Being Human

We’ve all got a story to tell, if we haven’t experienced a mental health condition directly chances are we know someone who has.

Stories help us understand, they can educate and give confidence to those who need it.

Being Human aims to tell a story, the story of a person working at CUH with lived experience of a mental health condition.

Meet Amanda.

Amanda Freemantle is a Paediatric Medical Secretary at CUH and would like to share her story to help others who may have similar experiences.

Time with trust: 12 years in total but with a gap of 18 months in between, I’ve been back 7 months now.

What is your favourite thing about working at CUH?- The people, since I’ve been back everyone has been so welcoming and non-judgemental which is so nice to see.

What is your biggest challenge?- Every day is a challenge for me, driving to work, doing my job, looking after my children, paying the bills. Life in general is my biggest challenge.

Why did you choose to share your experiences?- To show everyone that people who have mental illness are normal people and that just because you can’t see it, the illness is real.
Also so people know they can talk about it and not be ashamed, I love listening to people’s experiences and what they are going through especially as I’ve been there and know how hard it can be.

Did you ask for any reasonable adjustments?- How was that process?- I didn’t ask for any adjustments within my role but I did speak to my manager on my first day back in the Trust and explained I’d been unwell. Everyone was lovely and if I want to go outside for 5 minutes or have a cry then its OK and no one will think any less of me.

Have you had any negative experiences through sharing your story?- Absolutely none which I’m so happy about.

What has been the most positive outcome of sharing?- Hearing that more people are talking about their own mental health struggles. I’ve had people tell me they’ve been to their GP after speaking to me or they’ve arranged to see a counsellor, things they say they wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t have shared my story.

How do you bring your real self to work?- I don’t think I can be anything else apart from the real me, even at my lowest I was still the same person.

How does working at the trust help you manage?- It gives me a routine, I feel like I’m helping people on a daily basis in my job, and it’s a familiar place to me so I’ve got to know quite a few people since I’ve been here.

If you could choose one person who has helped you the most, who would that be and why?- At work the two people who have been amazing and extremely supportive are Fay Houchen, Research Nurse for Paediatric Neuromuscular and Sonia Garnell, Senior Sister with ANTS (Acute Neonatal Transfer Service). I worked with them both for a number of years and even though we are no longer working together they have been there for me throughout my illness and incredibly supportive. Picking one person is hard as so many people have helped me but if I have to choose one person it would be my mum. She saw me at my lowest and has helped me so much getting me back to where I am today. My mum is the best!!


 

 

Meet anonymous. 

Time with trust – 4.5 years

What is your favourite thing about working at CUH? – Working in such a massive organisation gives the opportunity to work with so many different people in a variety of roles. I really value the opportunities my job gives me to learn about all of the remarkable work that goes into caring for patients – from the clinical side, allied health professionals, healthcare sciences, labs and research –  to all of the admin and support staff. It’s amazing what it takes to run a hospital in the NHS.

What is your biggest challenge? – Living and working with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and anxiety is hard work. Some days, even the most simple of tasks can feel impossible. I am fortunate in my job that I have the opportunity to meet and talk to so many people, but this can be terrifying. On days where everything feels too much, I feel confident in the fact my colleagues can and will support me – this makes everything feel that bit more bearable and worthwhile.

Why did you choose to share your experiences? – Sharing my experiences is still a very new thing for me. I haven’t yet told colleagues about my mental ill health, but I’m gradually learning and understanding that this is something nearly all of us will experience in our lifetime. Mental health, just as physical health, fluctuates – and should be considered in the same way.

Did you ask for any reasonable adjustments? How was that process? – Although I don’t have any set adjustments in place, I have recently spoken up when I’ve found a specific task particularly difficult to manage emotionally. I took one of our teams managers aside, explained the difficulty I faced, and felt a massive sense of relief when she understood. I’ve spent far too many years muddling through and not considering myself in my workplace, but learning that my needs and wellbeing is just as valid as my ability to do my job has been invaluable. 

