The Road to Recovery: On PTSD, Trauma and the Future… by Eleanor for Mental Health Awareness Week

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(image: Eleanor Mandelstam (Segall))

 

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness

 

Hi everyone,

Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.

Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.

See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.

Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.

Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.

I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)

I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.

I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.

The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.

My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.

My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.

For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.

I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.

The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is. 

I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.

Positivity and Hope are key.  Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.

Love,

Eleanor x

Maintaining a Healthy Work Life Balance, Why it Matters: Guest blog for Mental Health Awareness Week by Loveitcoverit

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(image: Unsplash)

 

When establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, the overarching goal is clear; an individual should not feel as though their professional life is intruding on their personal time or vice versa. However, it’s always easier to explain than it is to physically manage – which is why it’s important to fully understand the implications of a poor work-life balance and the proactive steps we can all take to minimise any negative impact – such as poor mental wellbeing.

Although this challenge is known to many, you may not be fully aware of how prevalent it is across the entire nation. In fact, the Mental Health Foundation has commented that work-related stress costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year!

Now, as you would expect, the emergence of modern technology – such as smartphones – has drastically transformed our professional lives and, as such, it can be difficult to create concrete boundaries. Many of our devices can now take on the features and responsibilities of a larger computer system and so our working lives are available at just the touch of a button. So, how do we assess whether this detracts from our free-time and if this impacts our mental health?

Well, in recent months, this very topic has been investigated by mobile phone insurers, loveitcoverit.   

Their research found that an astounding 80% of workers identify their smartphones as a tool for their professional responsibilities, clearly demonstrating that they have surpassed the singular, social use that spurred their beginnings. So, whether it’s to communicate with colleagues, access working documents remotely or utilise organisational platforms, our mobiles have become an integrated part of professionalism on a wide scale. As such, it can be difficult to imagine the two in separation – but is this a good thing?

Overusing our mobile devices can be detrimental to our work-life balance as they create an access channel that is available to us at every hour. So, whilst leading mental health organisations emphasise the need for distancing measures – such as short breaks, time off and established social environment outside of work – our smartphones may act as a reminder of our professional responsibilities. In turn, this can lead to individuals feeling pressure to work outside of their agreed working times and intrude on their personal lives. 

Due to the sheer number of smartphone users across the country, this could mean that millions are facing the challenge. In fact, less than half of workers claim to have a ‘healthy’ work-life balance! 

Of course, this isn’t to say you should never complete a professional task in your free time, it simply means that you must actively monitor and manage how often this happens. This might seem a menial task, but it’s vital.

If you often find yourself feeling stressed due to your working life, then you could be at risk of developing illnesses such as anxiety or depression.

However, luckily, there are further actions we can take to ensure our balance does not tip!

 

Setting tangible guidelines

 We’re not saying that you must ignore your phone if a professional emergency arises, but it is important to make sure your working correspondence doesn’t intrude on your personal life. So, start with something simple – like enforcing a rule of no work related phone use after six on any weekday and perhaps not at all on the weekends.

Ultimately, it’s your decision to make, so find out what works within your routines and go with it!

 

Communicate with your employer

No one wants to be seen as a ‘complainer’, but if your work responsibilities are damaging your mental health it is important to speak up. Set up a meeting or informal chat with your manager to discuss how you’re feeling and why you feel that way. From there, you can work in tandem to better the situation and make wider improvements that benefit others too!

 

 Better understand your own situation

There is normally a tangible reason for any feelings of stress or anxiety but it might not be clear at first glance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break and try to dissect your situation.

If you can understand what is causing your stress, you’re in a wholly better position to try and improve it, whether this is in reorganising your routine and methods or in talking to someone else at work!

 

Creating a healthy and sustainable work-life balance is imperative for our mental wellbeing, so we all must take the time to figure out how to best achieve it. Remember, the working world existed before smartphones did, so it’s a durable environment, and taking the time to figure out positive and progressive ways of moving forward will never be a waste.

 

This guest blog was written by loveitcoverit, mobile phone insurers in the UK at www.loveitcoverit.com 

Covid 19: Positive and Negative for Mental health and Work? Guest blog by Danielle Strouther

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(image: morefamousquotes.com)

 

For anyone that’s suffering from anxiety, OCD or other mental health conditions, living through a pandemic is not a walk in the park. 

A time of crisis is enough to cause panic in anyone. If you’re already struggling with a ‘normal’ day, the added stress means it’s even more difficult to keep your head above water. 

