Life is complicated and uncertain, and sometimes we face challenges that have a profound affect on us.

Things like stress, ill-health, bereavement, low self-esteem. The world closes-in and we feel frightened, and – worst of all – alone.

Having someone to talk to can make all the difference. So each year at Wrexham Council, we take part in a national initiative called Time to Talk.

It encourages people to think about mental health and recognise that the simple act of talking can help.

To bring the issue into focus this year, we shared some personal stories with employees. The stories were written by colleagues and based on their own experiences.

It takes real courage to write about something like that, and I can’t thank those people enough.

Because those stories have inspired a lot of us to think about mental health and the importance of making time for ourselves and others – whether that means having a cup of tea together, going for a walk or just listening to someone explain how they feel.

Talking helps. It’s as simple as that.

looking out for each other

According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the total number of working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015-16 was 11.7 million days.

And that’s just ‘work-related.’ Many people can find themselves unable to work because of things outside of work that affect their mental wellbeing (bereavement for example).

So it’s a huge issue affecting a lot of people.

There’s a very practical reason why large organisations should support the mental health of employees. It helps people remain – or get – well enough to do their job and make a valuable contribution.

But there’s a better reason. It’s the right thing to do.

We provide lots of support for staff affected by things like stress, anxiety and loss – from occupational health to phased return-to-work practices.

But more importantly, we’re encouraging colleagues to look out for each other and look out for themselves. That’s what Time to Talk is all about.

And let’s face it. Whether it’s in work, in our communities or at home, we should all look after each other as best we can.

A problem shared might not always be a problem halved, but it helps to have someone in your corner.

The following story was written by a Wrexham Council employee and shared with colleagues as part of Time to Talk.

bereavement


One day my sister was here, the next she was gone – her death was sudden.

To me, at the time, I felt like my world had ended, that my heart would literally break in two and that I would never be able to smile or live the life that she had lost.

I remember hearing the world still going on around me and couldn’t believe that not everyone felt like me and could still function.

I would sit for hours staring into space and within the first year there was not a day that went past without tears streaming – in the car, over dinner with my partner, at night or most of the time in the toilet (trying to hide it from family, friends or work colleagues).

The nights were the hardest because I couldn’t sleep, if I closed my eyes I would see her face coming out of the darkness to haunt me showing the pain that she was in.

But, as the years went by I also learnt how to cope with the pain.

I learnt how to put it in a box so that I could get up in the morning, I could get dressed, drive and do my job. Whilst I grew stronger and stronger and stronger, I kept wanting to try and get back to the person I was before she died.

It wasn’t until I saw a counsellor that she told me I wouldn’t ever be that person. I was shocked and horrified at how horrible and blunt the counsellor was being – didn’t she know the pain I was in?

But this was the best thing that she could have ever told me because it was true, I wouldn’t be that person as I was a different person now. This pain would be there forever, there was no magic cure.

Life did get better, I remember the day that I genuinely laughed, I remember the day I didn’t cry, I remember the time I wanted to go out for dinner or for drinks, I remember the day that I did more than just ‘function’ at work, I remember the time that I remembered my beautiful sister and could smile that I was lucky to have had her for the time I did.

What helped? My partner, my friends and my counsellor. One support that really surprised me was coming back to work which gave me my routine back, it forced me to get up in the morning.

I had a phased return for two weeks and my manager agreed that the last week of the phased return could be used over the next few months for as and when I needed it.

This slight adjustment made a difference because some days I could cope and others I just knew I was sitting there staring at the screen.

Going back to work it also reminded me what fantastic work colleagues were there waiting for me. I know that they found it hard to see me, to say the right things, to try and not mention their own siblings in case it hurt me.

It made a difference just knowing they were there, that they would encourage me to go home, they would take me for a walk / coffee / drink and they were just THERE.

Some days I still find it hard, I have flashbacks to the first few weeks after she died, I have panic attacks in the car on the way to work, I have time in the toilet crying but these are rarer than they used to be and I use my work life balance to help manage this as my life goes on.