The Emma Edit | Part 2: Doing good does you good

31Jul 17

|The Emma Edit | Kamwell’s Emma James explores a new wellbeing topic every month|

My road to volunteering

In my final year as a psychology student at Sussex University I moved into a little flat in the centre of Brighton with two friends. We hadn’t lived there long when I bumped into our only neighbour in the hallway, an elderly lady called Edith with a dog whose name I’ve relegated to the inaccessible parts of my memory. We got talking and I immediately warmed to her. She was slow and quiet but had a glint in her eye that spoke of a prior life filled with adventure. In the weeks that followed we had many more hallway chats and it wasn’t long before we established a weekly tea date at her flat. I soon discovered that, bar a son who lived ‘up North’ and her canine companion, Edith was completely alone and had regularly gone for weeks without meaningful human interaction.

Edith’s charming nature, stories about a bygone era and penchant for chocolate covered biscuits led me to spend many hours curled up in one of her armchairs. We became friends. And when I moved to London the following year, we kept in touch. I’d call her every now and again and send the odd letter. But the inevitable day came when I received a call from her son, informing me that Edith had died. This news weighed heavy on my heart. Her son went on to tell me that Edith had kept a daily journal (unbeknown to me) and that my visits featured in many entries. He said that she wrote about me as someone who had kept loneliness and sadness at bay and given a little silver lining to her existence. He read me a few excerpts from her diary that moved me to tears, words that I will never forget.

After Edith’s death, I felt a growing sense of unease about the situation she (and so many others) faced as she grew old. It seemed so utterly wrong. Loneliness is a heavy burden for anyone to carry, let alone someone nearing the end of their life, when energy and resources to undo one’s situation are limited.  For most of us, going weeks without meaningful human interaction is unimaginable. Yet, amongst the elderly, loneliness is an epidemic which is having a catastrophic effect on wellbeing in later life.

My discontent soon reached a tipping point and I decided to turn my frustration into action. Not knowing where to start, I Googled ‘combat loneliness in the elderly’ and was heartened by the results. Amongst many initiatives,  Age UK’s befriending scheme, where volunteers are paired with an elderly person to visit regularly over a set period of time, immediately caught my eye. Within a couple of weeks I was sitting at my local Age UK office, signing up to be a befriender. I have been volunteering in this capacity for three years and find it to be a source of great joy in my life.

Why doing good does you good?

Countless studies have identified a link between doing good and feeling good. Volunteering has been found to promote better mental and physical health and increase a sense of purpose and feelings of happiness. An extensive research project on the topic found that altruistic attitudes, volunteering, and informal helping behaviours make unique contributions to the maintenance of life satisfaction. The Mental Health Foundation made ‘doing good’ the focus of a recent mental health awareness campaign and published research that linked helping others to a reduction in stress, improved emotional wellbeing and a reduction in negative feelings. 94% of respondents in a United Health Group study reported that volunteering had improved their mood and helped take their mind off their own problems.

Doing good, as part of a wellbeing strategy

With the impressive effect it has on wellbeing, it is no surprise that volunteering is increasingly making its way onto employee wellbeing agendas. ‘Better Relationships’ is a scheme run by Barclays that encourages their employees to volunteer their time and skills though regular giving opportunities and matched fundraising, as well as an annual Make A Difference Day. Waitrose donate 75,000 paid hours a year for staff to give their time and skills to local communities. Employees at Salesforce are given 7 paid volunteering days per financial year, donated to a cause of their choosing.

Employers that encourage their people to volunteer and, most importantly, put the infrastructure in place to make this possible, have seen impressive results in terms of employee satisfaction, loyalty and pride in their employer, reinforcing the business case for including volunteering in a wellbeing strategy.

Useful links

National Council for Voluntary Organisations

GOV.UK – volunteering information

Londoners can find their local volunteering centre here

If befriending sounds like something you’d like to look into, I would recommend checking out Age UK.

Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash

The Emma Edit | Part 1 : Dear Diary…

20Jun 17

The Emma Edit | Kamwell’s Emma James explores a new wellbeing topic every month

It all started when I read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole at the ripe old age of 12: I became fascinated with the idea of committing my thoughts and feelings to paper and have done so ever since, albeit sporadically. My journaling activity tends to peak either when life is especially good, or when I’m finding things tough. In other words, I use journaling as an outlet for my emotions and there is little rhyme or reason to what and when I write.