But, it might not all be bad news. Using mental health data commissioned by Adzooma, there may be some light at the end of this tunnel. 

 

Why we should care about mental health

COVID-19 is a pandemic, with just under 500,000 people affected around the world as of March 26th 2020. 

To put things into perspective, mental health currently affects 676 million people worldwide. It’s not a pandemic, it’s an epidemic.

Mental health isn’t contagious. You don’t contract depression from shaking hands with someone that has it. But it is a crisis that’s often overlooked. In fact, 70-75% of people with mental illness receive no treatment at all, choosing to remain silent. This is particularly true in men, who make up 75% of all suicides. In the UK, men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the country.

 

Mental health caused 44% of all sick days 

1 in 5 employees have called in sick to avoid work. And no, this wasn’t because they simply didn’t want to go. It’s because their mental health had become too much for them to do their job. 

Rather than be honest, 90% of people lied about it, using another reason for their absence. 

In 2019, there were 602,000 total cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK. That’s 44% of all health-related sick days.

The cost of this is projected to be between £39.4 billion to £99 billion each year for businesses. If you break this down, it can cost employers £1,300 per employee if they don’t have the mental health support in place for their staff. 

“My mental health has impacted my work. It’s caused me to leave jobs, to call out some days when it’s just too much for me to do normal day to day activities. I also have tried to go into work on days where I’m not 100% and my quality of work and productivity have suffered.”

Rhea – Via Adzooma. 

 

69% of people say working at home helps with mental health

Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel. According to research, 69% of people believe that working at home improves their mental health.

Around the world, offices are shutting en-masse, sending entire workforces to complete their jobs from the comfort of their own homes. If there’s ever a time that people needed space to focus on their mental health this would be it. 

Its given employees the space they need to recover mentally. Beyond that, it’s showing employers that their business is capable of functioning remotely.

The positive outcome of this is that hopefully after the COVID-19 crisis, we can set up a world where employees aren’t needed in an office every day. A world where employees are free to work at home and care more for their mental health – reducing office-based overheads and the cost of sick days. 

 

Astonishing mental health data

The data on mental health was complied by interviewing employees of a range of digital marketing and technology companies, including Google, Facebook and The Independent. It revealed stark information about the current state of mental health, such as: 

  • 67.9% of people state that their mental health has impacted their work. 
  • 57.5% of people state that work has a negative impact on their mental health. 
  • Only 32.1% of people have told their employer about their mental health. 
  • Of the 67.9% of people staying silent on mental health, 83.3% of them don’t plan on ever telling their employer. 
  • 66% pf people feel that their work is understanding about their mental health. 
  • But 46% of people feel like they don’t have enough mental health support at work. 
  • 90.4% of people believe working flexible hours can help with mental health. 
  • Only 24.4% of people have mental health first-aiders at their work. 
  • 91.7% of people believe there should be more services for mental health.
  • 89.9% of people think the government doesn’t do enough to support mental health. 
  • Only 28.6% of people currently access mental health services. 
  • But if more services were available to them, 66.7% would access them. 

Access the full data here. 

 

A push for positive change 

One of the best things to come of out the COVID-19 pandemic is people working together. 

Communities are being brought closer and we’re showing compassion and offering help in brand new ways. If you’re ever unsure of that, just watch a video of people coming together to applaud everyone who’s working to stop the virus every single night. It’s a wonderful show of camaraderie. 

It’s a global crisis and we’re in it together. Now, hopefully, we can carry on this momentum to help with mental health and continue the fight for better mental health support. 

With support, we can get better. We can push for positive change to help the crisis. Without support, it will only get worse.

Together, let’s take action and break the silence.

 

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This guest blog was written by Danielle Strouther. She is currently writing lots of words about all kinds of unique subjects at Adzooma and searching for a word she likes more than discombobulated. She has a masters in Film and Television, so can tell people she knows what’s good on Netflix.

 

 

The best employee benefits supporting Mental health: by Daniel Tannenbaum

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(image: Policy Bee)

 

In 2020, many startups and companies are implementing strategies or creating employee benefits that put mental health first. This is a welcome change that shows just how far attitudes towards mental health have changed in the past decade, becoming no longer a taboo.

Here are the firms that are supporting mental health amongst staff members best:

Equipsme

The London-based startup Equipsme has created an inexpensive employee benefit that means employees can benefit from comprehensive yet affordable health insurance policies. Whatever the size of the business, companies can insure staff with plans from as little as £7 per month per person.

