The guilt from being signed off work is adding to my mental health issues

‘I’m signing you off work for two weeks’. 

As soon as my GP had written the note to my manager, I felt a huge sense of relief. 

Up until that moment I had found myself falling out of bed 10 minutes before the start of my shift at my call centre job, before crawling back into it as soon as the working day was done. 

Outside of work, I – like many others – was feeling the mental health impacts of the pandemic and the isolation of lockdown. And during my 9-5 the verbal abuse of customers, high call volumes and the pressure of targets were starting to wear me down. 

But the relief of receiving the note quickly subsided into worry. Part of me wanted to take the time to relax, work out a plan for what I wanted to do and find some techniques to best help me cope. 

The other part demanded I end my sick note early and slap myself out of the funk of despair. 

It felt like a constant tug of war between the two, listing the pros and cons of both scenarios over and over in my head. 

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. 

I knew how I was feeling wasn’t normal and that time off work would only help – but I still felt extremely guilty. I have found that one of the hardest parts of being signed off with a sick note is the feeling of letting others down.

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. Image credit: Jack Wynn.

Initially, when I first delivered the news to my colleagues, I could barely get the words out. My manager was surprised, as they noted my positive character, but supportive – as were my other colleagues. 

Yet I knew that by not being there, other members of my team would have to pick up some of the slack until my return. 

I felt massive guilt at the thought of letting people down. In these incredibly challenging times, I wanted to be considered a strong character of support to my friends and colleagues. 

When I compared my depression to the severity of what frontline workers have been facing since the pandemic started, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. 

I despise being seen as weak – even though I know mental illness doesn’t mean you are less strong. 

The first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time hiding under a blanket on the sofa watching real crime Netflix documentaries, occasionally mustering the energy to go to the local shop and trying not to bump into anyone I knew in fear of having to make small talk.

It’s upsetting to know that I’m not alone in reaching a crisis point. Forecasting by the Centre for Mental Health last October predicts that up to 10million people in England will require either additional or new mental health support as a result of the pandemic. 

The Office for National Statistics found 69% of the UK adult population are worried how the pandemic will affect their lives, with 56% feeling anxious or stressed.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health

I’ve since had a few catch up calls with my manager and I’m now approaching my seventh week of being signed off – on my third note – and am still terrified of going back.

I’m mentally preparing by reminding myself there will be better opportunities to come. During the time off I’ve made some improvement with my overall mood with the help of some telephone counselling, short daily walks and even doing activities I wouldn’t normally have much time for, such as reading.

I’ve also been able to reflect on happier times and make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and family members I have not been able to see since the beginning of the pandemic.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health.

To keep pushing through and suffering in silence at work is certainly not the answer. Not only will it affect your performance, but you will begin to destroy relationships with your colleagues as you become unapproachable.

The pandemic has brought with it so much uncertainty that it feels as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I can no longer just rely on stronger medication, a few days completely shut off from the outside world, and more rest to get me through this challenging time.

Don’t be afraid to contact your GP for advice. Despite the evident strain on the NHS, they are there to listen and offer the best help.

But being signed off has taught me that my mental health has to be my top priority. I shouldn’t feel guilty about putting myself first – no one should.

Article originally published here

This Was Meant To Be A Stop-Gap Job. Covid Might Mean It’s Forever

Six months on, and with Covid restrictions only getting tighter, leaving my call centre job for bigger things feels less and less likely.

Stuck at home in the first lockdown, scraping the motivation to finish my master’s while searching job boards to get my foot in the door of any company that would make some use of my studies, uncertainty about my future hit hard.

As weeks went by, the number of appealing opportunities turned into slim pickings. I realised the only way to gain financial security was to find a stop-gap job to see me through, what I thought at the time, would be just the summer.

I detested previous customer service positions, but a lack of options meant I needed to keep an open mind – this would only be temporary, after all. I applied for a call centre job and, weeks later, had a job that I knew, deep down, I didn’t want in the first place. Of course I was pleased to no longer be unemployed during one of the toughest economic periods of modern history, but deflation soon took over. 

I’m not over exaggerating in saying the phone does not stop ringing. Customer after customer call to vent their anger about the company, demand refunds and relay excuses in why they can’t pay their bills: “I’ve just lost my job and I can’t pay the full amount”, “My daughter needs the internet to finish her school work”, “the WiFi is linked to my personal alarm; what if I fall and no one can help me?”

I can’t lie and say it’s become any easier, six months on. Every day is emotionally draining.

