My name is Sam Higgins and I work for Shaw Trust under the Live Well Kent contract as a Health and Wellbeing Employment Coach and I am Mental Health First Aid Instructor.
I have worked under the Kent Mental Health Employment Team in Shaw Trust for four and a half years in various roles, starting as a part-time Administrator, moving to a full-time Job Coach in my current role. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which was diagnosed over 10 years ago. It affects me in many different ways- but more so with the constant feeling of anxiety and the pressure of guilt and worry that what I am doing is wrong. The constant feelings of worry that something is going to happen ( or go seriously wrong) is very draining, which in turn makes me feel very anxious and extremely exhausted all of the time. This can also, sometimes, lead to a mild case of Paranoia.
It’s sometimes quite difficult to explain the feelings I have even writing this I am starting to panic and get anxious about whether I am saying the right things and that what I am trying to get across is coming out the way that I want it to. I very rarely relax, as my head is constantly thinking about what should be happening next, making sure that everything is going to plan, and if something isn’t right then obsessing over it. What some people would class as a small problem or not a problem at all, I might see as an extremely big problem, and could potentially turn it into something that it’s not. It sometimes feels that as soon as one anxiety provoking thought has been resolved then something else will arise, so I am in a constant state of unease.
I have been on medication on and off since my diagnosis, and understand that it needs to be taken to help keep me on a balanced level. I have also undertaken counselling sessions, which has helped me to understand my thought processes and to be able to break my thoughts into logical pieces so that I do not have anxiety attacks and can carry out day to day tasks such as work. (This does help in some cases however not always.)
It has taken me an extremely long time to come to terms with having a “label”, but feel that I can talk about my diagnosis a lot more now as I have learned that having an anxiety disorder is not always a negative thing and I am now using it in a positive way.
I work with clients who have both common and severe mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia and find that I can empathise deeply with how that client is feeling and I am able to help them with their journey back into employment. I came through Shaw Trust as a client myself, starting with voluntary work in one of the Shaw Trust Charity Shops, to Assistant Shop Manager. I then took a few months out and started to volunteer in the employment team where I then became a paid member of the Shaw Trust team. If anything I feel that my disorder has a much more positive impact on my role, rather than a negative one.
I have days where my anxiety can overtake my life, but I have learned specific coping mechanisms to enable me to reduce those feelings. I am not scared to talk about how I feel and about my diagnosis, and feel that people should talk about things more, and be open. I have also found that talking about my own experiences to colleagues and clients alike has positively impacted on their own thoughts about being able to work with a mental health diagnosis and that it can be done! However, at the same time I have also learned that each and every one of us is individual and that mental ill health impacts each person differently, even if the diagnoses are the same.
I think that it is important that as an organisation working with disabled and disadvantaged people on a daily basis, that we look after our own mental health and wellbeing, and by doing that we should feel open to talk to our colleagues and managers about our experiences and diagnoses. It’s just as important as talking about any physical disabilities that we have, and I feel that by talking about mine that people know how to react and understand it a bit more.
I do believe that there is still a huge stigma around mental ill health, not just in the workplace but life in general. It’s definitely because people are not educated enough around mental health and don’t understand it fully. I have been discriminated against, not in the workplace but in my own personal life.
When I became severely unwell I lost a lot of those who I thought were friends. People couldn’t understand why the ‘loud, bubbly, outgoing Sam” was acting differently, why didn’t she want to go out, or see anyone? I was called “Nut Nut” and a few other names. This has changed over the years and I don’t hear this name calling anymore but just because I don’t hear the name calling, are they still there?
I do believe that trying to break the stigma around mental Health Is very important. I believe that in all organisations staff members are educated about mental health, and that it is spoken about freely. Because as we all know there are 1 in 4 people who have a mental health condition.
Over the last couple of years, I have experienced some quite stressful times, and I have felt that I have needed a bit of help to get me through. I spoke to my line manager at the time, and she made me aware of the Employee Assistance programme. I was very anxious about calling, because I thought that if I used the free counselling support they would feedback to my line manager.
I called them and they ensured that as well as being free it was extremely confidential. I was offered 8 weeks of counselling which started the very next week, and found that this was very useful and gave me extra coping mechanisms to be able to get through my anxieties. I have used this service twice now and recommend it to any Shaw Trust staff. I also feel that my line managers have been kind and caring and understanding and I feel at ease talking to them. And if my anxiety levels do increase and it impacts on my work- then adjustments can be made.
I have recently become a Mental Health First Aid instructor for Shaw Trust, trained by Mental Health First Aid England. A small team of us are currently training our colleagues nationwide in Mental Health First aid, which in turn is reducing the stigma and making people more aware of mental health.
I think it is important to be able to understand your own mental health before you can understand how to manage it in others. There are so many different things that can help us to manage our own mental ill health, but everyone is individual.
My top tip for improving and managing your mental health, is to take time to do something that you enjoy! Even if it is for half an hour a day. Something that is for you and you only. For me, I have a few things that I do, taking the dog for a walk, getting lost in a book, watching a box set, just enjoying the small things!
I feel very strongly about reducing the stigma around mental health and feel that it’s “Time to Change” and “Time to Talk”!!