Customers get 24//7 GP access, online health checks, nurse support and 3 physio sessions as standard with the option to upgrade to stress support for as little as £1.50 per person per month, optical and dental cover for £7.50 per person per month too.

Sweaty Betty

The hugely popular activewear brand strongly promotes to staff a healthy mind and body and keeping stress in the workplace to a minimum. How does the firm do this? Each week, it gives its employees the chance to join lunchtime yoga classes to help them relax. There is also the chance to join running clubs and start later in the day if they so wish, all with the aim of helping with stress management.

Ernst & Young (EY)

Ernst & Young makes mental health a big focus in its organisation, providing not only private healthcare, but also free online health assessments in a counselling service that can be used by not only staff members but also their families. It is completely confidential and available for 24-hours.

yulife

yulife is another exciting London startup that incentivises employees to look after their mental health by promoting healthier lifestyles. The company has radically shaken up the life insurance industry for the better with their insurance package.

For example, businesses who take up yulife insurance policies can reward their employees through earning yucoin. Yucoin is earned by engaging in a healthy lifestyle, tracked by staff in a daily app. This includes doing exercise and meditation.

By accumulating yucoin online, staff can then redeem these for real life rewards at shops, restaurants, and much more.

Innocent smoothies

The company is known for providing a range of employee benefits that puts the needs of its staff first. This is particularly the case when it comes to mental health. For example, the smoothie firm is dedicated to reducing work stresses through the inclusion of a free gym and breakfast to all staff. It also provides a yoga club to its employees and a 100% confidential 24 hour employee assistance programme that means they can talk to someone privately if they need to.

 

This blog was written by writer Daniel Tannenbaum.

How to Maintain Mental Health at Work: Guest blog by EM Training Solutions

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(image: EM Training Solutions)

This article written by EM Training Solutions introduces some simple yet effective steps you can take in order to ensure your health and wellbeing remain a priority in the workplace.

There’s no ignoring the fact that as adults, we spend the majority of our time and lives at work. It’s where we make friends, earn our income and spend day to day so it’s no surprise that a massive 89% of workers with mental health problems reported an impact on their working life and nearly half of the people surveyed also admitted that they had considered leaving a job role because it negatively impacted their mental health.

These shocking statistics show that there is a clear correlation between mental health and our working lives, making it crucial that we take the necessary steps to maintain our mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Here are some tips on keeping a positive and healthy mental attitude in work:

Keep Organised

One of the simplest things you can do to help you remain focused and stress-free in work is to try and be as organised as possible. When you feel on top of your tasks and are working in an organised environment, this make you feel calm and in control.

When you’re in control, you’re much less likely to panic or feel overwhelmed. Keeping your diary up to date with commitments and important reminders will allow for your days to run smoothly. Also try taking small steps such as arriving to work 15 minutes early to give yourself plenty of time to set up for the day ahead, make yourself a hot drink and tidy your email inbox.  Having this head start can help you clearly plan out your day and it also gives you a few extra minutes to yourself.

Speak up

Communication is key in any working environment. Whether it’s voicing your opinion on a situation that is negatively impacting you, or admitting when your workload is too much; speaking up to someone that is able to offer help and support is a great way to deal with any form of stress before it builds up into an even bigger issue. Although this may be daunting, especially if you suffer from anxiety it will bring a great sense of relief once you have got your feelings and thoughts off your chest. Your employer should also respect you for your honesty and will be able to come up with a plan on how to help you.

Practise Self Care

Self care comes in many different forms, and it can be something as little as taking your full lunch break and spending it alone in your favourite coffee shop in order to get some time to yourself. If you suffer from anxiety or depression in general, then recognising your limits and when you need a day off is also incredibly important.

Having a day off work to focus on your mental health is just as valid as having a day off when you have a sickness bug. Both require time to rest and recover and you don’t need to feel guilty for putting yourself and your mental health first.

Be Realistic

Constant demands, deadlines and pressure in the workplace can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed to say the least. Try your best to be realistic about the work you can cope with and don’t try and take on more than you can handle.

If your boss is giving you ridiculous amounts of work to do in a short space of time, or is asking too much from you then try and speak with them, or if they aren’t approachable book in a chat with a member of the HR team to explain and try to find a solution. You will feel better for being honest and getting the extra support you need.

 

This article was written by: 

EM Training Solutions are a Pearson Vue approved training provider for a number of different compliance and health and safety courses. They boast over 10 years of experience within the industry and specialise in first aid training as well as traffic and fire marshal courses.