I recently came across an article about the benefits of purposeful, organised journaling. It piqued my interest so I decided to do some further investigating. A cursory google yielded many articles suggesting that the simple act of focusing one’s thoughts and writing them down at the start and end of each day has far-reaching benefits for wellbeing. I was intrigued, but wondered a) whether I would be able to stick to daily practice and b) whether the purported benefits would indeed materialise. So, with some scepticism, I decided to give it a go: I kept a daily journal for a whole month.

Based on the research I’d done, I decided on the following framework:

A.M: Intention and gratitude:

  • list three things to be grateful for
  • set three intentions for the day, i.e. “today I will be productive”, “today I will respond calmly to whatever comes my way” etc.

P.M: Reflection

  • list three things that went well in the day that passed.

I have used journaling app Day One for years (and love it) but decided that hand-writing my entries felt like a more committed and concrete approach (in other words: I am an incurable stationary addict and wanted an excuse to buy a new notebook). Armed with my notebook and pen (ok, I admit it, I also bought a new pen), I got to work. I have two young children so finding time for my morning entry took great discipline at first. But I soon found my schedule ‘sweet spot’ and then stuck to it religiously. My advice: keep your entries short, they shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes. I found that the less I thought about what I wanted to write, the more concise and honest I was. And set a deadline for completion: mine was 9am.

For the same child-related reasons, it was often a challenge to write in the evenings. The pull of sleep from 9pm onwards is incredibly strong but, again, discipline got me through and it soon became a habit I didn’t feel I could skip, akin to brushing my teeth. My advice: make sure your notebook is next to your bed before you get into it – proximity is key!

One month on, these are my reflections:

  • Listing things I am grateful for made me start each day with a sense of perspective. It’s easy to fall out of bed in the mornings and sleep walk into the day. Taking a moment to be grateful snapped me out of this and forced me to ‘see the bigger picture’ for a moment. My son may have used Weetabix to glue my laptop together and emptied the clean washing onto our muddy lawn (all in the space of 4.5 minutes), but he is healthy and happy, and taking the time to focus on this seemed to keep stress at bay.
  • Setting intentions for the day felt fairly futile at first but the more specific I got the more they started to change the course of my day. For example, if I’d set the intention “to have fun with my children” this popped into my head when I felt tempted to bring out the iPad so I could get some chores done. And I don’t doubt that the bigger, more long-term intentions I listed will in some way shape my future. I can’t put this better than Deepak Chopra, who says: “An intention is a directed impulse of consciousness that contains the seed form of that which you aim to create. Only when you release your intentions into the fertile depths of your consciousness can they grow and flourish”.
  • Documenting three things that went well in the day made me realise how often I get into bed feeling frazzled and, frankly, a bit grumpy. This process was an effective way of undoing unnecessary tension and negativity and it gave me a greater sense of calm and appreciation. On challenging days, I’d open my notebook feeling like I wouldn’t have anything positive to write, but I always did, giving me that ‘oh it wasn’t so bad after all’ feeling. I can’t say this for sure but I get the sense that I’ve been able to fall asleep faster and, dare I say it, sleep a bit better.
  • Reading back through a month of entries has been surprisingly interesting and I’d go as far as saying I’ve learned something about myself. I can see patterns in my focus and priorities and these have helped me organise my time in a way that I find fulfilling. For example, my intentions often centred around productivity (at work – always! – but also in my home life) and when I reflected on the day that passed such activity seemed to have given me the greatest sense of satisfaction. I have since made sure that I set aside time every day to work through my list of ‘life to-dos’ because I’ve realised it is instrumental to my wellbeing.

So, there we have it:  a month of journaling! Would I recommend it? Yes. Will I keep up my own practice? Definitely.  

Want to find out more? Below are some articles I found interesting:

There are some brilliant journals on the market that have a pre-designed structure to them:

The Self Journal

The Daily Greatness Journal

You’ve got to have flex appeal!

