He who shares his story of…

From the outside, I look okay…ask me if I am!

The Story

I will start my story at the end…I am okay…from the inside and out.

But it took a journey to get there from being okay to NOT being okay to being okay again. What is important about my story, is that I demonstrate it is okay to be NOT okay as much as it is to be okay.

Join me for a moment as I try to bring you emotionally up to where I was in just a few brief paragraphs.

Married 9 years to my first ever love, two beautiful daughters, a close family, large network of friends, a nice home, very engaged in the local community, a well-paid and secure job in the mining industry where I was doing well, and my wife’s career blossoming. It definitely appeared that the future looked bright and the world was at our feet.

Okay so our relationship wasn’t as exciting as it was in the first few years, but with the demands we had placed on ourselves and simply not having as much time alone together that was normal…right?

No, it wasn’t at all.

Little did I know my wife had slowly been drifting away from me for some time and was emotionally absent from our marriage. She now had other visions for her future, and I wasn’t a part of it. The details to follow were extremely soul destroying but the matter of fact was she was gone, and it was too late to do anything about it.

I tried to do everything I could to save who we were in the hours we had during our home life balance. My hopes, dreams and my whole world were crushed, and I was fighting for everything in it. The prospect of what I was losing, and the health effects caused from trying to save something that was gone, were nothing short of debilitating and left me literally with a fight for my own existence.

The first few months after separating were the hardest. I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression. I was replaying every minute of our happy marriage and was literally fighting a war within my own mind. It was a battle and I was losing the war. The negative emotions were consuming me. I felt helpless, and didn’t know how I could survive this.

Not in a million years would I have ever thought I would be someone that would consider suicide as an option, but there I was, ALMOST giving up on my life. But I knew I couldn’t, for the sake of my two daughters and I continued to present for work and for life.

This part is what highlights why I wanted to share my story through this platform.

I was always pretty good at talking to others about my feelings and getting the help I knew I needed. I realised very early on I wouldn’t survive this on my own and that I needed to ask for help.

What helped me from here was that I had an inclusive work environment. I felt comfortable and safe to ask for support from my employer and had no hesitation to tell them I wasn’t okay on the inside.

Without challenge or question, my employer gave me all the time I needed to work through my personal issues.  They provided counselling through the Employee Assistance Program. My supervisor became a huge support to me allowing me flexibility when I needed it. Members of HR offered personal and professional support as I tackled the emotional journey through to today.  I had no doubt that it was okay that I was having to deal with these matters while continuing to give the best I could in my employment.  I used the resources available through the company and external – many different kinds that offered support and focus on mental and physical health improvements. From the outside today I look okay…ask me if I am…my employer did – and today…well I am getting there both outside and in!

The Message

With one in five Australians experiencing symptoms of mental illness each year, chances are very high that you might know someone whose life has been touched by mental illness. So you are not alone.

Too often, fear of prejudice and judgement prevent people from reaching out and this can destroy families and end lives. Stigma also denies people with mental health problems the opportunity to live their lives to the full.

Employees at risk of suicide may demonstrate a number of warning signs. By familiarising yourself with these behaviours you will be better equipped to help your employee.

Mental Health and Well-Being support programs are not just for those suffering from serious mental health problems like depression, anxiety, or those with suicidal thoughts.

This type of support is for everyone. At some point in one’s life there will be stress, worry or a personal crisis, whether that be the loss of a loved one, relationship problems, gambling problems, alcohol addiction, and issues with children, post-natal depression, and stress from work. This is part of real life and the real world we live in. It’s our inability to cope in these situations that can cause serious mental health problems and be detrimental to our overall wellbeing. A psychologically safe workplace begins with a feeling of belonging and being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. Building an inclusive workplace allows someone to be their authentic self and comfortable to be open about the challenges that may be impacting their ability to have their mind on the job.

The Call to Action

There are many resources to which you can refer for information about mental illness.  Helplines, websites and government mental health information services provide a range of services.  Importantly, you should know that you aren’t alone and it is okay to need to ask for help.

Employee Assistance Programs in a business are an essential part of the professional support systems available to employees, and its use should be encouraged.

If you notice any of the warning signs from your team members and you are worried about their safety, you should start by having a conversation.

Businesses need to establish inclusive workplace practices that accommodate the diverse range of employees they have within the organisation. As a leader, you should establish a psychologically safe work environment.  This can be done by showing your team you are engaged and paying attention to them, demonstrate that you understand, avoid blaming and build trust, include your team in decision making and nip negatively in the bud, be open to feedback and champion your team and what they provide to the business’ end goals.