13th May 2019

Mental Health Awareness Week – Part 1

Paul Denton

I’m Paul. I’m an external consultant and I work with Grant McGregor doing … well, this. I try to identify the unique identity that makes them a great company to work for – from pay and benefits to the fun and friendly work environment. But today, it’s my story.

I’m one of the one in four. I’ve suffered from my condition for many, many years. I’ve had clear spells, remission and relapses. I’ve had it under control, and it has controlled me. It’s been destructive and debilitating. It’s been positive, productive and life-affirming.

“Mental Health issues affect so many millions in this country. I’m one. And you probably aren’t more than one or two people away from someone who has mental health issues themselves. Or maybe you do. And you’ll know the value of giving a little time to others.”

Stephen Fry for #MentalHealthMinute

This week it’s Mental Health Awareness Week – recognising a condition that is becoming ever more prevalent throughout the population. An illness that is growing in understanding, diagnosis and treatment. Poor mental health can affect anyone. It can come on suddenly. It can be a lifelong condition. Treatment can be simple or complex. All this week we will be highlighting the subject, how we empower our staff to know that we’re here for them and adding our voice to amplify this important subject.

For me, it started early. I was 11 when I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, although I had been seen by child psychologists even further back than that. It marred my school-life – my repetitive and constant absence made my academic achievement nothing more than a miracle. At the age of 16 I was diagnosed with depression, prescribed medication and talking therapy with a psychologist. That was a little over 20 years ago. In the intervening time my diagnosis has changed (I’m now recognised as bi-polar) and my medication and treatment has come and gone and adapted.

But how has this affected my career? Well, it’s been interesting, to say the least. I’ve had good bosses and bad bosses. I’ve had careful understanding and all out unawareness of how my condition affects me. I’ve never looked for special treatment, I have never seen my illness as something that needs to navigated around. Perhaps that is wrong – perhaps I should think about my illness like a physical disability. We all know now that a workplace should be made accessible to all, wherever possible. But a mental health condition means that a workplace has to adapt almost emotionally, in a less physical way. That change can be hard.

I could tell you the story about the time that, on my way to the first day at new job, I had a panic attack and couldn’t make it in. That when the recruitment agency found out, they called me up a berated me for not having made them aware that I’m bi-polar with anxiety issues. But something like this had never happened to me before. Yes, I’d had panic attacks, but not in relation to work – so how was I supposed to know that a condition that had never been an issue in this context would show itself. However, given the attitude, I was quite glad that the offer of work was withdrawn immediately.

And that brings me to now and working here with Grant McGregor. I had a connection to the company prior to starting a consultant role with them and they knew about my issues. That was never a barrier for them. What they saw is that my skills and knowledge married up to a project that they wanted to undertake. They’ve been patient with me and understood that I’m not always at peak performance. They haven’t gone easy on me (nor should they have). They’ve expected and measured my results. But they’ve also taken into account that I don’t always work “normally”. On the odd occasion when my health hasn’t permitted me to do a “9 to 5” I’ve worked flexibly, with understanding and encouragement. Of course, I don’t want my illness to define me, or cloud the way I work. I love work. But an environment that is quietly supportive and sympathetic makes it a lot easier, a lot more enjoyable and significantly more productive.

Paul Denton