20Jun 17

Becoming a parent is one of the most life-changing events and person can encounter. Alongside the heady love that runs so deep it almost knocks you sideways and the unrivalled joy of watching a small human (that you created) grow into a person, comes a set of life-changes and logistical challenges that can, at times, feel extremely hard to navigate. And for parents who choose to pursue a career alongside their roles as Head of Pram Operations/Snot Wiping Manager/Chief Nappy Officer, these challenges can be debilitating.

At the core of most issues that working parents face is time. Whether their kids are in childcare, school or at home, meeting their ever-changing needs can make it extremely difficult to simultaneously keep up with the responsibilities and time-demands of a job. Full time parents may only be able to work when their kids are in bed (for many this means before 7am and after 8pm), school holidays may be causing a logistical nightmare or it may be that the only available nursery requires a 3pm pick-up.
Inflexible work set-ups combined with the cost of childcare have left parents in a range of impossible situations: having to give up a career they spent their whole adult lives building, working full time to take home a mere £14/day once childcare is paid for or only seeing their children on the weekend.

Something has to give.

If there is one thing a working parent needs (aside from an unbroken night’s sleep!) it is flexibility; having greater control over when and where they work can be a lifeline that makes their career a viable possibility. This could involve working a 4-day week, working from home or working outside the traditional 9am-6pm hours.

Whatever form flexible working takes, the first step towards making it possible is a shift in perspective. Flexible working has for a long time been seen as synonymous with a reduction in productivity when, in reality, the opposite is true. Employers fear relinquishing control and that flex initiatives might ‘open up a can of worms’ that sees their whole team coming in and out of the office as they wish. But putting some simple measures in place will ensure that both employee and employer will reap the numerous rewards that flexible working can bring:

 ‘The 3 C’s’: Top Tips for Making it Work

1. Clarity – employees must be open and clear about the challenges they are facing and what practical steps would alleviate some pressure.

2. Consistency – create a plan and stick to it – this way both employer and employee know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

3. Communication – keep an open dialogue about what’s working and what isn’t – don’t be afraid to make changes where necessary.

To find out more about regulations and guidelines around flexible working, the following resources may come in handy:


Working Families:

The TUC:

CFO Innovation:

Mother Pukka’s guide to requesting flexible working:

Workplace mental health and wellbeing: at a tipping point?

11Jun 17

With greater public awareness, political interest and transparency around the importance of good workplace mental health and wellbeing, more and more employers are reviewing their activities in this space. Yet despite this positive trend, many employers are still facing numerous challenges in implementing effective mental health and wellbeing strategies.

New research from the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions places workplace mental health and wellbeing at a tipping point, with employers increasingly reviewing their activities in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. Recognising the costs of poor mental health and wellbeing on today’s workforce, the report is designed as a call to action for employers, whatever their current performance regarding mental health and wellbeing strategies.


Key findings

  • Progress towards greater awareness and recognition of mental health is occurring at a slower rate in the workplace, compared to conversations occurring in public spaces more generally
  • Costs associated with poor mental health and wellbeing result from absence costs, from presenteeism and turnover costs, as well as from staff that is not fully enthusiastic and engaged due to low mental wellbeing
  • Greater public awareness, increasing political attention and an increased emphasis on employer responsibilities are driving an increased interest in workplace mental health and wellbeing.


Five key implementation challenges for employers

  • Failure to see mental health and wellbeing as a priority
  • Mental health and wellbeing policies are reactive and driven by staff events or experience
  • Lack of insight around current performance
  • Poor evidence base to measure return on investment of wellbeing strategies
  • Lack of collective knowledge around best practice.


Key actions for employers

  • Get workplace mental health and wellbeing on the agenda
  • Take stock and monitor performance
  • Create buy-in for the case for change and investment
  • Implement key initiatives adapted for specific workforce challenges and demographics
  • Evaluate programmes and communicate successes
  • Encourage employees to support colleagues.

Article published on in March 2017.

For original article and link to download the report, click here.


Health is other people

17May 17

Think of a time when you felt good about yourself and your life. Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing? Chances are you were either happily alone, or with people that you cared about and who cared about you. You probably had an unspoken feeling of fitting in, of shared values, of belonging.

