Some of you may have seen my post “Living with Depression” which I shared on Facebook after a long absence from work.
I am now at the end of my phased return to work. I am full time as from tomorrow, but I wanted to share some of feedback I have received most of it positive and one a bit sinister.
My first worry was judging how much to say as I had been away for a long time. I have to admit I was worried about the stigma and the way people would treat me. By that I meant, would people lose confidence in me, would people avoid speaking to me because they aren’t sure I am mentally strong enough to help them. I also have a nagging feeling that I am not sure how right I am, if that means anything? In the end I decided I would just come out and say “I’ve had a breakdown”, and it hasn’t been too bad. I have had lots of positive feedback from members, wishing me well and several have divulged their own mental health problems and all of them have been surprised that I have been struggling with depression. But that is the problem with mental health, it is not something most of us feel comfortable, it’s invisible, which is why so many of us (me included) are able to cover it up.
I have been a worker in mental health services for more than 20 years and yet it does feel nothing much has changed, people are still struggling to feel confident to disclose to their families, friends and employer for fear of the consequences. There is so much more work that needs to be done to address stigma and mental health, which is why I wasn’t happy when Owen Smith at first denied he called Jeremy Corbyn a lunatic. My anger was because he tried to deny until the video appeared. In terms of my employment I want to be clear that my employer has been very supportive and as someone who has also represented workers with mental health problems I would expect every worker to be given the same level of support and understanding.
There is an irony that has not been lost on me. Before my breakdown I was negotiating a pay & grading proposals that has taken four years. One of the proposals was to drastically cut our local government sick pay scheme. The Council reflected on our arguments and dropped this proposal. If UNISON had not been organised in our Council, this proposal would have gone through and I would have been sacked. I know from experience with the private sector organisations I now have to deal with that someone in a similar circumstances would highly likely to be sacked. The rapid erosion of hard won Terms & Conditions is being accelerated by privatisation and is one of many reasons why our branch works so hard to oppose outsourcing.
As I revealed in my first post I am now taking medication along with counselling. For anyone who has worked with me in Mental Health services, taking medication was a major trauma for me. Now I am learning to live with the same side effects I have seen impacting on other mental health service users and of course my mother who has for the last seven years been living with Dementia such as teeth grinding, hot flushes, cramps, tiredness, yawning, biting my tongue.
Work colleagues and members have all shared their own experiences of taking mental health medication. Only today I had a conversation with someone who very much needs help, but is so worried about side effects of medication. All I can say, it is different for everyone, and if you do have to take medication it is really important you take notes of any side effects and visit your GP. Having said all that I do want to come off the medication, but I am concerned about what will happen if I do could I face going through what has been hell again. That in itself causes me anxiety, to think that I am not sure if I am ok, is the medication working, have I got better and what happens if I come off it and relapse?
But I recognise I have been lucky in that I have been able to access counselling through my GP surgery. Many people I have spoken to since I went public have said they have not had this as an option, because of the lengthy waiting lists. I was lucky because my GP surgery had its own counsellors and so I have had free access to counselling. I am very clear without this support I am not sure I would be at work now. But when I was working in mental health services, this option was hardly ever an option because of the length of the waiting lists. Hence why medication which should complement treatment was often the only treatment for people using mental health services.
The brutal austerity attacks on all public services, but in particular Mental Health services are another reason why I am passionately supporting Jeremy Corbyn and his team. It is ridiculous to talk about supporting people with mental health issues to get them back into work if you don’t have free access to counselling to compliment other treatments.
I would to highlight one of Jeremy’s 10 Pledges is Secure Our NHS and Social Care
“We will end health service privatisation and bring services into a secure, publicly-provided NHS. We will integrate the NHS and social care for older and disabled people, funding dignity across the board and ensure parity for mental health services.”
This sounds good to me.
Last week news broke about funding cuts coming to the NHS, today a story broke of surgery being rationed. In my view we can’t let this happen, we must stand up and fight for our NHS after all if they were able to create the NHS after the Second World War, then a country which is often touted as the fifth or sixth richest country in the world can surely invest and secure our wonderful NHS for future generations to come.
I don’t know how but I am trying to find the energy to do my bit to make sure Jeremy wins this Leadership election and then move on to win the general election.
Lastly but most importantly I can't write this post without mentioning news of a group of inspirational/heroic anti-austerity campaigners Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).
Today DPAC launched their #RightsNotGames week of activity which finishes on Saturday 10 September.
There is an online event on Wednesday 7 September at 9.30 pm details here http://dpac.uk.net/2016/08/rightsnotgames-online-day-of-action-thursday-september-8th/
If you click on this link you will find out what you can do to help
In the Barnet UNISON office the fight for our members seems bigger than ever, so much change and so much work to do and so much energy needed to help everyone. I am absolutely 100% proud to belong to our branch and to have the honour to work with the office staff, branch officers, local reps all of whom are doing all that they can to support our members and defend public services.