During October, our colleagues will be sharing their mental health experiences. Will McDonald is a Group Sustainability and Public Policy Director at Aviva. Here is his story.
World Mental Health Day is an international day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy. And 2020 may be the most important one yet. Months of lockdown and loss this year have had a huge impact on us all, and prioritising mental health has never been more important.
At Aviva we encourage all our people to open up to mental health, to talk and to listen. We want to help break down barriers and ensure everyone feels supported and listened to when they share any aspect of how they are feeling. After all, we’re here to support our people today as well as work with them to create a better tomorrow, helping them to navigate life’s up and downs and look forward, together, to a brighter future.
Just over a year ago, in the middle of a park near us, I stopped, turned to my wife, and said “Something’s wrong.”
I managed to drive home, but after that it’s all a bit of a blur. I remember hearing my wife tell me that I wasn’t going to work the next day, but I had neither the awareness to know why, nor the energy to respond.
That, I now know, was a breakdown, and part of a long journey to where I am now.
"These intrusions didn’t stop me getting on with life, getting married, having children, a successful career and so on, but they didn’t go away either."
The journey actually started about 20 years earlier, with very low level ‘intrusive thoughts’. Mental health charity Mind describes these as “unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious.”
These intrusions didn’t stop me getting on with life, getting married, having children, a successful career and so on, but they didn’t go away either.
Two things were happening in the background – firstly, the intrusive thoughts led me to slowly but surely shut down emotional connections, and secondly, the cumulative burden grew to a point where my brain just said ‘enough’. It couldn’t carry on, and it made me stop.
I had about 6 weeks of utter despair, with lows I had only read about in books, where I was shattered, hungry, a wreck and unable to be left on my own. A chance encounter with a different therapist, and then some drugs, finally stopped the decline. But then I had a long way to climb back. In total I was off work for 7 months, working through severe depression and then on the underlying mental health condition.
Overnight, my wife became a carer, and the changed dynamic had a huge impact on her, her work, our relationship and our children.
"Now, armed with that knowledge, and with a lot of support from some very special people, I can grow again."
I will always be grateful to Aviva, and my boss Kirsty Cooper in particular, for the support I had, and to my job share partner, who upped his hours to cover my absence.
What I now know is those intrusive thoughts are the ‘O’ of OCD, a condition I had all this time but not known it.
I am now well enough to be better than I was pre-breakdown. Although you never get rid of OCD, the treatment is effective. And the breakdown forced me to confront what I had been subconsciously ignoring for years. Now, armed with that knowledge, and with a lot of support from some very special people, I can grow again.
I never had myself down as someone who had poor mental health. How little I knew.
For further information on OCD please visit:
OCD action: ocdaction.org.uk
To read more about Aviva’s long history of prioritising mental wellbeing and Danny Harmer, our Chief People Officer’s, thoughts on how we can support one another this World Mental Health Day please visit: www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/lets-use-world-mental-health-day-to-start-some-great-new-habits-1