Humans are inherently social beings. 90% of the wiring in our brains is to do with processing social and emotional information. The need to experience a sense of belonging is so deeply woven in to who we are, it’s buried in the mechanisms that maintain not only emotional but also physiological equilibrium and wellbeing.

Our evolution as a species depended on the presence of what are called “hive” emotions. Feelings that keep us loyal, bonded and trustworthy. Generosity, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, that kind of thing.

So important are such “other”-directed sentiments to our own and others’ survival that we are designed to flourish and thrive when demonstrating ways of being that promote social cohesion. Win – win!

Let’s look at the other side of the coin. Loneliness has been shown to be as big a risk factor for heart disease as smoking and obesity. Loneliness and isolation are bad for us. It’s not whether there are people around us. We can feel isolated even amid a sea of people. It’s the nature with which we connect, the quality of the interactions, the sincerity of the engagement, the “presence” that matters.

A recent survey showed that 94% of people are looking for a new job whilst at work. When asked why, a culture of secrecy, office politics,  difficult managers or colleagues, a sense of lack of belonging, are cited as the major reasons people move on. In other words, other people.

At work much mental and emotional distress and alienation can be caused by small indirect acts of aggression – body language, rolling the eyes, talking over people, ignoring  their emails or delaying replying, cliques, not inviting people, withholding information. These are subtle ways in which we can alienate people, albeit unwittingly. And yet we know that a team’s performance is directly proportional to engagement, which in turn depends on the emotional intelligence (EQ) of its leaders. EQ leads to listening, connecting, caring – creating a culture where everyone matters.

Jean-Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people”. Sadly, it can sometimes seem that way. But when we explore the science of wellbeing, we see that the opposite is actually true, which is why I say, “Health is other people”.

Belonging is as essential to our wellbeing as exercise and good nutrition. It underpins our sense of self. We care deeply about what others think of us. When asked, people would rather experience physical pain that the pain of social isolation. In the context of work, businesses increase their productivity when they create a culture where everyone matters, that are human centred. Rather than targeting individuals, demanding that they become more resilient, as if it were their fault they they can’t cope with excessive workloads, resources would be better directed at measures that increase personal presence, emotional literacy,  inter-personal connectedness, embedding a social-emotional culture that recognises and values our inter-depence, our need to belong.

You are how you sleep

15May 17


We spend approximately 1/3 of our lives asleep. Yet, to many of us, sleep is just something that happens at the end of the day, with little thought given to its importance. As a result, we are sleeping worse than ever before with far-reaching consequences for health and wellbeing. Sleep is a time of rich neurological activity – a time for repair, restoration and renewal, memory consolidation, cognitive maintenance and growth; we need it to feel balanced, energised, focussed and happy. 

We reviewed the latest research and expert advice to bring you five top tips for getting some good quality shut-eye: 

  • Lay the foundation for good sleep throughout the day – eat breakfast, take regular breaks, stay hydrated, exercise.
  • Avoid stimulants – caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are notorious sleep inhibitors.
  • Make sleep a priority – take action by giving yourself a regular sleep and wake time, helping your body become accustomed to a healthy bedtime routine.  
  • Create a wind-down routine – this could include a bath, listening to music, gentle stretching, reading or meditation.
  • Turn your bedroom into a quiet and peaceful sanctuary – ensure it is free of clutter and tech devices, keep lighting low and the temperature.

What will wellbeing look like In 2020?

28Apr 17

Wellbeing is a $3.72 trillion industry, according to new research released by the Global Wellness Institute. With people living longer and our pace of life only getting faster. Keeping healthy is now a full-time job within itself. On the flip side of this, statistics predict that the number of people who will suffer from one of the leading causes of disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and depression is only going to increase.

So how are wellbeing companies trying to counterbalance this? I want to share 4 key areas that experts predict by 2020 will have the biggest impact in improving people’s wellbeing and allow them to live longer and healthier lives.

Here’s an interesting, though probably scary fact. Your phone and wearable technology probably know more about you than you do right now.  They know when you wake up and when you go to sleep and the quality of your sleep, how your body responds to the workouts you put it through, and how your stress levels are affecting you physical and emotional states.

