.
“I do feel at times that if there had been someone who I could have spoken to confidentially about this, outside my family and work colleagues, and more private than a group discussion, it would have helped. And I kept things to myself because I thought speaking up might be seen as a sign of weakness.
“I think the whole furlough experience made me lose my place in the world. What I was, how I functioned and how I got on with things changed, and I started thinking that I wasn’t the person I thought I was.”
Underneath the surface, someone’s real condition might not be as it appears. So reach out to those around you, and be prepared to listen and to help. Because ultimately we all depend on one another.