We caught up with Chris Cooney, 26 from London, about his mental health condition and how he manages it in the workplace.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your experience and condition?
When I was around 19 years old I went through a bit of a rough patch in my life and ended up developing an eating disorder. This ruled my life for about a year or so until I decided that I’d had enough and decided to travel to try and help get over it. Whilst this did fix my eating issues, I had anxiety about the impact my eating disorder had on my long-term health. This became very serious and devolved into social anxiety about two years ago, again when going through a very stressful time in my life.
2. When were you first diagnosed?
When I was younger, I never went to the doctors, I was always too scared to. I didn’t want to be seen as the guy with an eating disorder so I tried to fix it all myself. Two years ago when I started to have panic attacks and didn’t want to go to sleep, I knew I needed to do something, that’s when everything was first properly diagnosed.
3. How does it affect your work life?
Before I got help I really struggled, if I was in a situation I didn’t like, or had pains I couldn’t explain I would start to have a panic attack. I was in and out of the office trying to calm myself down. Now I’m much better, I still have moments but I understand myself better now so able to stay calm.
4. Have you been able to talk openly to your employer about it?
I have once yes, and it was made easier because they are a friend. Since switching offices, I have spoken briefly to a few of the other managers but never in-depth as I’ve not felt the need to.
5. What support do they offer?
We don’t have any set up, however, any time I say I need five minutes to myself or that I need to take a day off they have always agreed. Always offered to help or be there if I need a chat, which is a huge help as I’m not worried anyone here will think less of me if I do need to get away for a bit.
6. What impact does it have on your relationships at work?
It can take a while for me to get talking to people or really be me when i’m in a work environment. I moved into the offices at my current job from the warehouse last February. I had been working with the company for two years prior to that but I was still worried for the first three months, until I’m comfortable I can seem a bit reserved.
7. Do you get support from your co-workers?
Luckily, I work with some amazing people, they really made me feel welcome and at home, because of that it made everything so much easier, to me that was the best support I could have asked for. The people in the team who know I have problems with anxiety always make sure they have time to listen to me if I’m struggling, and calm me down if I do start to have a moment.
8. What advice would you give someone in a similar situation?
You’re not alone. There are millions of people out there like you and there is no shame in that. I always thought I should just “man up” and get over it but really, no matter who you are, there is no weakness in asking for help.
9. What advice would you give to employers?
I personally think employers need to be aware and able to spot warning signs of someone who is struggling or dealing with mental health issues. Most people when asked if they are ok are going to say they are – most of all the people who are not. Me personally, if I was undiagnosed or even diagnosed and my employer took me to the side and offered to help me, I’d be far more likely to take them up on it than asking for it myself.