Category: testimonial, Mental Health, Mental Health Awareness Week, Testimonials, mental health initiative, HMRC, What Our People Say, Staff Testimonial
Mental Health Awareness week runs from 18 to 24 May but what is it like working with a mental health condition? We spoke to Emma Jones, a Tax Specialist at HMRC, about how she manages a full working life with a diagnosis of depression.
Depression can cause a plethora of daily challenges but it varies from person to person. Because not everyone with depression experiences the same symptoms, or has the same triggers, each person needs an individually focused set up in the workplace to keep well and not let the illness negatively impact their work. Emma’s story gives just one example of how we can support workers with mental disabilities.
Emma has had depression for twenty years, is on medication and working full time but how does her illness manifest itself in her daily life and what makes it a challenging illness?
“It comes and goes, I’ve never been as bad as the first time but it tends to come back every few years. I have general anxiety and depression day to day but a lot of the time it doesn’t affect me so I’m not constantly struggling. The worst thing about it is that it’s unpredictable and not knowing when its normal and when it’s the depression when you get upset. There is no logic to it whatsoever but that’s mental illness,” said Emma.
Emma works within public body groups and government departments, planning and carrying out project work. On occasion, Emma’s role involves going out and meeting customers which can be a challenge both on a practical and psychological level.
“This can be difficult for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t drive because of my anxiety (other than very short journeys), so sometimes just getting to a visit can be difficult if there is not easy public transport. We usually have two people at a visit so someone else can drive, but it sometimes feels unfair that I can’t do my share of the driving,” said Emma.
At HMRC there is an Occupational Health Service for employees where they can access counselling and support and group sessions around mental health are often run to educate staff and managers.
“All staff have workshops on all different types of disability and mental health comes up quite often,” said Emma.
With the current COVID-19 situation, HMRC are also running regular sessions on coping during this challenging time, an initiative that helps all workers, not just those with mental health conditions.
HMRC encourage a culture of openness amongst their staff and Emma can speak to her manager whenever she feels she needs extra support. For example, she can work from home, take time off at short notice and has a work adjustment passport in place for when she has bad spells.
“Work from home is part of our job anyway but I have extra allowed if needed. I deal with change badly so if something is coming up before my manager announces it to the team, he’ll come to me and have a quiet word. It’s just about being very open. One of the biggest problems with mental health is that there is no one size fits all. They follow my lead on what I need. It’s individual,” said Emma.
But how do people in the modern workplace react to depression and is there a greater understanding of conditions such as depression today than in the past?
“Other people can sometimes tend to dismiss things because you have depression. Mostly people say things because they don’t understand and they’ll make silly jokes but it’s more a case of not understanding than being nasty. But at HMRC I have the best team and we all look out for each other.
“People have more awareness about it than they used to but they often assume people need the same support for everything, but everyone is different. Depression is an illness and a disability like any other, but people don’t want to take meds or time off because of shame. We’re not at the point where mental health is treated the same as physical. Historically, mental health is something people are ashamed of. People will now say they have it whereas in the past they didn’t. Maybe in twenty or thirty years we will get there,” said Emma.
Emma has a successful working life and with a combination of medication, reasonable work place adjustments and a healthy lifestyle does not feel held back by her depression. When asked what advice she would give to others with depression she said:
“Embrace your own madness you’ve got to laugh at things and realise there is a lot of craziness in the world. Some people try and pretend too hard to be sane and we’re all a bit crazy so you’ve got to embrace it and try not to take anything too seriously. I’m quite passionate about my mental health. I’ll talk about it and the fact that lots of people have it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Thank you Emma for sharing your story with us today.