September 17, 2019
Mental health support in the workplace still leaves much to be desired, with wellbeing and burnout proving to be major obstacles employees face on an everyday basis. 
I Put My Mental Health Before My Career, But I Still Feel Like A Failure
I should know. Deciding to step back from my job to focus on my wellbeing was not an easy decision to make. It actually took several months before I decided enough was enough. Even on medication, I could feel myself falling back into a darker place and I realised I needed to break this harmful cycle.
And yet I had a dream start post-university. At 22-years old, I was working in an exciting and fast-paced industry. I was backed by a first class degree from a top university, supportive family and friends and a strong work ethic. There was no reason for me to be unhappy. Right?
Putting my wellbeing before my career – risking financial instability, a gap in my CV and potential judgement from those who know me – has plagued me with anxiety. This shouldn’t be the case. Taking time for yourself to heal, reflect and address aspects of yourself that are holding you back shouldn’t be viewed as failure. 
However, in our capitalist world constantly driving towards profit, it is commonplace to push mental wellbeing aside and focus instead on obtaining visible results. Subverting this ‘natural order’ by putting yourself first is an alien concept and I continuously have to remind myself I am worth the time. In our capitalist world constantly driving towards profit, it is commonplace to push mental wellbeing aside and focus instead on obtaining visible resultsOf course, there are practicalities to consider, such as paying rent or supporting your family, which can make it a particularly unattractive option. I consider myself incredibly lucky a career such as journalism has several freelance options, so I will be able to support myself.
Nowadays, there are offerings made by companies to make it easier when managing an optimal work-life balance, which means taking a break from work doesn’t have to be the only option available to anyone who is struggling. The modern millennial worker is increasingly looking for companies offering flexible or remote working and that clearly promote mental health awareness. 
It’s true there are certainly benefits to flexible and remote working: parents can work around their children, employees can maintain a good work-life balance and job opportunities are less restricted to geographical location. Allegedly. 
The reality – certainly in my case – was an almost constant monitoring of emails and calls from home, working longer hours without being paid overtime and struggling to switch off after work. 
Something as simple as having access to work emails on your mobile means you are more contactable than ever before. The boundaries between home life and work life have become irrevocably blurred and, when it’s paired with absurd feelings of guilt for taking time for yourself, it becomes particularly difficult to manage. As well as this, there is the damaging ethos that every employee is easily replaced. With the surge in ‘upskilling’, the average employee moves on from a company far more quickly than they did a decade ago. 
Employers now have the mindset where they aren’t necessarily looking to invest in the person themselves, instead they focus on the results a prospective employee will deliver. After all, what’s the point if that employee is going to move on in a year’s time anyway? 
The corporate mindset of today takes that vital sense of purpose away from the employee and ups the pressure placed on their performance. The underlying message becomes: This mistake could be your last. Someone else could be sitting at your desk come Monday. 
Feeling expendable makes it more difficult to trust your supervisors with something as personal as mental health. It breeds an atmosphere where an employee feels their ‘weakness’ could be used against them. Those who are struggling may overcompensate by working unsustainable hours to try and make up for any mistakes they make or might make in the future.
This ties back in with my personal story because, for me, work has always been my safety blanket. Through working, I felt a sense of purpose I didn’t think I could otherwise achieve. My work defined me to the extent I didn’t (and still don’t) know who I am without it. When I made mistakes, it became a black mark against who I was as a person. I was neglecting not just my physical health through sleep deprivation, but my mental wellbeing, too.Through working, I felt a sense of purpose I didn’t think I could otherwise achieve. When I made mistakes, it became a black mark against who I was as a person.In October 2018, I hit breaking point. I wound up in Urgent Care, my very bewildered father by my side. He had no idea what was wrong with me and, medically, unless I was feeling suicidal there was nothing Urgent Care could do for me. 
My hair was falling out, I was averaging three hours sleep a night, my mood was at an all time low and I felt I was running on empty. I didn’t know what else to do. 
Until that day, I had kept the issue of my mental health to myself, refusing to share with my loved ones how I felt. My depression and anxiety had become so exacerbated by the pressure I was placing on myself in the workplace, I could no longer hide the bouts of low mood and high anxiety I have suffered from for years. 
That day in October 2018 was the first time I felt like I had completely lost control of who I was. In my mind, it was the most humiliating and abject failure I had ever experienced, most notably because I had no choice but to take a few days off work to recover.
For others like me who struggle to talk about their mental health, working in environments focused on results and not the person behind them means the communication needed between a struggling employee and their line manager is walled off. 
Employers need to do better by their employees. Only when feeling they are working in an open, understanding and supportive workplace will the individual feel safe enough engaging in that all-important dialogue. From there, the support an employee might need can be worked out collaboratively with their manager, without having to resort to the extreme of quitting. 
For me, quitting my job to address my mental wellbeing felt like the only option left. It shouldn’t have been that way. I can only hope that, with time, I will learn to feel less like a failure and instead feel proud for putting myself first.
Emmy Hawker is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @emmy_hawkerMore from HuffPost UK Personal After Burnout I Was Unemployed For Six Months. It Was The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Me. How My All-Black Wardrobe Helps Me Through Borderline Personality Disorder I Have Three Mental Health Diagnoses. This Is How I Live With Them.
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