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Mental health has become an increasingly important issue at work and many employers are looking at ways to offer support to those with mental health problems.
Lloyds Banking Group has chosen to partner with the charity Mental Health UK based on a vote by employees for a greater focus on mental wellbeing.
The two-year partnership aims to raise at least £2 million per year to help create a pioneering Mental Health and Money Advice Service which will offer support for people experiencing both mental health and financial difficulties.
As part of the partnership Lloyds celebrated Mental Health Awareness Week this year with colleagues sharing their stories of overcoming mental health challenges.
Cancer and bereavement
One who wrote about her experiences was Debra MacLeod, a Support Specialist in Customer Operations in Chester, who has worked for Lloyds for 29 years.
Four years ago Debra’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Debra and her dad shared the care of her mum, doing split shifts, but her health deteriorated rapidly.
Lloyds helped out by allowing Debra to reduce her hours over a six-month period around her mother’s death while continuing to receive full pay.
Debra wanted to be around for her mum. One of the things she struggled with was a feeling that she was not doing enough. “My mum was there for me all through my life. I was born slightly affected by Thalidomide and she was with me through everything, from driving tests to typing and computer exams. I wanted to give back which made it very difficult for me to step back,” she says.
Her colleagues picked up on her stress. “There was a lot of turmoil going on my life at the time. I thought I was coping okay, but people at work could see I wasn’t. They threw the rag flag up,” says Debra. She rang the bank’s helpline and they sent someone out to give her some counselling in a private room in the office. She also received counselling through her GP and Macmillan Cancer Support before and after her mum died. “Having someone you don’t know listening to you and giving you advice is important,” she says. “They said to take a step back, that I didn’t have to be there day in and day out. It made sense. I would not have been where I am now if I had had no support.”
It was hard advice to put into practice, though. Debra’s younger brother was also finding it difficult to cope and stopped coming round after initially helping out. “We all have different ways of coping,” says Debra. After their mum died, her brother, a staff nurse who was married with a teenage daughter, seemed okay, but then started pushing people away.
A year after their mum died Debra’s brother tried to take his own life and was on a life support machine for a while before being transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Debra was still struggling to cope with her own grief for her mum. “I wondered if things would ever go right again,” she says.
Her brother was eventually discharged to her dad’s house and Debra was able to see him more often and was in regular contact by text message. She says that closeness helped her. Gradually she began to think about her own needs. She had not been sleeping or eating properly. She went to the doctor and explained how she felt. The GP diagnosed depression, but Debra didn’t want to go on anti-depressants. She had some counselling to support her mental health. However, she was knocked back down again a few months later when her 13-year-old niece overdosed on some tablets. “I felt I couldn’t cope any more,” says Debra. “I thought I needed to walk away and get my head sorted.”
She started taking anti-depressants and found they made her feel stronger and more able to face the day. She began to do some charity work, holding coffee mornings at work for Macmillan to keep herself occupied and found it really helped her. “Putting my energy into doing something good had a really positive impact on my mental health,” she says. More fundraising followed and work colleagues backed her all the way.
Debra received a lot of positive feedback from the blog she wrote for Mental Health Awareness Week. “It made me realise how much I had come through and how much I had overcome,” she says.
She can still have some difficult moments, for instance, if she is dealing with correspondence from customers whose family members have died, but her colleagues put her on different tasks when things get too much for her. “It’s an amazing atmosphere. We all look after each other,” she says. “Because I have kept an eye out for my colleagues in the past, they keep an eye out for me. They know what signs to look out for – for example, they’ll check in with me when I seem distant and quiet. It’s lovely. It wouldn’t happen in most workplaces,” says Debra.
Debra has spoken to other colleagues who also have mental health problems and has been able to give them advice. It makes her feel good knowing that she has been able to help them. “Doing this is making me stronger,” she says. “It gives me a sense of purpose. It took me a long time to be able to go the five minutes into town at one point and I still can’t do crowds. I was pushing myself along, one day at a time.”
Debra, who has been nominated for the Cheshire Woman of the Year award, says she feels really proud of herself for how far she has come and for helping others. “I think my mum would be really proud of me too,” she says.