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With this year’s World Mental Health Day theme being ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’ it inspired me to talk about mental health and employment…

In 2019, I found the opportunity online to be a Digital Volunteer for the St Oswald’s Hospice Communications and Marketing Team and felt so proud to be called in to meet with two of the team and offered the position.

Since my mental health first deteriorated in 2009, I’d been unable to commit to paid employment because my ‘symptoms’ were so erratic, unpredictable and impulsive. However, I had the energy and dedication to want to maintain some sort of job or role and that meant taking on a lot of responsibilities in the voluntary sector. However, even with all that experience, I had never felt anything even remotely close to how I feel about working for St Oswald’s Hospice. It was almost as though there was some sort of deep, immediate connection between myself and the charity; and when I began training, I learnt about the Hospice’s Values and instantly recognised it was those which were probably the foundation for this connection.

These Values are true for the organisation on a whole, but I think we need to acknowledge that the most important aspect of them, is that everyone within the charity also exhibits each and every one of these Values. It is that, which I feel is essential to the benefits the Hospice can have on our mental health…

The first Value I really noticed illustrated within the Communications and Marketing Team, was the ‘Positive and Can Do’ one because even just from meeting the two staff I did at the interview, I recognised that their attitude was very productive and helpful. They explained the kind of responsibilities I may have and I felt honoured and privileged to be trusted with these aspects of the charity’s reputation and image. Which meant that I very much experienced a sense of respect and faith in my capabilities and the potential benefits I could bring to the Communications and Marketing Team. Which is something I greatly appreciate since so many people have second-guessed my abilities and thought very little of me and any skills I may have.

The second Value I experienced through my volunteering with the Communications and Marketing Team was ‘Compassion’ – and this linked onto the third of ‘Safe and Supportive.’

Having a psychiatric diagnosis can very obviously leave a person feeling lonely and devalued with very little sense of self-worth because it can incredibly ‘easy’ to suddenly question your capabilities and whether you could possibly have anything remotely resembling a positive impact in society. Those thoughts and feelings can lead you to become aware of your vulnerability, and that can influence you to be very appreciative and grateful for the most simple of niceties, kindness, and good manners.

The kindness and support I’ve experienced through staff and volunteers at St Oswald’s Hospice has been instrumental in me feeling comfortable being honest and open about my mental health. Having spent years trying to hide my illness out of panic that the stigma of mental health would lead to discrimination, it’s now so relieving and refreshing to be able to talk more about this hugely important part of my life. I’ve also found that just the pure fact that you’re able to talk about something – knowing you have someone or some people to talk to – can be a decent enough comfort that it won’t matter if you never actually have to talk about it!

When the position for Kickstart Project Coordinator came up at St Oswald’s Hospice, I was really interested in the role and it’s responsibilities; and when I was successful and was offered the position, I found that I was met with the final two values of ‘Accountable and Authentic’ and ‘Excellence and Innovation.’

The Kickstart scheme was a fairly new government created concept to the world and so I wasn’t the only one who didn’t really know what exactly to expect both from the scheme and from my job role. I think that this meant my entire six month contract was a challenge, but by the end of it, I felt such a huge sense of achievement and gratitude to the Hospice for providing me with such an incredible opportunity. Whilst the position hasn’t continued and I’m now back to the Communications and Marketing Team, I learnt so much from those six months and one of those lessons was that the team I worked with were very notable supporters of these final two Values.

Please remember that if you’re struggling with your mental health, there’s always someone there for you; whether that be within the Hospice and your colleagues, or by calling a helpline or visiting your GP.