This year February 6th 2020 is #TimetoTalk day where we remind everyone that it’s ok to talk about Mental Health challenges, and appreciate that mental health is just as important as, and often intrinsically linked to, physical health.
On my personal blog I have spoken about this before but I think it’s also important to recognise that professionals can have challenges with their mental health too. And that you can work successfully with chronic mental health problems.
For one, I think my personal experience with depression certainly helps me empathise with others who are experiencing depressive symptoms linked to life issues, bereavement, a change in health, a new diagnosis or simply just because that’s how you feel.
For me, the main thing that keeps me going through these periods is maintaining my engagement in occupations (or activities) that are meaningful to me. But sometimes we can struggle to do this. That’s where an occupational therapist can come in. Sadly though thresholds for seeing occupational therapists within mental health services are quite high and often medication and talking therapies are the first port of call for people. Now, I have personally benefitted from both of these but I did feel that a slightly more practical approach in combination would have been helpful, and I did struggle to do this for myself even though I knew all the theory.
But these are the things that kept me going through my most recent period of depression.
1. Number one will come as no surprise if you know me. It was books and reading. But, during this last period of depression, I did find my concentration more limited and so I made more use of audiobooks than I ever had before. Adapting occupations, finding different ways to do them or switching to alternative occupations that give you the same experience is something an occupational therapist can help you do.
2. Number two was a completely new occupation to me. Part of my depression linked to my experience with fertility problems and I was mourning the loss of a mothering role. So I decided to foster (then adopt) two jack chis. Now whilst they aren’t a substitute for having children they definitely helped my recovery and in part filled that role. Prior to their arrival there were days that I spent entirely in bed. The dogs didn’t let me do that, and I’ve got the most exercise I have in a long taking them for regular walks. Occupational Therapists can help you fit new occupations into your daily routine, and even help with developing the skills to take on a new occupation in the first place.
3. Number three was activities with friends. Getting out of the house, socialising, talking to others about their lives, grabbing a coffee, seeing a musical, whatever it is you normally would do together.
It’s this last one that I want to talk about most today. The fact that, had I been seen off work doing some of these things that people would have felt I was “skiving”. And this is exactly why people struggle. Previously I would have cancelled all my plans outside of the house, and I would have felt worse for it. I needed to keep doing what I could do, without judgement. People didn’t see the behind the scenes, hours of crying, being unable to get dressed for days on end, barely eating. Having a trip booked was the thing that made me do these things. Being able to share these things on social media as I usually would (another meaningful occupation for me) were vital to living authentically.
And here is where I hope occupational therapists can have the most impact. Societally. By highlighting the importance of occupational engagement and balance to health and wellbeing. By helping employers and employees negotiate reasonable adjustments and phased returns to work that include time for exercise, socialising etc. To, like other countries, seriously consider a shortened working week, that has been shown to increase productivity and happiness. For it not to be seen as you are well enough for all of work or not well enough for any of it. The government want us to believe this is their goal to but the structures and cultures in workplaces are still not there to support it.
For me the decision to go independent was driven by the need for this flexibility. By understanding that early mornings are not the best time to get the best work out of me. I’m sure the independent route will come with its own challenges but hopefully understanding what I need and putting it in place won’t be one of them.
I am wary that I have focused on depression in this post, because that is my personal experience, but the same applies to people who experience anxiety, bipolar, personality disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders etc etc. We all need to live life to live life.
Check out these particular pages for services that I offer that I think are relevant to this post.
AHP Health and Work Report
Disability Awareness Training/Accessibility Assessment
Living Life With…
Wellbeing & Occupational Balance Coaching
Remember Occupation gives you wings and occupational therapists are the ones who can help you fly with them!