Have you had any negative experiences through sharing your story? – There will most likely always be stigma, and those that don’t understand the validity of mental health, but that’s on them. I’m very fortunate that I do feel my colleagues would be understanding and supportive, so despite previous experiences I would feel more confident now to reach out and ask for support in my work if necessary. Although I do feel there is still a way to go. Depression and anxiety is better understood now than it was 10 years ago, which is a massive achievement, but there is still fear in the unknown and plenty of unawareness surrounding BPD (and other lesser known conditions) and how it presents in any individual – but I’m hoping as my confidence in myself grows, I can continue to educate.

What has been the most positive outcome of sharing? – I’ve often found that when I’ve shared experiences, it has given others an opportunity to do the same. Sometimes I think it feels like everyone is holding their breath and waiting for someone else to make the first move when discussing mental health, but the minute someone does – it creates a safe space to discuss such a personal topic.

How do you bring your real self to work? – I don’t always manage it, but I’m trying to be as transparent as possible at work. We work as quite a tight knit team and I’m trying to sometimes make it known that I’m trying my best, but they may need to bare with me.

How does working at the trust help you manage? – It gives me independence, which at times is something I thought I’d never have. I never thought I’d be able to work a full time job, let alone get as much of a sense of belonging and accomplishment as I do in my role. I feel very lucky to have found this job and the wonderful team around me, it’s made me realise just how resilient I am.

If you could choose one person who has helped you the most, who would that be and why? – A previous colleague of mine, Emma, encouraged me to learn to put myself first – and I’m not sure where I’d be without that advice.


Meet Alex.

Alex Montgomery has worked at CUH since 2012, along with the usual day to day challenges we all face, Alex also lives and works with depression, anxiety, ADHD and a rare chronic pain condition called SAPHO syndrome. I asked Alex what it was like working at CUH with a mental health condition.

What is your favourite thing about working at CUH?

The knowledge that whatever I’m doing in any role, I am helping patients in some form. Also  the support CUH gives me as a trade union rep to also support fellow staff members.

 

What is your biggest challenge?

Having the initial conversation about mental health or disability. It’s not something that’s discussed casually but I believe it should be talked about openly. Not only does it inform those who do not have lived experience, it also shows others with lived experience that they’re not alone. If they need someone to talk to someone who will ‘get it’ they know I’m there.

 

Why did you choose to share your experiences?

Because we’ll never make steps in addressing stigma if we stay silent.

 

Did you ask for any reasonable adjustments? How was that process?  

I’ve been allowed to cut back my hours as alongside anxiety/depression I have a rare chronic pain disease called SAPHO syndrome. It took a long time to figure out my mental/physical limitations with both, thankfully HR and management are supportive and let me take the lead in terms of what I can/can’t do. I got diagnosed with ADHD in the past year and as a result learned more about how best I can work, and I’ve been able to improve my working life because of this.

 

Have you had any negative experiences through sharing your story?

I had one unsupportive member of staff but everyone else who I’ve spoken to about my mental health have been really kind and helpful.

 

What has been the most positive outcome of sharing?

Building amazing friendships with others who have their own lived experience, and reaching a point where if someone asks ‘how are you?’ I know they’re genuinely interested in the answer and it isn’t an automatic ‘fine, you?’ type conversation.

 

How do you bring your real self to work?

A benefit of my mental fatigue is that I don’t have the energy to be anyone but myself. Colleagues don’t seem to mind this though thankfully!

 

How does working at the Trust help you to manage?  

If I need support, I ask for it. I have 100% certainty that my managers and colleagues would help. On top of that I’m part of the Unison branch and the other activists are also there for me if I ever needed further support.

If you could choose one person who has helped you the most, who would that be and why?

The whole Unison branch at CUH and the Mental Health First Aiders group have been there for me and they all deserve massive thanks. If I have to single out one person then it would be Jonathon Yule. Two years ago I was an extremely quiet person and when I opted to become a Unison activist Jon helped me overcome my anxiety. He’s been an amazing friend and rep.

