When you’re having a problem with your mental health, having a workplace that understands what you’re going through makes a world of difference to how you overcome it.
I learned this the easy way, fortunately, when I joined Ukie. I know that in terms of my public persona it’s reasonable to say that I project a certain amount of confidence, of happiness, optimism and care for others – especially in work situations.
But when I joined Ukie as their Head of Communications last year, my mental wellbeing felt far away from the outward contentment that I was projecting.
Last July, my life briefly broke apart. A long term relationship ended; I moved to London to live by myself for the first time; I then started a fantastic, but high pressure, job while I simultaneously wound down my business.
It was, in truth, a bit much. But initially, I didn’t engage with how I was feeling mentally. I constructed some defence mechanisms to keep me going in the short term. I then studiously ignored what felt like a burgeoning spot of darkness hovering just over my shoulder for as long as humanly possible in the hope it’d just go away.
By September, though, it wasn’t possible any more. A hard-working August (as all are in the games industry) and a fairly hard partying one had not washed away my feelings. Instead, I was increasingly weighed down each morning as I dealt with feelings of sadness, guilt and anxiety.
It prompted me to go and seek private help from a therapist. It’s something I’ve done before and found great value in. After all, if you’ll go see a doctor because you’re feeling physically unwell then it makes perfect sense to talk to a therapist to bring some clarity to your state of mind. Straight forward enough, I think.
Previously though, I had been able to see a therapist completely on my own time. I was self-employed on the last occasion I sought help, which meant that I could simply pick a time during the day and build my work around it.
Having just started a ‘nine to five’, I worried I might not be able to do something similar. I was concerned I would either not be able to get the help I needed at all (work comes first etc) or that I would have to cram it in around the working day in an uncomfortable way.
That’s where having a workplace with a culture of understanding mental health issues worked so well for me. I chatted with my boss extensively about my life circumstances and took the opportunity to tell her how I was feeling. I then asked if I could, quietly, book out an hour from 9-10 on a week day to have my sessions, mark it as private time and remove it when I felt ready to.
She agreed on the spot. With that came such a wave of relief. This wasn’t just caused by the fact that I could get the help I needed to at the time. It was also caused by the feeling that I was working in an environment where my mental well-being was catered for and where something sensitive to me would be managed humanely.
In the end, the arrangement didn’t last very long. The fact that I had been to therapy before, felt ready to talk and, fortunately, spoke with someone I clicked with meant I was able to come out the other side of it in three months.
However, it wasn’t the length of the experience that mattered to me. Instead, what mattered to me was that I felt I had room to deal with my mental health issues without feeling like it affected anyone’s perception of me. I was still George, I was just handling some personal stuff.
Since then, I’ve had the best working year of my life. It hasn’t been easy – it never is, unfortunately – but I’ve been able to work on a number of major campaigns and initiatives that have made a difference (including to other people’s mental health.) And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without the support I received when I needed it.
So, when you’re thinking about how you can make your workplace as welcoming as possible, always, ALWAYS think about what you can do to foster an environment where someone feels able to talk about – and take actions to improve – their mental health.
A small act of kindness from a thoughtful boss made one of the toughest years of my life much more bearable. If you can make where you work similarly kind, I encourage you wholeheartedly to do so.
Ukie has signed up as a partner to Safe in Our World’s #LevelUpMentalHealth pledge to create workplaces with an environment that is safe and supportive for their team’s mental health. You can sign up your business here: https://safeinourworld.org/level-up/