I can’t lie and say it’s become any easier, six months on. Every day is emotionally draining. After 11-hour shifts, removing my headset and placing it on my desk feels like a huge weight off my shoulders… only for the feeling of dread for the next day to consume what little downtime I have before the next shift.

I still continue to apply for better-suited positions as and when I have the time, but it’s still proving challenging to either get responses, or opportunities are no longer available as they once were with companies reducing their current workforces.

Ultimately, I know the pandemic has severely hindered my career prospects. I try to remind myself that this very uncertain period, plus the aggressive nature of the call centre, will make me a stronger person when I do finally get my foot in the door of another company. But whenever I see one of my university peers has either been made redundant or placed on furlough due to companies having to strip back to survive – or even seasoned, respected industry professionals in my network back on the job market due to the pandemic – my faith hits yet another low.

Mentally and physically, I feel trapped.

Some friends have secured their first industry jobs, despite the pandemic working on exciting projects with reputable companies, proudly showcasing their progress and career satisfaction. Meanwhile, I’m chained to my headset, stuck with the realisation this stop-gap job will likely become an ongoing fixture in a troubled economy. 

Mentally and physically, I feel trapped. I look at other colleagues in my team who have been with the company for more than a year, eager to progress their careers and will jump at any opportunity to show management they’re ready for the next step. Although I envy their drive and job satisfaction, I couldn’t be further away.

I hope this time of my life is a footnote to my employment history. It’s not that I’m ungrateful – I know there are a lot worse, more dangerous jobs I could be doing right now – but tighter restrictions mean fewer opportunities. Whether it’s people like me, people forced out of industries like travel, hospitality and leisure or the single parents and middle-aged couples I speak to everyday, when the job market eventually recovers, competition against one another and new graduates will be stronger than ever. 

Our passion, hard work and self-motivation cannot go ignored.

Originally published for HuffPost UK here

Supporting your teenager through acne

It’s not just teenagers that fight stubborn acne. Parents are at the brunt of their frustrations with limited expert support. Here, Jack Wynn speaks with two mothers about how they’ve supported their children through the fight, and what resources are available during the pandemic

Aside from the occasional blog post or advice page from skincare manufacturers, it’s hard to find constructive support out there if you’re a parent watching your child struggle with acne and going through crippling anxiety.

An analysis of 42 acne studies recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAMA) also supports the link between acne and depression. Although there is a stronger link with adults, the condition affects 85% of teenagers and researchers say acne should be recognised as a mental health concern. 

One mother knows all too well about living with severe acne, in addition to supporting her own child through the same process. Karen*, a secondary school teacher from Hertford, Hertfordshire, supported her daughter through the struggle but also suffered with the condition herself. “I remember being very aware that I looked at my face in the mirror once,” says Karen. “I think I would have been about 12 or 13. Then it really, really escalated and we’re talking the whole sides of my face, my back, my chest, it got to the point where it wasn’t even individual spots. It was just awful. I was obsessed with it; as far as I thought, it was the first thing that anybody ever saw. Let’s be truthful: it is.” 

Feeling isolated as none of her friends had the condition, acne was still a significant part of Karen’s life even after finishing school. “I still had it [acne] when I went to university,” says Karen. “The very first or second day I met my best friend. She had acne and we talked about it sometime afterwards and it was a bonding thing. It was one of the first things we noticed about each other.” 

I was obsessed with it; as far as I thought, it was the first thing that anybody ever saw. Let’s be truthful: it is

Her daughter also started developing acne in her teens. At first, Karen didn’t say anything and waited for her daughter to initiate the conversation, but as time went on, there was a clear change in self-esteem. She recalls one incident with a physics teacher during her daughter’s A levels. “It was one of the few times I interfered as I’m a teacher myself,” says Karen. “[He] made fun of her for the amount of makeup she wore. You don’t have any right to make any comment on a kid’s appearance anyway; I would never, ever do that, it’s so unprofessional and teenagers are at the most vulnerable anyway. But that was horrible, it made her not want to go to his lessons.” 

She ended up quitting her physics A level, and this spurred Karen to take further action. “When I went into the doctors as a very assertive person, I went in with my facts because I knew that people had been fobbed off with, ‘Oh, it’s just her age, she’ll grow out of it’. I went in saying, ‘I know this is available, or we could try this’ and ‘would you please’ and the doctor did as I asked them to do.”

