Improving workplace mental health as a public sector employee

I decided to write this blog a long time ago now, but never really found the time to give it the attention it deserved.  However, as it’s World Mental Health day I thought what better reason to finish it off and try to promote some of the things we have been doing, in an effort to inspire and maybe help other people do the same.

My Story

In life I would like to think I am generally a positive person and as such I never really took an interest in mental health or areas connected to it.  I’ve been very lucky in my life to have a job I love (I’m an ICT Technical Specialist in Local Government), where I get up in the morning and look forward to going to work and facing the day optimistically, no matter how hard it got.  In fact I’ve always thought I coped well under pressure and I handled stress well.

However, this year something changed.  This year I’ve had to deal with a lot, my car was written off when someone drove into me, the car I replaced it with broke down three days after buying it, I suffered with a serious health issue that went un-diagnosed for a long time and led to me being off my feet for nearly a month, and there were big changes at work which meant there was a huge drop in the morale of the team, along with stresses at home.   These things together were very difficult to deal with, but then out of the blue my relationship ended and part of me thought I couldn’t take any more.

Work was no longer the place I looked forward to, I had no desire to be there and no motivation.  I even realised that during the time I was ill I had no real recollection of what was going on around me, because it was at the point my mental state began to change.  This was one/if not the lowest points i’d every felt in my life, i’d entered a very dark place.  But i wasn’t determined to let it stop me and carried on as if everything was normal, even though deep down I knew it wasn’t having considered that I was suffering from depression.  However, this desire to carry on just made things worse, as it was too hard to be the happy optimistic person people knew me to be when i just wasn’t.

In the end I went in to work and told my boss how I was feeling.   I explained things had become too difficult and I couldn’t cope being in the office, and that it was in fact the last place I wanted to be.  I told them I had no motivation, and couldn’t focus on work properly and that these things were making it worse, because I knew that wasn’t normally the person I knew myself to be.  As a result of that conversation we agreed I was to have two weeks leave, even though it was 100% convenient for work but if that’s what it took for me to recover then so be it.

I used that time to get away, and it was the best decision I made.  It allowed me to put things into perspective and by the end I started to feel like myself again.  Not only this it allowed me to see the good things that had happened this year, and gave me the clarity to see just how important looking after your mental health at work actually is.  I wouldn’t say i was 100% better, but i’m definitely 90% of the way there.

Now I realise it’s not as easy as that for everyone, and an article today by the Guardian has some very alarming figures about work place mental health  – We need mental health support at work – and every employer should commit to it.  Considering how much time we spend at work it’s important we make changes to improve things.

Work Story

I mentioned further up that there had been changes at work, and if you’ve been following the news on local governments you’ll probably understand what type of changes.  Now the happy optimistic side of me wanted to do something to make things better at work and try and improve morale and general team spirit.

Now local governments aren’t generally known for there out of the box thinking to in order to improve productivity and general office morale, but as a software developer and typical girl geek i’d always been inspired by companies like; Apple, Google and Pixar, who all take very different approaches to office life and understand that coming to work should be fun.  So I thought why can’t it be like that where I work?

So at the beginning of the year, even though things were tough I started up monthly office events as a way to bring the team together and generally make things more fun.  The idea being that the event only take a couple of hours max out of your day.  Some of the things we have done so far include

  1. A paper plane contest – with winners for best design and longest flight. (Idea stolen from Pixar)
  2. A bake off – Savoury, Sweet and Free-From categories
  3. Pot Luck Lunches –  where everyone brings a dish to share, but you’re not allowed to tell people what it is.  So you could end up having the most random lunch possible

Whilst these events were initially seen as a bit of fun, it wasn’t until my time off that I realised just how important these types of events are for my own workplace mental health and the health of others.  My colleagues actively look forward to these events, and in some cases there generate more conversation between the team than some projects, and as result there have been out of work events planned as well.

Since I’ve returned from being on leave I pushed for more changes to improve things.  We are looking at projecting images on the wall to brighten up the office space, whilst also trying to inspire creativity.  We are also looking for somewhere to put a table football, that one of the team has managed to acquire for free.

There are also mental health courses that have been planned by the union, that I plan to attend to understand workplace mental health more.  It’s great to be part of these things, and see the positive effect it has on people, but this is only a small step and there’s much more that can be done.

Thanks for reading. x


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