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Wednesday 20 May 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week: Flexible working and managing your mental health

By Victoria Jones

This Mental Health Awareness Week, FDA Equality Officer Victoria Jones shares how in these unprecedented times, flexible working options can help with managing your mental health.

It’s #MentalHealthAwareness week and it feels like it has come at a really timely moment, given the circumstances we find ourselves in. A few months in to this ‘new normal’ (sorry, I hate that phrase too) and I’ve experienced the highs and lows of my own mental health more than I would normally.

This year, I’ve started thinking about mental health and how our work on flexible working fits in with it so nicely. For me personally, working flexibly was a life saver when my anxiety was peaking a few years ago. I had a real problem with busy tubes, so much so, I was getting up at 5am to pound the pavements near work until the clock ticked around to an acceptable hour to admit to being in the office. It wasn’t sustainable and I knew I needed some help to manage my anxiety, but I was nervous about what work would say.

I shouldn’t have worried. I work for a great employer and without much fuss I was able to shift my working hours to allow me to find a pattern that worked, which in turn meant I stopped waking up the pigeons on the South Bank first thing. When I was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I was allowed to flex my diary and take time to attend sessions for as long as was necessary. I was given the space I needed and it helped so much.

Flexible working is often billed as something for parents or carers, but the impact can be felt even more broadly, particularly if you’re managing a mental health condition. I’ll always be a morning person (even without an early train to London to wake up for, unfortunately) and it just works for me to wake up and get straight on to my computer, leaving my late afternoons for down-time. Right now, that is giving me space to do the things I need to do to maintain my mental and physical health and I’m really appreciative of that.

There’s a great video from Anna Whitehouse and the team behind the Flex Appeal campaign that reiterates the impact flexible working can have on everyone.

We know that a return to office-based working is a long way off, but we are already engaging with employers to ensure that they don't miss the real gains of the lessons learnt from this forced period of working from home, and can truly embed flexible working practices for everyone.

And in the meantime, hopefully our ways of working in this ‘new normal’ will provide more people with a chance to check in and discover what works best for their mental health too. 

Useful resources:

TUC: Mental health and the workplace

Mind: Mental health support 

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