Working really matters – See Change Ambassador Ray

Monday, August 28th, 2017 12:56

Research commissioned by See Change ahead of the 2017 Green Ribbon campaign. The research was funded by The National Office for Suicide Prevention.

By See Change Ambassador Ray

I started working in Dublin in March 1987. I had been sent up from Limerick to get a job in the big smoke.

Ireland was different then in many ways. Homosexuality was a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861. Marriage was for life, even if you didn’t want it to be. U2 had just released the Joshua Tree on an actual vinyl record. There was no internet, mobile phones, social media or selfies.

And nobody, but nobody, was declaring in public that they had mental health problems. The movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest painted a grim Hollywood picture for many of mental illness, and how it was treated. Ireland had a long and shameful history in the 20th century of confining people in Victorian style asylums.

I come from a typical Irish family. My wider family included suicide, alcoholism, eating disorders and other things. But of course I knew little of this in 1987 because nobody talked about it. It was as if there was a magic carpet under which Irish families were expected to hide their problems.

If you had said to me in 1987 that I would someday be known as an Ambassador, I would have laughed, or dreamed that my career would see me progress through a Ferrero Rocher wonderland to represent Ireland abroad.

My mental health journey since is worthy of its own story. Maybe someday I will get to write the book that those who sell creative writing courses claim us is within us all, bursting to come out like a butterfly from the “chrysalis”. Suffice to say that with my family genes, and whatever way my wiring was set by the intelligent designer, it has been an interesting journey.

Quote about stigma

Work has always played a very important part of my story. I know that many people with mental health problems can find it challenging to get or hold onto stable employment. And in its absence they can struggle in many ways – financially, emotionally, self-esteem. The See Change research shows almost 4 in 10 people would hide a mental health difficulty from colleagues. I count myself lucky in that I found my work stimulating, and a purposeful way to occupy my mind.  It also helped pay the bills which is useful to help you do the normal things like get married, buy a house, and have children.

Apart from some time spent in the pit stops for repairs for punctures and crashes, I worked away in an organisation up until 2012 in a variety of roles. The work suited me. Regular, steady, and risk-averse. But things took a nasty turn in 2012 when I was bullied in work.

Once I reported bullying by a manager I didn’t know then that bullies are sometimes protected by superiors and the victim then becomes an enemy to be hunted.

I never faced a challenge in my life like trying to vindicate my rights. Friends advised me to give up – you don’t beat the system. But I felt it as a battle for my soul and identity, which would feel smashed if I lay under my employer’s steamroller.

So after 25 years of a secure job I left it behind with regrets, to try rebuild my life and career.

It sucked big time for a while and I was nearly a year without work. For someone who had worked for 25 years I found this the biggest danger ever to my health. But I had two things going for me.

  1. A wonderful wife and family who never gave up on me.
  2. A doctor and a counsellor, who helped me see my value. And that I should never give up.

And I finally got a lucky break. I heard about JobNet, a charity based programme aimed at people who lost work in their midlife and were trying to get back into work.

JobNet helped me regain my crushed self-esteem as I attended classes with others in a similar boat. The camaraderie was so helpful as we learnt about CVs, networking, and seeing yourself as a brand.

My next break was to do some temping work for an agency. Then I landed a return to regular contract work on my own merit in 2014. And as I could now show my worth in work, I was approached by another employer in early 2016 and moved to a job really suited to my talents.

It was also in 2014 that I was asked to become a See Change Ambassador to share my experience so it might help others. I have been on the radio, acted as a volunteer for First Fortnight, spoken at youth events.

More recently I was a panel speaker at a work wellness conference, and spoke in two organisations, Core Media and KBC.

I have loved helping See Change as its cause is close to my heart. There is good camaraderie and help between the Ambassadors as we have shared some similar life experiences.

Based on my own personal experiences, do I think a lot has changed in mental health attitudes since 1987? To answer that I would paraphrase a political slogan,

“Some done but Much More to Do.”

 

See Change has identified the workplace as a key setting for social change around attitudes to mental health problems to take place. Our goal is to help facilitate a cultural shift in workplaces so that employers and employees feel supported and secure in starting a discussion about how mental health can affect each one of us. 

See Change’s six step pledge programme was developed to help Irish workplaces create an open culture around mental health and play a role in challenging mental health stigma. By signing up to the workplace pledge, organisations are showing that they are committed to creating an open culture around mental health for managers and employees. To find out more about the pledge programme and to download a copy of the action plan we ask organisations to complete and submit in order to sign up and receive line manager workshops on mental health please visit: 

http://www.seechange.ie/see-change-workplace-pledge/

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