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My Journey With Mental Health: It’s OK Not To Be OK

18th April, 2019

John Walters




One cold evening early this year I attended an event at the offices of the reinsurance experts Guy Carpenter. It was the launch of an initiative to help encourage its people to look after their own mental health and encourage supporting each other. 

The subject really hit home with me, having experienced times of difficulty with my own mental health.


In late 2014 I began feeling unwell during a business trip to a trade fair in Germany. Initially assuming I was simply run-down, I put off doing anything about it until I returned home, days later. 


I became so unwell I couldn’t ignore it anymore and sought medical help. It transpired that I had cancer. After a gruelling bout of combined chemotherapy & radiotherapy treatment, I was given the all-clear that Summer. I expected to feel elated but, oddly, the good news left me feeling empty.


I had been so focused on beating cancer, I felt quite lost. I began to experience strong feelings of anxiety, had panic attacks, struggled to concentrate and harboured a lot of anger.


At a regular appointment with my oncologist, I was referred to a councillor, who told me that what I was experiencing was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a former military man, I was surprised - to me, PTSD was intrinsically linked to military service. Of course though, trauma comes in many forms, and mine had been a near death experience with cancer.


I threw myself into work, hoping to push through my feelings. But I struggled and at the beginning of 2017 my marriage, through which I have two small children, broke down. The following months became a blur of depression and self-neglect.


The culmination of awful circumstances had left me bereft and living on my own. My way of dealing with all the different emotions I was experiencing was to isolate myself. During the week I worked harder than ever before and hit the gym in the evenings.


But the weekends were a totally different story. I drank, heavily, at home alone. My physical health began to suffer too and at one point my weight had plummeted to just over 9 stone. I was undernourished, dehydrated and exhausted. On one commute home from work I blacked out on the train and was hospitalised.


At the beginning of 2018 I was at the lowest point I had ever been. I could never imagine I’d go to such dark places. One day, contemplating everything I’d been through, I found myself fighting back. I was determined not to let this beat me. I made the snap decision to book a holiday, which turned out to be life-changing.


While away, I did an assisted parachute jump which made me feel elated, an emotion that I never thought I’d feel again. That very same day I called Gary Helm, obo’s founder, to discuss joining the company and I was overwhelmed by the sympathetic response to my current state and his supportive attitude.


Unbeknown to me at the time, Gary is an advocate of breaking stigma around mental health and a supporter of the Mad World Forum (of which he is an advisory board member). His forward-thinking attitude to creating positive change was exactly what I needed.


Our industry is far more connected to the wellbeing of people than we possibly think, those companies that invest in great environments are often those that also care for and respect for their employees. Obo actively promote this sentiment through its work and thinking, so for me to be a part of that is just awesome.  


I’ve learned to live with and respect my depression. I take care not to neglect myself either mentally or physically. And part of that is to talk about both, to help keep things in check.


At the launch, I was reassured and impressed by the proactive stance that Guy Carpenter is taking to support its people. I took a lot away from the event. I was glad to hear them say simple things like “it’s ok not to be ok”. Guy Carpenter’s Mental Health, Wellbeing and Disability Group is an initiative to make Guy Carpenter a happier and healthier place to work.

 

BE THE CHANGE – AT WORK

 To reach out to Guy Carpenter employees who may be experiencing an issue, the group have set up a variety of services.


These range from offering a confidential internal helpline, to information about where to find help from organisations such the NHS, Samaritans, Mind, Relate & Cruse Bereavement Care and give practical advice to help people stay on top of their own mental health.


It is also training a number of staff members to become mental health first aiders. These specialist first aiders are trained to recognise small changes in a person and are given the skills to know how to approach and guide people to the right support.


I was moved by other people’s personal stories relayed regarding mental health over the course of the evening. These served to highlight the fact that we are all touched by such issues, as one in four will suffer themselves. Most (if not all) of us will come into contact with a family member, a friend or colleague who experiences challenges with mental health. These can manifest in many guises such as stress, anxiety, post-trauma, depression and more.


Guy Carpenter is, in my opinion, a gold standard example of an organisation taking the mental health of its people seriously.

 

BE THE CHANGE – ONE TO ONE

It’s hard to know where to start helping someone who you think might be suffering from poor mental health. But do start. Never be afraid to speak to someone you may know (family, friend or colleague) within whom you notice a small change.


Never be afraid to ask someone how they are and, very importantly, listen to them. My experience taught me to be mindful of others’ mental health. When I ask someone how they are, I really listen to their answer. Mental ill-health isn’t a taboo subject, it isn’t weakness and it shouldn’t be treated so.


Heaven forbid, but if you come into contact with someone suicidal, take them to A&E, where staff are totally geared up to help and mental health issues are a priority.


I’m now in a good place. I make sure I stay in touch with my nearest and dearest, I look after my physical health and I work with a great group of colleagues who look out for each other.


And I want to talk about mental health, to help me stay on top of my own, and because if I can help one other person escape the clutches of poor mental health that’s incredibly important.


If you think you might be experiencing any of the issues raised in this article, tell someone. Either your doctor or GP, a confidential service such as MINDor a friend. You won’t regret it.

John Walters

John is a passionate advocate of workplace design that is purpose-led, reaching beyond the aesthetics of a space. His long career in the industry charts spells with a stellar cast in furniture distinction. A natural fit for John, obo is the perfect outlet for his enthusiasm for sourcing the best furniture to support the design of spaces that support those using them.

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