Her daughter now has a successful career and leads a happy life. There is still, however, some insecurity about her skin. “I’ve never been allowed to tag my daughter in Facebook pictures or anything like that, unless I run it past her, and it started with the acne,” says Karen. She also has lived with her own insecurities even after the acne stopped; wearing foundation is still used as a mask due to the emotions of acne still living with her, but Karen says she’s becoming more confident in going out barefaced. Karen’s advice to other parents going through similar situations: “Listen, and never, ever say ‘don’t be so silly!’ If somebody is worried or frightened by anything, it’s real to them. Telling someone to not be so silly isn’t going to help, is it? They are worried about it, so you’ve got to listen, take it seriously.” 

Alison Newman, a support worker from Romford, Essex, also knows the painful struggle of supporting a child with severe acne, particularly as a single parent coping with the stress all by herself. When her son started to develop acne at the beginning of secondary school, there wasn’t much need for concern until its severity worsened over a short time. She says parents have to be persistent in trying to get the answers and support they need. “The support from doctors is there, but only if you’re the type of person to push for a referral to a specialist”, says Alison. “[Acne] is not seen as important enough as it’s not medical but cosmetic in their opinion, which I think is completely wrong.”

The support from doctors is there, but only if you’re the type of person to push for a referral to a specialist

Alison’s advice is simple, but effective. “Don’t give up! Go to see the doctor and get the medication that is needed. You have to push for help and don’t let anyone fob you off with the typical ‘it’s just teenage skin and they will grow out of it’ excuse.” 

The counsellor perspective

Parents can often feel they are highlighting an issue when talking to their children, which can compound them to be self conscious. They feel they are juggling a practical solution in helping their child with self care, or seeking medical help in some cases, while at the same time they try to get their children to a point where they do not focus too heavily on the demands of appearance. “A lot of parents express struggling with knowing how to connect with and help their teens,” says Victoria Browne, a mindset coach who helps parents deal with their children’s acne, as well as adults suffering a loss of confidence as a result of childhood acne. “There is a fear of getting ‘it’ wrong, judgement by others and not allowing their child space to grow while supporting and guiding them.” 

Victoria also says online counselling services for parents and children are a great way to find support, particularly during lockdown and obvious straints. “The NHS counselling services are stretched between 8-12 week waiting lists, and many GP’s prescribe medication for mental health issues rather than therapeutic services,” says Victoria. “Many online counselling services are great especially for busy, time short people so that hasn’t changed during lockdown. Some parents I have as clients have also reported a closer connection with their teens during lockdown, having greater conversations with both time and depth.” 
Jerilee Claydon has a unique perspective. As a psychotherapist, she suffers with acne herself and worries her children, aged three and five, will suffer with the same issues. In particular, she claims her three-year-old son has “identical” skin to her. “Even while he is only three years old, I’m looking at options for him and how to protect him from acne,” says Jerilee. She recognises the lack of empathy towards acne associated with GPs and suggests parents need more access to education. “[Parents] need to know how to treat acne at its first signs. If it’s managed early on and treated appropriately inside and out, there is a much better chance of managing it. Diet, products, treatments, and medication all need to be considered.”

Affordable lockdown counselling services

*Accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).  

  1. Meredith El-Jawhari, PhD: An experienced psychologist in both the UK and US, one of Meredith’s specialities is child psychology and helping parents and children cope with anxiety, depression and low moods. Sessions start from £45 and she also offers telephone and online counselling services via Zoom (T: 07925948931/E: 
  2. Ella Tekdag: Ella specialises in helping young people and children cope with the pressure of modern society influenced by social media to improve self-esteem. An initial one-hour session is £40 and she is currently holding counselling sessions via Skype and Zoom (T: 07787 537608/E: 
  3. Gillian Reid: Gillian first studied social and child psychology in her bachelor’s degree and uses the method of psychodynamic therapy, where clients can understand the root cause(s) of their issues. Sessions start at £50 and provides both telephone and online counselling (T: 07501 674689/W: 
  4. Phil Martin: Phil has more than 15 years’ experience working with children and families and can help with key areas including stress, anxiety, self-esteem and depression. Online and telephone counselling are available and sessions start at £40 (T: 07789 072592/E: 
  5. Helen Brown: As an integrative counsellor, merging different psychotherapy methods together, Helen specialises in working with children and adults to explore how early life and previous relationships could impact current behaviours and self-esteem. Telephone and online counselling are available throughout the pandemic and sessions start at £50 (T: 07580425305/E: 

•Editorial note: As requested by the interviewee, we have not used her surname to protect the identity of her daughter, following clause 2 (privacy) of the IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice.