We take mental health seriously, which is why we established the Companies House Mental Health Network. We wanted to support and empower our colleagues to build a culture of wellness, where it’s safe to talk about mental health.
The network’s journey actually started with my own personal story. Several years ago, I experienced complete burnout - an experience that I will never forget and hope never to experience again. However, as awful as it was, it really changed my life for the better.
I learnt valuable lessons about myself, and I even developed a new career path.
My burnout was caused by a multitude of reasons. I had problems at home and was struggling with a new role and workload. I felt unable to confide in anyone for fear of looking weak and incompetent. An unhelpful family member had said to me, “There’s no such thing as depression, people just need to get a grip and get on with it.”
Leading up to my burnout/breakdown I did not realise anything was wrong mentally, but physically I experienced many symptoms including:
- sleeplessness and constant exhaustion
- a permanent knot in my stomach and feeling like I could not get enough breath in
- loss of appetite but I ate junk food for comfort
- a loss of interest in everything I previously enjoyed, including exercise, shopping and socialising
I ignored all my symptoms for months until finally, I reached breaking point.
One day at work, I was given a task but felt totally overwhelmed. I tried to type an email but no words came. I froze. I felt like my brain switched off. I walked away from my desk and bumped into a friend who asked if I was OK. I broke down in tears and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
She was the first person to help, telling me to go home, take care and see a doctor. Back home, I started crying but could not stop. That evening I saw an unsympathetic GP who gave me some pills and simply said, “These will make you feel better.”
When I realised that I had been given anti-depressants, I slipped into a very frightened state and had a severe panic attack, collapsing on the kitchen floor before sleeping for hours and hours.
This was burnout. My mind and body ground to a halt.
Over the following weeks, I suffered extreme anxiety and depression (including a psychotic episode).
I eventually took the pills and within a month, started to feel a little better. I had 8 weeks sick absence.
It was not just medication that led to my recovery. I realised that I needed to start looking after myself and went on a self-care mission.
I received counselling through work, attended a mindfulness course, meditated daily, read lots of self-help books and made eating well, rest and exercise my priorities. I started gently with exercise because I was so exhausted. Yoga and swimming got me through initially, but now I’m able to embrace it all - dance, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), spin.
As my health improved, I made 2 important discoveries. Firstly, that I had been ignorant of the danger signs of burnout and secondly, I found great support from my colleagues and organisation.
The start of the Companies House Mental Health Network
When I returned to work, I was passionate about educating my colleagues. I became a Time to Change Wales (TTCW) Champion and immediately got involved when my employer signed the Time to Change Wales Employer Pledge.
We created a group of TTCW employee champions which evolved and grew to become mental health advocates (MHAs).
The MHAs provide one-to-one support to staff and proactively normalise conversations about mental health by hosting coffee mornings and events. We role model good behaviours for looking after our wellbeing.
Two years after signing the employer pledge, over 20 mental health first aiders (MHFAs) were recruited and trained to provide more reactive support. I now lead this group of (MHAs) and MHFAs (providing different levels of support) and we are now known as the Companies House Mental Health Network.
We support our colleagues but have also become great support for each other. Last year to give us a clear focus and direction, the network created goals for us to work towards. They help the organisation to understand why we exist and what we’re trying to achieve. We are tracking our progress against these goals to continuously improve.
I’m hugely proud of the work the network has done, and continues to do, to educate staff and raise awareness. We’ve greatly reduced stigma and witnessed massive culture change over the last 4 years which has allowed our staff to flourish and bring their whole selves to work.