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Civil Service

'This is me' - opening up about mental health

Head and shoulders image of Rupert McNeil, Government Chief People Officer
Rupert McNeil, Government Chief People Officer

One in four people will experience a mental health problem each year; and one in six will struggle in any given week. Suicide remains the biggest killer for men under 45.

These statistics are powerful, but behind each number is an individual who may be suffering.

The culture of silence around mental health can make people feel ashamed to get the help that they need. To help break the stigma of talking about mental health, I am taking part in the “This is me” film series for Mental Health Awareness Week, developed by the Civil Service Leadership Academy. The series features Civil Service colleagues opening up about their experiences with mental ill health. I hope that in watching the films, we can spread the message that being open about our mental health is not a barrier to success. In fact, being open with those around you can help you get the support you need.

I am grateful to my fellow contributors for sharing their stories. Together, we are pushing for a cultural change towards openness and honesty about mental health. Many of those who contributed have been instrumental in taking the lead to forge changes within their department that have helped many.

Living with a mental health problem

My own history of mental health goes back a long way. I had quite a low period in my late 20s and was diagnosed with depression. I never took the time I needed to have a break from work and pushed myself to the limit. By my late 40s, I needed to take three months off due to my anxiety reaching critical levels. I had psychotherapy that went on for about two years and I am still developing strategies that ensure I take sufficient time for myself away from work.

If you are living with a mental health problem, or supporting someone who is, then you should ensure you have access to the right information. As highlighted by the Time to Talk campaign, simply taking the time to ask colleagues how they are feeling, inviting them for a drink or, as long as you feel comfortable, sharing your own discomfort, can go a long way.

I have not always found this easy. But it is important to be open with friends, family and colleagues, so that someone looks out for you and is there to give you some time out, when you forget to do it for yourself. Whether it is a clinical disorder, work-related stress, personal issues, or just the way your brain works, you do not have to pretend you are okay at work. Seeking help or knowing how to respond when people confide in you breaks down the barriers. Having this confidence to talk or listen is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being human.

It is important to ask yourself whether you are working in an environment where talking about your mental health would be well received. We all have roles to play in ensuring that the Civil Service meets this test.

This starts from the top, through our leaders encouraging people to be open about their own struggles and leading cultural change. As this week is also Learning at Work Week, it is a great opportunity for leaders and managers to increase their knowledge and understanding of how to support their team’s mental health.

Supportive managers

A common theme in our 'This is me' stories is how the support of line managers has helped people to flourish.

Line managers need to be flexible to the needs of their staff and take proactive steps to ensure that people are receiving the appropriate support. It is important to remember that what can seem like very small actions and comments can make a big impact on people’s wellbeing.

I will always be grateful for having a supportive employer and colleagues who have helped me to reshape my own lifestyle. I am very proud that the Civil Service is taking part in the ‘This is me’ campaign and of the wider progress the Civil Service is making on mental health and wellbeing to build a workplace that is truly inclusive for all.

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  1. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    Thank you for sharing with us your personal lived in experience. I also commend others who have been willing to step up and talk so openly.

    I would agree that it is only through providing a “safe” environment will colleagues feel empowered to talk about how they are truly feeling and be assured that they will not be judged by their peers.

    Within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have the Wellbeing Network which is a peer-led Staff Association, where we have sought to encourage colleagues working both in the UK and on our Global Overseas Platform to be proactive in the “Wellbeing Space” and look to support each other.

    During #MHAW2019 staff both here in the UK and in our overseas locations organised a wide range of initiatives / events with the aim of increasing the level of awareness and understanding about Mental Health and wellbeing.

    We have been fortunate in that we have had both support and participation at Senior Level, which has been key to what we have been able to achieve.

  2. Comment by Steve Hexter posted on

    Wise words , well said.

  3. Comment by Karen Jordan posted on

    The impact of personal stories such as this is immense - thank you for sharing.

  4. Comment by Modupe Mann posted on

    Thanks for sharing this. Being someone who struggles with anxiety and depression this is encouraging to read and know that the MH sufferers can still have a career and progress despite this. I am interested in future MH campaigns and will be happy to assist.

  5. Comment by Rozanne Kidd posted on

    Any leader sharing personal MH experiences this week & throughout the year will as well as supporting others, encourage all of us to normalise & talk about mental health in the same way we might for physical health. This helps people open up or at least know they can so thanks for putting yourself out there alongside the other leaders who have made the films. Having greater consistency in HR policies & guidance across Gov is a big ask but can really help us manage better here given people move around. Depts more.