We now live in world of smart devices. While fitness trackers are dominating the wearable’s sector currently, there is predicted to be a shift in how we track our information. Collecting data is not as new as we realise, in fact, it started as early as 1984, when Adidas stuck a microsensor into one of their shoes to record runners’ distance, running pace, and calorie burn.

According to research, analysis and advisory firm, International Data Corporation (IDC), smart watches will take the lead by the end of this decade, accounting for 52% of the market worldwide. Though what’s already starting to emerge as one of the newer technologies is smart clothing. IDC predicts it will grab a 15.6% market share globally by 2020. Having sensors built into our workout clothing, jackets, belts, and shoes actually helps the quality of information to be more accurate. It’s still a developing industry, but smart clothing is the future.

Emotional wellbeing is fast becoming a key focus. With the World Health Organization predicting that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is an area that technology can become really effective in helping people understand their physiological states. Because our stress levels and our state of mind are intricately connected and subjective, one of the best ways for people to understand their emotional wellbeing is through Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

Within our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), we have two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic activity leads to an increase in heart rate (e.g. during exercise), while parasympathetic activity induces a lower heart rate (e.g. during sleep). HRV, therefore, provides a measure to express the activity of the ANS, and may consequently provide a measure of stress and our emotional states.To understand how this works, there are a number of seconds that elapse between one heartbeat and the next one. This is called the Interbeat interval (IBI). Measuring HRV is not about the average IBI, but rather about its variability. It looks at how much the IBI fluctuates from each heartbeat to the next. Our parasympathetic is super-fast, so sudden changes in IBI influenced by this branch. Thus, greater HRV equals more parasympathetic stimulation on the heart, and thus, more flexible emotional responding. People with good HRV tend to be more optimistic, take initiative and are stress resistant. Whereas people with low HRV tend to be depressed or anxious. With wearable devices that track HRV, users can actually track their stress levels over the long term and access clear data to help pinpoint situations that may cause their anxiety or stress levels to spike.

Exercise is predicted to become more gamified by 2020. In 2016, we saw the astonishing rise of Pokémon Go, which demonstrated accelerated digital change into areas such as gamification and augmented reality (AR). Gamification within health and fitness is already visible to a degree via levels of motivation, challenges, and rewards that we see already with activities such as Crossfit. Though there is an emergence in applying the motivational triggers, data visualization and fun of gaming into the fitness experience further. Experts predict that more fitness devices connected with gaming devices via Bluetooth will become more crucial to getting more people active.With AR, our health and fitness experiences and engagement will draw people into nonstop virtual interactions. Coupled with more input from sensors from our smartphones and smart clothing, users will get more accurate results and continued motivation to keep going. Because people will have a better understanding of information, and the different biomarkers they need to change to become healthier.

One of the exciting areas within wellbeing industry that is expected to advance by 2020 is Stem Cell Therapy. Stem cells are the foundation for every organ and tissue in your body, they are also known as a centerpiece of regenerative medicine. Stem cells can be injected into the body to replace cells damaged by aging, disease or trauma. Even though stem cell treatments are yet to make it into the mainstream, forecasts for their growth are promising the market to explode over the next five to ten years.In 2013, the global stem cell market size was valued at around $38 billion. Over the next five years, it is expected to nearly quadruple, reaching and surpassing $170 billion by 2020.

What effect this will all have is of course unknown. Though what is clear, the more we educate and inform people to understand what wellbeing means for them and how they are responsible for changing their habits and behaviors, then the more we can inspire them to make the changes they need to become healthier.

Article by: Dean Griffiths, first published on

How to make remote working, work!

22Apr 17

When Professor Robert Kelly’s daughter marched into his office during a high-profile video interview with the BBC, nobody could have predicted the world-wide coverage this event would be afforded (if you haven’t seen the footage, you can view it here: Heated debate has ensued around his handling of the situation and the initial reports that suggested the woman who finally apprehends the wayward children was a nanny when, in fact, she is Prof. Kelly’s wife. All this aside, the footage gives airtime to an important issue: working from home has many benefits but it is not always the holy grail many believe it to be; it comes with its own set of unique challenges.