Are you ok?

If you have been affected by anything in this article support is available from CareFirst 0800 174319 and the Samaritans 116 123. Or visit our Emotional and Mental Health section for support and guidance on all areas of mental wellbeing.  

Share your story

Would you like to share your experience of living with a mental health condition and working at CUH? Please contact the Staff Wellbeing Team at Occupational Health and Wellbeing. If you would like to share your experiences anonymously please add this to your email subject or post your story to: The Wellbeing Team, Oh Occupational Health and Wellbeing. Box 172. 


Meet Lily.

 

Lily Martin has worked at CUH for 5 years and along with the usual day to day challenges we all face, Lily also lives and works with depression and anxiety.

We talked to Lily about what it was like working at CUH with a mental health condition.

What is your favourite thing about working at CUH?

It seems that no two areas of the hospital are the same but what always remains is the staff’s willingness to go above and beyond constantly in order to ensure the patient has the best outcome and experience with us. I have made some amazing friends here also through various passions of mine such as LGBT+ rights, supporting people’s mental health and supporting equality in the Trust.

What is your biggest challenge?

In my current role, there can be highly emotional situations where patients and relatives have had a poor experience at CUH and we must do our best to calm the situation and help where we can. That’s why I feel so lucky that I have an incredibly supportive team behind me and we all look after each other mentally. This can be opportunities to vent frustrations and worries, space and time to calm ourselves and reminding ourselves and each other that we are doing the best we can.

Why did you choose to share your experiences?

If no one shares their experiences, how do we improve and grow as a service? By sharing my experiences, I have seen first-hand the effect on others who realise that I understand how they feel and genuinely empathise. There is such a power in numbers and communities such as the CUH LGBT+ Staff network and our Time to Change group help to strengthen bonds between us and allow us to work and support each other collectively. No one should feel like there is no one out there who understands and can help so I take part in training, talks and awareness such as this article because if I can reach one person who really needs it, then that is enough for me.

Have you had any negative experiences through sharing your story?

No outright negativity has come my way but I have heard of people not understanding the need to ‘stand on a soapbox’ all the time. As I’ve mentioned previously, if no one speaks of their experiences – how do we gain any knowledge to progress? I’ve had comments out of ear shot that show bias or ignorance and this can be down to a number of reasons, I’m quite thick skinned so these incidents don’t mean much to me but could seriously hurt someone else – the reason I do my activism work is so staff, patients and anyone who walks through CUH’s doors can expect a safe and non-judgemental environment.

What has been the most positive outcome of sharing?

I have had tears shed, hugs given and words of total relief and gratefulness sent my way and it’s the most rewarding feeling. Being a visible person speaking of sensitive topics can be draining and emotional but the reaction I receive gives me the energy to keep going and not give up.

How do you bring your real self to work?

Communication is key! Mind readers don’t exist so if I’m having a difficult time or am struggling in any way, being able to honestly vocalise this without fear of backlash is so important. I’m currently training to be a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian so that I can be a port of call for others when they need it most.

How does working at the Trust help you to manage?

The amazing people I meet here every day who are compassionate and kind, even in the most difficult and stressful of times. There are so many different sources of support out there and my current role where I have direct contact in helping patients and relatives, sometimes in some of the darkest moments of their lives, that is what keeps me proactive and ever searching for new and innovative ways to ensure all involved have the best experience possible.

If you could choose one person who has helped you the most, who would that be and why?

Janice Phillips, who was my manager and right-hand woman in my previous job as the Administration Assistant for Safety and Quality Support which I did for almost four years. She ensured that not only was I thriving in my career but also in my mental health. Her consistent support and never-ending encouragement has allowed me to flourish and progress in ways I thought would be impossible. Her selflessness and interpersonal skills are attributes that we all should inspire to bring to the workplace, each and every day.

Cambridge University Hospitals