World Mental Health Day is a day for friends, families, communities and workplaces to come together to talk and listen. Talking about mental health is never easy but one conversation has the power to change lives.
Today we want to share with you a very personal journey from one of our team, Zara Scowen, who has struggled with her mental health for most of her life and has hugely benefited from our wellbeing support programme available at ICCI.
This year Zara has become a fully trained Mental Health First Aider to provide first hand support to our team should they need it and courageously shares her journey below to inspire others to open up and reach out for support.
Mental health is an important topic for me. I’ve had my own personal challenges over the years but also with people close to me, so when I was approached to write this article, I was more than happy to.
A few years back, I went through a particularly bad time and I cannot thank ICCI enough for the support they gave me. I don’t want to go into too much detail about my story (mainly since this is supposed to be a relatively short article) but I’ve battled mental health problems for years - I can even think of times when I was under the age of 10 and suffered with it. The problem back then was, it wasn’t a “thing”, and I knew how I felt wasn’t normal, but I didn’t know how to explain it to anyone.
Following an incident in my personal life I got into a bad space with anxiety for a prolonged period which then led into depression, and it had a significant impact on my ability to function day-to-day. For the non-believers out there, mental health issues really do create some rather horrible physical symptoms too, which make it near impossible to do even some of the most basic tasks – I’m sure anyone who has ever had a panic attack can relate to this. In hindsight, I was not using the best coping strategies and was inadvertently making things worse. I just wanted to feel “normal” even for a few hours. I had no interest in anything - literally anything - can you imagine that? It’s a dark and lonely space to be in. It’s only when I got better that I was able to look back and understand how scary it was to be in such a low place.
Ultimately, all of this build up had an impact on work. I wasn’t engaged; my mood was off. If I’m honest at that point, I just didn’t care. I wasn’t going out of my way to be dismissive or abrupt or unapproachable, I just couldn’t help it. Anyone who knows me (I’d like to hope!) knows that’s not the sort of person I am. I couldn’t bring myself to care - and that is just not “me”.
Over the years since, I’ve had ‘blips’ of poor mental health and, at times, it has had an effect on my performance at work. HR and my line manager reached out to me - how could they help? What could they do differently to support me?
The first step they did was to put together a personalised “Wellness Action Plan”. I also felt at the time, due to things outside of work that I was struggling to manage, a change in my hours would be beneficial, which ICCI were happy to support. We now have regular catch ups on how I’m doing – not just when I’m in a bad space.
There’s a real family feel and caring culture at ICCI and it’s so important to feel that your employer cares about you and your wellbeing. I feel very privileged to work somewhere where they genuinely want you to be okay. I’m so much more educated around mental health problems these days and will openly speak to anyone about them, as the surrounding stigma – it baffles me that people are still ignorant around this topic – it needs to stop.
Earlier this year, with the support of ICCI, I completed a two-day Mental Health first aid course ran by Guernsey Mind on behalf of Mental Health First Aid England® and I’m pleased to now be one of the two Mental Health First Aiders that we have in the company and am happy to talk to anyone who feels like they’re struggling.
I’ve learnt so much in recent years about people. Everyone is different. Everyone reacts to certain situations differently; everyone has different tolerances - and that's okay. It’s what makes us all unique.
The best advice I can give to anyone is that if you notice yourself feeling ‘a bit off’ or are experiencing physical symptoms, which are not normal for you, please reach out. Your body has a way of telling you when it’s struggling and if you’ve been to the GP and all seems okay, chances are it’s probably mental health related.
In summary, poor mental health isn’t just a feeling you can shake off - it can be genuinely debilitating and can have an impact on every aspect of your life. Let’s face it - why wouldn’t it? We’re talking about the brain - it controls everything we do, yet mental health still isn’t always taken as seriously as physical health. It’s wrong and we need to keep speaking up and supporting each other to raise awareness and make every space a safe space, so people don’t have to feel alone.
Article written by Zara Scowen