‘Fixed hours from a fixed location’ is no longer the only way we work. Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of incorporating the option of remote and flexible working as an effective way of reducing staff turnover and absenteeism. The positive effects on employee wellbeing are hard to deny: a recent global survey by Polycom revealed that 98% of respondents found that flexibility around when and where they worked had a positive impact on their productivity; many businesses report a substantial increase in morale and job satisfaction after introducing such options; for those with family commitments, being able to work from home can be a lifeline that enables them to simultaneously pursue a career.

But, as Prof. Kelly’s daughters so charmingly brought to light, working from home isn’t always as easy as it seems. Distraction comes in many forms, from children to household chores, it takes discipline not to fall foul to other demands on our attention. Not having colleagues around can be lonely and cabin fever can start to set after 8 hours on your own within the same four walls.

What does this mean for employers? Well, simply rolling out a remote working scheme as part of a wellbeing strategy may not be enough, putting some structures in place and offering simple training can help both businesses and their employees get the best out of such an arrangement. Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs says: “With remote work we can focus on results as a main performance measure; when and where people do their work isn’t usually important — how, why and what they do is”. Regular contact with the team is imperative and there are endless programmes to make this possible, from Slack to Skype. Training remote workers to plan their time will help them to stay organised when away from the more structured office environment; this should include taking breaks and making sure that there is a set endpoint to the working day – both easy to overlook when working from home.

With some basic systems in place, remote set ups could be cemented as a viable way of working, with both employer and employee reaping the rewards. Sara Sutton Fell again: “a flexible work environment acknowledges that our workers are whole people, with big, and sometimes complicated, lives outside of the “office.” And it doesn’t do the company or the individual any good to make them feel they need to shut that part of themselves off when they start work each day”.

Emotionally healthy families are happy families

12Apr 17

By Nick Haisman-Smith of Family Links, a charity dedicated to empowering children, parents, families, schools and workplaces to be emotionally healthy 

For us here at Family Links, happiness doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time or be forever free from difficult feelings, such a goal is impossible. Rather it means aiming to feel fulfilled and having the ability to reach our potential, both of which I believe can be achieved by supporting good emotional health in ourselves and our families. Emotional health refers to a set of social and emotional competencies and beliefs including self-esteem, self-awareness, empathy, emotional regulation and relationship skills, which are all important to deal with daily life and challenges, but also to support children and positive family relationships.

So how can parents foster good emotional health within their families? There are a number of everyday things that we can all do for ourselves and each other to create an environment in which our family members feel valued, loved and appreciated. Some of these tips may seem like small acts, but they can make a big difference to relationships and communication between family members, and indeed any relationship.

– Keep each other in mind

Stay tuned in to what is going on for the different members of your family. If someone has an important meeting or a lesson they’re not looking forward to at school, check in with that person at the end of the day. By doing this, we prove to that person they’re being thought about and it shows we’re aware of what is going on for them.

– Have regular whole-family time

Putting time aside to spend together as a family is a great way to enjoy each other’s company and have fun. The activity does not have to be a big or expensive thing. It could be watching a TV programme that everyone enjoys, playing a game, or just being silly together. A little bit of light heartedness goes a long way.

– Find regular individual time with everyone

While it is important to take time as a whole family, we also need to maintain our relationships with each individual family member. Every few days, try to have a few minutes one-on-one with each other person to see how they are and tune into what is going on for them.

– Try to regularly spend meal times together

It is not always possible to eat a meal all together, but having at least one meal a week with the whole family can be really beneficial for relationships. Sharing food is an important social activity, and it can be a focussed time of day to check in with each other round a table, with distractions, like phones, out of the way.

– Listen to each other

This might seem like an obvious one, but actually being listened to can make a significant difference to how valued we feel, so we know our opinions and experiences matter to our family. This also encourages the idea that each person’s voice matters equally, whether they are a parent/guardian or a child.

Encourage and model open, honest feelings

We cannot all be happy all of the time, and it is not emotionally healthy to bottle up feelings like anger, jealousy and frustration. By modelling a healthy expression of a range of emotions to children, we give the message that it is okay to acknowledge all feelings, even if they are not always comfortable.

– Take time for yourself

Good emotional health starts with you. If we do not look after ourselves as individuals, it will become impossible to help or support others. Check in with yourself to see how you are feeling, and do things regularly to nurture your own wellbeing. This could be anything from going for a walk on your lunchbreak to socialising with friends. By regularly doing things to look after ourselves, we prevent “burn out” and become better able to give out to other aspects of our lives, including maintaining emotionally healthy relationships in our families.

