By Olivia Sharp. Published on 5 May 2017
I recently watched the BBC documentary ‘Mind over Marathon’; as both a slow runner who has somehow finished three marathons, and as someone who lives with a mental health condition. Having battled from anxiety throughout my pregnancy, the dramatic early arrival of my son 18 months ago triggered postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As supporters of the #headstogether campaign, Eton Bridge Partners are really starting to talk about mental health, not just in Mental Health Awareness Week, but as part of the fabric of who we are, and while I’m nervous to share my personal story, it’s important that we all start talking in order to break the stigma surrounding mental health.
No one prepares you for the ‘possible’ truth about birth: my son was born after hours of unrelenting and terrifying pain via an emergency caesarean section, the result of a couple of incredibly rare but potentially fatal complications no one could have predicted. My beautiful, bubbly, bright little boy has changed my life in many incredible and positive ways, and I love him more than I knew I could. However, while I know that many people have incredible, life changing, self-affirming birth experiences, I also know now that many women do not. Many women are left with physical and mental scars that will change them forever, and do not know how, or to whom to talk about their experience.
Similarly, many men are required to bury their own experiences, and the things they witnessed in order to support their partners in the period immediately after birth. Most men will return to work less than 14 days after a child is born, and the lack of sleep, nutritious sustenance or mental health support is, in my opinion, a potentially lethal cocktail in those early days. I will always be grateful and in awe that my partner stayed calm, held my hand and got us all through it, joining me as I sought counselling to help us come to terms with the visions, nightmares and flashbacks that have haunted me since then. It has been incredibly useful, but isn’t commonly offered to new parents and I had to push for us to be seen by a specialist unit. At every postnatal appointment the conversation predictably turns to timeframes for conceiving our next baby and our contraceptive choices, not the terrifying flashbacks I was having every night. I was asked to complete routine paper questionnaires about postnatal depression, but no one asked if I had recovered mentally from the birth itself.
Before I gave birth, women would start to tell me their own birth stories – and I would stop them as I didn’t think they were helpful to me. They wouldn’t have been, but I can absolutely see why they need to talk, and why many women feel compelled to share their stories. The old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ really rings true when it comes to talking about mental health, and while a listener can’t fix the problem, the very act of listening makes a huge difference.
Working at Eton Bridge Partners has given me an opportunity to show others that it is #oktosay: it’s been a rough road, but I’m definitely a stronger, and more compassionate, person than I was before. In my opinion, employers often fail to maximise the opportunity for employees to ask for support and talk about their experiences, which would create even more committed and engaged employees as a result. Maternity returnships are brilliant idea for this reason; they create an open discussion around the nature of a return to work, and encourage debate about the challenges it presents. Ultimately, I’d love to see more employers thinking and talking in this way about mental health, and considering how they create similar solutions and opportunities for those returning to work or changing career while still managing mental wellbeing.
My experience showed me that it’s important to take time to ask questions of others, see how they are doing and encourage both men and women who seem to need to talk. A simple text to check in, or a quick chat over a cup of tea, can go a long way to helping those living with any kind of mental health condition.
MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
The Mental Health Foundation has hosted Mental Health Awareness Week in the second week of May since 2000. In previous years the week has focused on how mindfulness, anxiety, sleep deprivation and relationships can impact our mental health. In 2017 the theme will be ‘surviving to thriving’.
Too many of us experience daily life as a battle. Emotionally, our heads are only just above water. Holding onto our jobs, managing our family life, paying our bills sometimes threaten to overwhelm us.
Increasing numbers of us have accepted that experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress and depression are the price we have to pay for keeping our lives on track. But this Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to set out the real scale and cost of being stuck on survive, to our health, relationships and future options. We want to outline to both policy makers and individuals the practical steps we can take to build a mentally healthy country.
Spread the word
During the week the Mental Health Foundation will be posting stories and information on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Please follow them @mentalhealth to help share messages and to join in the discussion. You can also let them know what you’re getting up to by using the hashtag #MHAW17.
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