My Name is Stephen

My name is Stephen and I am here to talk about my experience of AMH, from the perspective of a person who has Mental Health problems, who was in hospital and then on incapacity benefit and who is now back in employment, worrying about the economic crisis, just like everyone else !

I know I could bore you to death, by talking about my specific problems and issues.   However, I just hope I can give you an idea of how important it is for us ALL to understand that mental health is a real problem and, from an employers perspective, how you can actually see a financial gain by working with AMH to identify the needs of your company in this area.

I say “financial gain” because that is the real incentive for you all to look at the issue of mental health with regard to your staff. I can promise you that the number of days taken on sick leave by staff, for mental health issues, is NOT represented in your own facts and figures. By this I mean that ‘mental health’ is still considered a bit of a taboo subject and is seen as a weakness. Hence, if someone is trying to progress in a career, they often hide that they may suffer from ‘stress’ and when they just can’t hack it anymore, they call in sick with the “flu” or “gastric upset”. I can say that with confidence because its what I used to do. So, you may think your staff’s mental health issues are NOT causing lost days of productivity but in actual fact they are, but are hidden under other sick lines, such as “flu”. The obvious financial saving to a company is therefore to reduce costs of sick leave. Other benefits of focusing on mental health can therefore also be, increased productivity, company loyalty and so on. By you being here, I am sure I am preaching to the converted but I will say it anyway; companies should not just concentrate on the physical health of employees but also their mental health.

So, what gives me the right to think I have a clue of what goes on from an employee’s perspective. Well, I will give you a quick run through of what is NOT on my CV !! I have a degree in Computer Science and started my career in the computer department of a local bank. As far back as I can remember, I have had mental health issues, with low self esteem, feelings of worthlessness and basically feeling that I am a waste of space. I honestly tried to deal with these problems and thought I had the solution in late 1980’s. On the outside, I was a happy-go-lucky wee guy who had a great sense of humour and worked hard. So, it came as quite a shock to work colleagues, friends and family, when they all learnt I was unconscious in intensive care for a number of days, following a planned suicide attempt. To cut a long story short, I returned to work but eventually changed careers, to work in customer services at the airport.

I had tried working abroad for while, before the change of career, but unfortunately for me, my head and my problems went with me everywhere I went. I just lived and breathed work; it was somewhere where I switched off from the ‘real’ me. This approach was sort of working for me until a series of events in 2007 resulted in me being admitted to a psychiatric ward, for my own safety. It was what we would all basically call a ‘break down’.

I spent 10 weeks in hospital and then was allowed home. I had no idea of how I was ever going to get a life back and I was on Incapacity Benefit. I knew I wanted to get back into work as quickly as I could and started to do a number of hours per week, under the ‘permitted work’ scheme.

Under the ‘Pathway’ program, which is aimed at helping people get off Incapacity Benefit and back into employment, I was introduced to AMH and they offered me, what has proven to be, a tremendous support system. They offered practical classes in getting back to work, such as CV preparation etc, but they also made me start to feel useful again. I was meeting people again, getting out of the house regularly, getting into routines again, setting goals and I felt it was REAL, POSITIVE, PRACTICAL SUPPORT.

I eventually got back into the airline industry and AMH continued their invaluable support. In other words, and SO importantly, they were still there, working with me, even though I was now in employment. This was so valuable because I was like a nervous kitten and I so needed to have AMH as a safety net and shoulder to cry on. The shoulder was usually my long-suffering contact, Cheryl. Cheryl was my contact and support, from AMH, when I started work but she also provided support to my manager. So, AMH, in the form of Cheryl, was there to help me AND my employer.

The role of AMH was so important because it was my safety net and support but also, provided support and understanding to my employer. Cheryl was able to work with my employer, to identify problems I was having and how these could be addressed. I must enphasis that this was NOT to result in me being treated any differently to any other member of staff; I was still subject to the same rules as everyone else and my productivity could not be lower than everyone else’s. However, with AMH’s help, my employer and I could set goals and develop my low self esteem, lack of confidence etc to the point where it is today.

When I look back on it now, I remember many chats with Cheryl, where I felt my employer was not understanding etc. Cheryl was my support but was NOT there to criticise my employer and agree with everything I would say. She would always give me alternative ways of looking at issues and difficulties I was having and it is really only now, looking back, that I see how important her role, and that of AMHs, was in my getting back on my feet.

I do not wish to progress up any career ladders now and my ambition is simply to be a valuable asset to my company, to be reliable and to feel content inside. Cheryl’s work and patience with me has been so amazing. As she got to know me, she was also able to give me some ideas and pointers in also trying to achieve a work-life balance, something I had NEVER done in the past.

The bottom line is basically that I now realise I have made great progress, thanks to Cheryl, AMH, my employer, a psychologist, my partner and my medication. I hope I am a valuable asset to my employer and one of my goals is 100% attendance and reliability. I, and my manager, have learnt so much thanks to Cheryl and AMH.

However, I can see where ‘mental health’ is still not considered a high priority within my own company. They may say it is, the same way as ‘health and safety’ training is taken seriously. However, just like the ‘health and safety training’, it is just something they need to complete and have it ticked on the to-do-list. Companies do not see, in my opinion, the financial advantages of reducing sick leave, by using AMH to help understand and develop plans for employee mental health issues. As an example, AMH has offered management training to my employer, to fit in at their convenience, but it has never been take up. I was a manager before my break down in 2007 and I think not taking the training offered by AMH is really sad and an opportunity missed.

The issue of ‘mental health’ in society and in the work place, has come a long way since my awful first experience of a psychiatrist in the 1980’s. The adverts on television, asking people to ask for help if they ave such problems, are so accurate. I particularly relate to the guy who is all joky with his pals on a night out, but when alone and in front of the mirror, he peels off the smiley, happy, confident face and reveals is true self….so unhappy on the inside.

I will finish by telling you something that happened last year and which I feel shows that, although the stigma of ‘mental health’ issues has come a long way, there is still a long road to be travelled. I was talking to a colleague in work and I can’t remember how the subject came up but I told her that I had a break down in 2007. Her reply to me was, “Oh my God, I so admire you for admitting that”. Would we be admired if any of us admitted we had cancer, a broken leg, asthma, MS etc…I don’t think so.

Please consider using the services of AMH to guide you in paying more attention to the issue of ‘mental health’. I promise that if you do, your accounts department at least will be pleased, as they see the cost of sick leave drop !!!

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