Lived Experience Consultant

How did you become a lived experience consultant?

In 2015, I had a psychotic episode and needed to spend some time in hospital. After that, I volunteered for a year as an Expert by Experience with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. I worked as a Mental Health Community Partner for the Department for Work and Pensions for two years. I then worked as a Research Associate at the University of Manchester on a study looking into ethnic inequalities in severe mental illness for 18 months. And then Covid 19 happened. One positive for me was discovering The Stability Network, a group of leaders who are open about their mental health experiences, who are working and thriving in the workplace.

As a lived experience consultant, I used my personal experience of going through the mental health system and try to use that experience to create positive outcomes for others going through the same system. Prior to doing this work, I worked in the fields of restorative justice, journalism/media, and widening participation.

How do you manage your own mental health and wellbeing whilst working?

I am a person that needs routine/structure/order. I schedule meetings into the diary as far in advance as possible. I like to know what I am doing on each working day. As I work in mental health, I sometimes have to listen to some intense situations. I make sure that I take regular breaks throughout the day. I also make sure to walk outside for 30 minutes every day. I have a nice lunch (perks of home working) and snack throughout the day to keep my energy levels up. I also drink tea and have lots of water.

How would you communicate any issues you were facing at work?

I am lucky to have a really supportive manager in my mental health work that I do. I am a peer support worker in the same Early Intervention Service that I used for three years. I was fortunate enough that they knew me and about my journey, but I had to be open with them about my ability to perform in the workplace. I have two supervisors (medical and management) and the team has weekly reflective practices in place. I also have reflective groups based on my profession, both internally within the Trust and externally across the South of England region.

According to you, what are the signs that someone is suffering from a mental health issue in the workplace?

This is a difficult question for me to answer definitively. After going through my episode, I have a much better understanding of what affects me personally. However, it is very hard for me to make generalisations for others who have not had my unique experience. What I would say for myself, is not asking for help or being open about my work challenges is a big give away for me. I really value working in teams nowadays, whereas before, I thrive doing things myself. I feel that having the right team/working environment enables everyone within the team to work at their best.

What do you think are the most common mental health issues people deal with whilst working?

It depends where you are in your career/working trajectory but from what I have seen in the past five years, it is not really being sure of what to do but pretending that you know what you are doing. Not having the right support mechanisms in place (reflective groups, supervision, etc). Looking at social media during working hours (it is great to connect to the world but one should be focused on building connections with team members whilst working). The biggest one I have face is facing burn out (being overwhelmed) and not being able to ask for help.

How can employers play a role in supporting employees suffering from mental illness?

When I worked in the civil service, I had the opportunity to have an open conversation with my line manager about what reasonable adjustments I would need to have in place to ensure that I was able to perform in the role. I was so taken aback by that approach and co-created a plan of what to do if I were to have an episode in the workplace. It was very daunting at the time, as I didn’t want to think about anything going wrong but looking back on that experience, it helped me and my line manager to have a plan on what to do. In my two years at DWP, I never had one sick day off.

In your opinion, do you think mental health is more accepted in the workplace?

One of the blessings of the current pandemic is that most people have more of an appreciation of mental health. I think collectively, we are all going through some challenges with working during the pandemic. On a personal note, I have really enjoyed working from home and I never thought I would ever say that. There are a number of organisation offering mental health workplace solutions, which is great. For me, being part of the Stability Network, allows me to meet professionals who are thriving in their workplaces around the world so I am encouraged that it is possible to work with mental health experiences. Probably what is needed is more honest conversations amongst colleagues to really create the supportive environments that are needed in every workplace.

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