How to Manage Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace: Guest blog by Ralph Macey

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(image: bphope.com)

People with bipolar disorder face a major problem in maintaining a good job performance at work due to frequent mood shifts (from high moods to extremely low moods). High moods are characterised by mania and hypomania. On the other hand, low moods are characterised by depression. These mood shifts create several types of challenges in the social, professional, and personal life of the people.

Bipolar disorder can make it very difficult for a person to get or keep a job especially if the symptoms are hampering day-to-day functioning, and if they also have anxiety.

In a recent survey, it has been found that 88% of the individuals with bipolar disorder face problems in maintaining a decent work performance. Around 58% of the people have stopped working altogether.

It’s a fact that bipolar disorder brings many challenges that can hamper work productivity. However, qualified psychiatrists specialising in bipolar disorder say that it’s possible to get and maintain a job while having a bipolar disorder by following a few tips. Let’s talk about them today.

 

How to get and maintain a job with bipolar disorder

1. Don’t volunteer to disclose your medical information to the employer during the interview. Employers have full right to decide if you can do the job properly. But they can’t ask confidential questions to you.

2. As per the Americans with Disabilities Act, (and other disability legislation around the world like her in the UK), employers can’t force you to give a medical exam or check your medical records. They also can’t ask you questions regarding your medical history. Moreover, this Act forbids any kind of discrimination on the basis of perceived or actual disability. So it’s better you read the rules and regulations of this Act before going for a job interview.

3. Try to avoid talking about your past. Instead, talk about your current capability of doing a job properly.

4. Ask about health insurance after getting a job. Just review the benefits information before accepting the job officially.

5. If your mental illness becomes an issue for the employer once in the job, then bring a letter from your psychiatrist that gives a general outline of the treatment you’re undergoing. Request that the psychiatrist issues a letter where it’s clearly written how much you can cope with at work. You can read the letter before giving it to the employer. 

How to keep a job with bipolar disorder

It’s a myth that you can’t be successful at work with a bipolar disorder. There are several things you can do to control your mood swings and manage your work. Let’s talk about them in detail now.

1. Take medicines as instructed: Even if you’re extremely productive during a manic high, don’t skip your medicines. That is not advisable as you can become unwell too with your mania.  Don’t stop taking medicines even when you feel well for several months. Remember, medicines keep all your symptoms under control. When you stop taking medicines, your symptoms can reappear and aggravate your mental illness.

Bipolar disorder medications have some side effects. Some medications cause drowsiness. This makes it quite difficult to focus on work. Speak to a psychiatrist specialising in bipolar disorder about this issue if you feel too sleepy at work. Ask if you can change the time you take the medication. Learn about the various strategies to combat drowsiness so that you can give your 100% at work.

2. Relax a little bit: Take short breaks between work regularly. Take a short walk during the lunch break. Listen to music that uplifts your mood. Take deep breathing. All these things help you to relax, especially if you are low or have anxiety .

3. Lead a healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly to keep your mind and body fit. Eat healthy and nutritious food. Have adequate sleep at night. If possible, try to sleep for 8-12 hours at home. Try to avoid eating unhealthy food. A healthy lifestyle can help you manage bipolar disorder both at home and work, by making you feel at your best.

4. Organise your tasks:   Bipolar can at times interfere with work functioning.This means your mind may not cooperate with you on a regular basis. Try to organise your tasks. I

Create a ‘to-do’ list on the Google calendar and check if each task has been completed. Whenever you fail to finish a particular task on a specific date, move it to the next date on the calendar. This way you’ll remember about the unfinished task. Divide big projects into small tasks. It will be easier for you to manage them.

If you are struggling, you can speak to your work HR if they are understanding.

 

Should you inform your employer? The eternal dilemma

Let’s accept it. There is a social stigma attached to mental health, however many employers are becoming more understanding and the stigma is lessening. Your medical information is something confidential and private. Obviously, you may not want to share it with everyone. You don’t need to talk about your mental health openly at work if you don’t want.

However, if your boss or line manager is cooperative and a good human being, then you can have a conversation with him or her. When you need to take leave for doctor appointments, your boss will understand and give you a day off without issue.

 

Conclusion

Don’t panic. Don’t feel that you’re less than anyone because of your bipolar. Your mental disorder doesn’t define you. Your work is not the only thing you have in your life. Spend quality time with your friends and family and volunteer to help others.

If you have a good conversation with your employers and/or your doctor/ occupational health, you may be able to manage at work.