Mental health at work: Who really has your back when things go horribly wrong?
PUBLISHED: 12:06 07 July 2019
With the Samaritans promoting its 'Talk To Us' campaign this month, Henlow's Paul Harris has opened up about his struggles for justice after having a mental break down at work.
In 2016 I suffered a mental break down at work. I thought my company would help, but I was wrong.
They claimed that I never told them I was stressed, but I knew I had discussed it many times with my manager and that it was on record. When I asked to see my HR documentation for the period under question their response was that those documents had been 'lost'.
During an employment tribunal I proved that my manager had been far from accurate in the evidence he had given to both the grievance investigation and the tribunal itself.
None of this seemed to faze the judge though, as she simply described the above as "unfortunate" - really?
It took six months to receive the judge's decision and every day of waiting was like hell. Needless to say, I lost.
Originally the reason for the delay was because the judge was adopting a baby, however this turned out not to be the case. The official decision stated it was because the judge suffered bereavement, illness and had work pressures.
Why the change? How could someone going through all of this really come to a proper conclusion on a case? It made me question if the system was also failing those working in it.
I appealed the decision, but this was a waste of time. It appeared that the appeal judge had made up her mind before we even got started, plus you can only appeal on a point of law, no facts can be questioned. Basically the system is funnelled in a way to make it as hard as possible to appeal. I could have gone to the Court of Appeal, but was advised against it.
I felt completely lost - I just could not get my head around how it was acceptable for a company to behave the way it did and basically get away with it.
An overwhelming sense of injustice drove me to find answers as to why their behaviour was acceptable to a judge, so I wrote to my local MP. Five MPs later and I got nowhere - each person felt sorry for me, but said they could not get involved in an individual case.
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I wrote to Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service which told me that a judge's decision was final and no one could question it, not an MP, the government or the Ministry of Justice.
I wrote to the Judicial Appointments & Conduct Ombudsman and was referred to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office - both of these organisations could only get involved if a judge's physical behaviour was in question.
I also enquired at the Information Commissioner's Office to see if the company had breached data protection laws, but it also could not comment on an individual case.
Every door was firmly closed and locked.
I had hoped that my experience with tribunals was over, but now I am challenging a decision by the Department for Work and Pensions.
The department has stopped my ESA benefit based on a scoring system that shows a complete lack of understanding of the complexities of a mental health issue.
In their professional opinion I am able to work, or able to carry out work-related activities. They have not taken into account that my anxious triggers are work related, or talked to me about what happened in my last job.
Mental health has been an issue for decades, however most organisations (especially those that are meant to be helping people) seem ill-equipped to deal with them, and this comes down to a lack of basic understanding.
From what I have seen so far, campaigns relating to mental health in the workplace are voluntary, so there are no consequences if the companies fail in their commitment.
I feel the only answer is to have tougher legislation in place that companies have to follow, and to ensure that the organisations tasked with protecting both employees and employers are suitably prepared to reinforce these laws.
My experience has made me feel very detached from the world. I am often left doubting my own mind and asking myself, am I ill or just making it all up? Am I the only one?
- Talk To Us is Samaritans' annual awareness-raising campaign, with events held in July. The emotional support charity is challenging the UK to become better listeners by sharing expert tips on how to be a better listener.
If you need support, the Samaritans of North Herts and Stevenage, based in Hitchin, is here to help - just contact them for free via 116 123, or visit samaritans.org.