Sharing something very personal and why mental health is so important!
In 2002, I tragically lost a dear friend and former manager to suicide. It was a devastating blow, and despite mental health not being as openly discussed then as it is now, I couldn’t see any signs of her struggle. Her passing left a profound impact on me, and the stigma surrounding mental health back then made it even harder to comprehend, especially when people around me were saying she was selfish to have taken her own life.
At the time I couldn’t understand why people would think this and now I know why! It was down to the lack of understanding and awareness of mental health as well as suicide and was simply their personal views and opinions back then.
Years later, another very close and mutual friend to the friend that took her life in 2002, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Witnessing her struggles and the misunderstandings from others about her condition started to open my eyes to the complexities of mental health challenges.
Fast forward to August 2020, amidst the turmoil of the pandemic, I received a concerning message from this friend. It was a cry for help disguised as a casual post on Facebook.
She spoke of moving, but as our conversation unfolded away from social media, it became clear that she was contemplating something much darker, where I received a picture of a knife via a WhatsApp message. Without hesitation, I reached out, and what followed was a journey of support and discovery even though at this point I didn’t know myself how to deal with this situation.
I wasn’t sure whether this was a cry for help or if it was indeed that my friend wanted to take her life, but I wasn’t going to take that risk. By talking to her over the phone due to the restrictions in place, I was able to calm her down, gain an understanding by listening to her why she felt the way she did and provided support as a trusted friend.
Tragically, just a month later in September 2020, my friend received a devastating diagnosis – a Grade 4 brain tumour. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, I made every effort to be there for her, even if it meant standing outside her window, offering whatever comfort I could. My friend unfortunately passed away in May 2021. Her passing at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week back then felt like a poignant reminder of the importance of addressing mental health issues openly and compassionately.
In honour of my dear friends, I dedicated myself to learning more about mental health, becoming qualified to teach mental health qualifications. Their journeys inspired me to advocate for greater awareness and support in our communities.
My own journey, however, then took an unexpected turn in October 2021 when I faced my own health challenges. Severe abdominal pain landed me in the hospital, where a series of tests revealed a complex diagnosis. The road since then has been fraught with uncertainty and pain, as I grapple with the realities of living with a chronic illness. Navigating these challenges whilst managing my business has been incredibly tough mainly due to tiredness and lack of energy being two of the symptoms that individuals can experience.
Absolutely, my experiences have indeed reinforced my belief in the critical need for companies to understand and support employees facing chronic illnesses like Crohn’s and Colitis. The challenges I’ve faced navigating my own health journey have highlighted the importance of empathy and support, particularly in the workplace, where conditions like these can often be overlooked or misunderstood.
It’s essential for companies to prioritize education and awareness surrounding these conditions, ensuring that employees feel supported and accommodated in their workplace environment. By fostering a culture of understanding and compassion, we can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for everyone.
Please look at the Crohn’s and Colitis UK website for more details – Crohn’s & Colitis UK – https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk
My own experiences have only fuelled my passion for mental health advocacy. From offering drop-in sessions by way of support to conducting training courses, I’m committed to supporting others in understanding this vital subject. Despite the challenges, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and remain dedicated to raising awareness and support for mental health.
Together, we can make a difference!