Wednesday 3 July 2019

Mental Health At Work

Emily shares and compares her experiences of seeking help for mental health difficulties in the workplace and at university.
- Emily Maybanks

“Mental health problems at work are common. At least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. You might not be talking about it, because mental health is still a taboo subject. And many people feel scared and confused about confronting the issue at work.”Mind Website

Facing mental health difficulties at work can be, I have found, completely different to coping with mental health difficulties at university. From my own personal experiences of dealing with depression and anxiety whilst at university, I knew who I could go to speak to and when if I needed, which was always reassuring and helpful to know. Here I compare my experience of seeking help for mental health difficulties at university and in the workplace in both China and in the UK to highlight important considerations for others going to work or study abroad, or entering employment following or alongside their studies. 

Earlier this year, I moved to China to begin a 15 month contract as an English Teacher in a private language school in a very remote part of China. Before leaving the UK and everything and everyone familiar, I was, of course, apprehensive about whom I would be able to turn to in China if my mental health deteriorated, for whatever reason. I wasn’t in China long enough to learn about their policies on mental health in the workplace. After a particularly difficult and challenging couple of weeks, I left after two months. What I learnt from my experiences in China was that work managers may not always be the best people to confide in about mental health difficulties. This made me very apprehensive returning to the UK and starting to search for work at home and induced some of the most challenging depression, anxiety and lack of confidence that I’ve had to deal with for a very long time. Going into a new job, for me, was simultaneously nerve-wracking and exciting. It was scary because of my previous experiences, but I was also looking forward to having a “purpose” again and a chance to meet new people. 

Recently, what felt like a multitude of stuff going on outside of work started to affect me in work. Following a panic attack during work one day, I was worried about losing my job. My manager and my colleagues could not have been more supportive and genuinely kind which shocked me a little, but is also reassuring because I know I can talk to them, which means I am more comfortable at work. 

Overall, based on my own experiences of mental health in the workplace in two very different environments, whilst working in another country may produce some additional cultural considerations, it can be useful to speak to someone at work about how you’re feeling, especially if you are new to the role, whether it is a manager or a colleague you get on particularly well with. I have also found that it’s important to “switch off” from work on your days off – don’t get tempted to check your work emails, for example as this helps you to relax and have some you time. Also, it can also be nice to meet up with your work colleagues outside of work and have fun together, as work is also a good place to make new friends!

My name is Emily (Em). Last year, I graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.

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