For more tips, take a look at Family Links’ free downloads for parents.

Depression doesn’t stop when you go to work

07Apr 17

As the WHO launches their campaign ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’ we are featuring one man’s account of dealing with depression whilst pursuing a career as a writer. He brings to light many important issues around mental health in the workplace and what employers can do to create a culture of acceptance and support by putting mental health at the centre of their employee wellbeing strategy.  

Depression affects millions of people around the world. It destroys lives, it ruins marriages and it also impacts on how we work. Yet mental health problems, including depression, are still often a taboo subject in the workplace, which is odd when you consider that one in four adults will experience a mental health condition in any given year.

It can be difficult for a person suffering from depression to report the issue to their employer for a number of reasons. Depression can wrongly be seen as a selfish condition, or mistaken for a short period of sadness. Sometimes managers and even HR departments don’t understand, or aren’t trained to deal with mental health issues. For those who have never experienced the illness, it’s difficult to contemplate exactly what the sufferer is going through or why they can’t just snap out of it and pull themselves together.

Unfortunately depression doesn’t work like that. My experience with depression is better than most. I’ve been lucky enough that it hasn’t had too dramatic an impact on my working life and I’ve been able to build a career. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve been fortunate enough to not only work for some very forward-thinking employers, but also to be in a position where I can influence policy regarding workplace mental health.

All employers have a responsibility for their employees’ health and safety in the workplace, including pre-existing mental health conditions and conditions brought on by work. How can employers ensure they meet this responsibility? I would suggest that the best way is to remove the taboo around depression and other mental health conditions and encourage their employees to come forward and seek help. Living with depression can be very lonely, and it will only be made worse if you feel that you have to hide your illness from your bosses. A lot of people suffer in silence until the problem gets too much, compounding their feelings of helplessness and isolation.

I’ve had my own issues with depression for a long time, but I have some great friends and family who have offered me help and advice, as well as knowledgeable and compassionate managers. Even so, I’ve still experienced days where I’m overcome and I can’t get out of bed. I’ve felt lower than I thought possible, I’ve thought about killing myself and I’ve done or said things that I never would have if I’d been having a good day.

On days where my condition gets the better of me, minor issues at work become major issues. My mind is a dark pool where the little annoyances that we all experience will swim around like sharks, devouring any suggestion of levity until they grow too big and overwhelm me. Then I shut down. My brain stops. Whatever task I’d been consumed with becomes unimportant as I sink deeper and deeper. My head is no longer on the job, which, depending on where you work can have serious health and safety impacts not just for you but also for your colleagues.

I have had to work hard to recognise when this might happen, and to take action to ensure I never put myself or others in a position of serious harm. My manger was aware of my condition and afforded me the flexibility to work in a way where I could best manage it. The company helped me fight my illness by offering me advice, resources and support. And importantly, by not making me feel selfish or ashamed for suffering from a condition beyond my control. They recognised that I’d have days where I couldn’t be productive, and helped me manage my workload to compensate.

Due to the confidential nature of workplace illness, and the reluctance for sufferers to come forward, it’s really important that employers build a culture of acceptance and support. Managers can find it difficult to discuss issues like depression, so it’s important for companies to help them with robust policies, procedures and training. With the cost of replacing staff lost due to mental health conditions reported to be £2.4bn per year in the UK alone, it makes sense for employers to help their employees combat the illness, even if just in a fiscal sense.

My experience with depression at work is one of the better ones, but it’s easy to find numerous examples of people suffering from mental illness who have been discriminated against, let go or passed over for promotion. Sometimes the employer is aware of the condition when they do this, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes, instead of making their employer aware of their condition an employee will have several unauthorised absences until the employer is forced to terminate their employment. This can tip a person on the precipice of self-harm over the edge.

If you’re suffering from depression and you don’t feel you can talk to your employer about it, I urge you to seek an alternative source of help. There’s plenty out there. Just remember that the worst thing you can do is suffer alone, and you don’t have to.

By Jordan Oldbury. First published on