"Employers should do more"

18 April 2010, 06:00

A woman from Newbury wants employers to be given more training to deal with employees who suffer from depression.

Jackie Wilkinson told Heart she faced a massive stigma at work when she was diagnosed with depression, "One thing that can make you feel really bad is someone's attitude towards you. There are employers that will sack someone when they find out they've got a mental health problem."

Jackie is now calling for employers to be given more training to learn how best to help employees, "There's a long way to go, even in the NHS and public sector there's a lack of understanding for employees."

Jackie's story:

Jackie was first diagnosed with depression in her thirties, when she was pursuing a highly stressful career in London.

She said at times it was physically impossible for her to even attempt the commute into the capital from her home in Berkshire, "I was very distressed and had the feeling that nothing in the world could make me happy. I found things like loud noises would really affect me and trigger anxiety attacks.

I became very withdrawn and couldn't socialise with people as I'd used to.  I stopped even talking to my friends. I just wanted to sit at home on my own."

Jackie was given anti-depressents from her GP but was unable to recover fully. She describes herself as a "life-long depression sufferer" and told Heart her illness often comes back, "I've had people telling me to 'pull my socks up' and my family initially seemed to think it was something I would just get over, but it doesn't work like that."

Jackie said her employer did not understand her condition and that made it worse, "If my work had been understanding and supportive that may have helped me. It gives you something to go to and focus on. You just need some flexibility and understanding if you need time off to see a therapist.

My employers were, on the whole, very negative. When I was working with people who were not being helpful or supportive it made me feel even worse. When I had bad days I couldn't even get in. But then on other days I would be alright. Especially if my boss was understanding."

Jackie said there is still a long way to go for employers to full support their employees, "Flexibility is the key. For example if you are struggling one day and can't answer the phone, maybe your boss could look at giving you an answer machine. And colleagues need to be understanding too. There is still too much stigma around mental health issues. If someone breaks their leg and needs help carrying a cup of coffee, no one would think twice. That's not the case with depression though, because people can't see it - even though it's an illness."