Saturday 10 October is World Mental Health Day. In light of this, I want to share my experience and reflections in the hope that maybe, if you’re reading this and experiencing similar issues, or know someone who is, my story will help. If just one person reads this and thinks “wow, I feel the same” and it encourages them to reach out to me, a friend, colleague, or a professional, I would consider it a success.
I have worked in the security industry since I was 20 years old. I’ve been in various roles and experienced a range of challenges and incidents, including small and large scale evacuations, fires, suspect packages and unfortunately, one that involved a construction worker passing away from a heart attack while going up into a large crane. I have worked in pubs and had to manage fights. My childhood wasn’t easy. Having dealt with all of these things, I always considered myself to do well under pressure and be able to take pretty much anything life has thrown at me.
As a security professional, I’m all too familiar with the assumption that security personnel are “tough”. I’ve been told that I “look mean” or like I “can handle it” and I’ve even been asked, “Aren’t you security guys not supposed to be sensitive?” The worst part about these comments is that, paired with the way I was raised, I believed them for a long time. “Boys don’t cry”. “Don’t let people see you hurting”. These are just a couple of the phrases I heard growing up, throughout school and at home. It’s an olden-day cultural mind-set that I believe to be the cause of the increase in reported depression and suicide in men. We’ve been led to believe that this is what men are “supposed to be” for so long. But it could not be further from the truth.
I had been so ill through 2018 – I had a cold every week, a pain every other day. I believed I had an amazing immune system; I did not get ill very often and if I did, I would still go to work as I had the mental capacity to get through a day or two of a cold. My weight was up and down, and I have always been a big chap. I went to the doctors not even considering that it could be related to my mental health. I had seven weeks off work for stress and depression at the start of 2019.
I’d always been of the mind-set that you dig your heels in, you take the rough days with the good and eventually, those feelings will pass. How wrong I was. I was sitting in the doctors’ waiting area watching the information screens when it asked questions like “are you putting on weight?”, “is your sleep pattern changing?”, “are you always tired?” Yes, Yes, Yes. The next slides said I was stressed and depressed and should see the doctor.
There are a lot of things that could have caused this, but work-related stress was really getting me down. My relationship broke down after many years of trying at the end of 2017 and I moved out. I was working in London, but I’d moved to Essex and was working 60 hours a week plus travel. It didn’t leave much time for me or my son. Finances started to dwindle with extra money being spent on travel, living costs and trying to ensure my son had everything he needed. It is expensive on your own. I started to feel lonely, so I left the job I was in for a better career opportunity – I moved up the career ladder, was doing 50 hours a week instead of 60, and getting paid more. I thought it was a good move. I told myself it would get better.
Next came the downfall. My new job wasn’t easy, and it came with other stresses. No matter how much I tried, I felt like I was battling one thing after another. I didn’t have time for my team. They would come to me with their issues and I just did not have the strength or patience to help them deal with them. That is not what a manager is. It is not who I am. Stupidly, I continued on this path until April 2019 – about a year of digging in my heels. I was complaining about my life and venting to people close to me. I realised that as much as people want to help, they too can only stand so much negativity. I was whinging about my weight going up, yet smashing takeaways. I was whining about having no one to talk to, but I wasn’t actually talking to anyone – I would tell people I was fine.
I eventually did seek assistance from a line manager. He was new so I opened up gently and explained how I was feeling, my financial situation and all the stresses of the role. I wanted to step away from management, but I wanted to do it with grace and to continue looking after the site, the company and do things along an agreed timescale so things did not fall. I had finally opened up and asked for help.
I hadn’t done this sooner because I didn’t want to feel like a failure. I didn’t want to quit so I cracked on for another month. But when I finally sought out support, it really did help. I know now that the actions I took were not quitting or failing or any of that, but that it actually took great strength to seek help, to be honest with myself and my managers and work towards a goal that suited everyone. When I came back, everyone was willing to help. Once I started to talk about it and accept help from others, particularly those who really listened, I felt assured that my feelings were normal. Everyone feels like this from time to time, and it’s okay.
I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “True insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. It is exactly what I was doing by saying “I’m fine” when I was not. If you are feeling any of the above and haven’t spoken to anyone about it, consider that you might be doing the same thing I was. Speak to a friend, a colleague, a family member or a professional – and see what doors open up for you. Move forward, even if you start with the smallest step.
– Mark McEwen, Security Manager
If you’re struggling with mental health issues or need someone to talk to in confidence, please reach out to one of our Mental Health First Aiders or call our Employment Assistance Programme helpline.