Continuing our wellbeing features throughout mental health week, we introduce Penarth View’s newest influencer, Dr Emily Warren. Here’s her candid reflection about her own wellbeing, and her experience working in the NHS. It’s great to see the stigma of mental health being broken, and more people like Emily talking about their challenges and achievements.
Words by Dr Emily Warren.
The Alarm clock rings rudely in my ears, and I am shaken from a lovely dream where I am sipping sangria in a hammock on an idyllic island far away. It’s Monday, already. My first task of the day is to get up and put myself together. The coffee is brewing whilst I shower, followed by makeup, hair and war with my wardrobe. I leave the house at 7:30 am not feeling ready to tackle the challenges of the day, but at least I look like I am.
To the outside world, the heels and the makeup say ‘I am ready for you world’, the mask is in place. No one really knows the stress and anxiety often hiding behind the red lipstick. I’ve had a rollercoaster four years of loss, trauma and general crappy times. But throughout it, I’ve held on to my job, because someone has to pay the bills. When I get to work, there is barely time for a coffee before the morning debriefs commences reviewing the challenges of the day ahead. I work in the NHS so the pressure can often feel relentless. My tasks are to get people home from the hospital, and to work with partners in social services and the police to prevent more people from entering the hospital. The drill is well rehearsed. It’s constant, and whilst I love my job it has an impact on my wider life, and my mental health.
Over the last few years talking about our mental health, particularly depression, and anxiety has become far more common and less stigmatised. It’s a wonderful leap forward with the top ten bestselling books and podcasts often featuring honest, supportive accounts of living with anxiety and depression. But admitting that we are a bit out of sorts, or struggling remains a taboo in the workplace. Whilst I stride around in my heels, looking like I mean business, I often feel too tired to cope, and that I need support to help me maintain my mask. It isn’t just the pressures of work, but the stresses we carry over from our personal lives. We forget sometimes we are humans as well as professionals. When I lost my father four years ago, after a 14 month period of caring, I was given three weeks of compassionate leave. I returned to work to a supportive environment, but to an expectation that you are ok- whatever that means. I remember crying at my desk because I couldn’t remember how to log on, let alone lead a team.
As part of my job, I have seen such changes across our public services with schemes and campaigns to promote wellbeing in the workplace. In 2015 the National Assembly introduced the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which is a world first. It has put Wales on the map, as a country that values wellbeing, and tries to actively promote it in all aspects of our lives. Over the last few years, I’ve come to realise that making sure work is a supportive influence in your life, rather than a draining one is desperately important and using the powers in the Act all public services and other employers can use it to really promote better wellbeing in the workplace. Flexible and agile working, work-based counseling schemes and more flexible leave on compassionate grounds, are starting to become more commonplace, and have certainly helped me. But there remains a long way to go if we are to make meaningful change, and to make sure that behind our masks of makeup and sharp suits, we feel supported and empowered in work, so that when Monday arrives, and the alarm clock rings the work is ours for the taking.
Emily has recently moved to Penarth, from Cardiff where she has lived for 15 years. Originally from the west midlands, she studied in Cardiff and has worked in Welsh politics and public services and is now a Director in the Welsh NHS. Having been a carer for her father Emily is a campaigner for carers and is passionate about promoting wellbeing. Outside of work, she enjoys dance, theatre, and sport.