It wouldn’t have been a British Bank Holiday Monday without howling winds and downpours, would it? Tempted as I was to pull the blankets back over me and hibernate with copious mugs of tea and some chocolate, a commitment I made to myself earlier this year forced me to drag myself out of bed, put on a raincoat and venture outdoors.

Now, let me say firstly that nobody should feel bad if they chose the former option; an indoor day is a perfectly acceptable way of spending a cold and gloomy Monday! However, back in the depths of winter, during the bitterly cold dawning of 2021, I decided I would document my daily life by taking one picture each day. Now, while the room I rent in Richmond Fellowship supported housing is very comfortable, it does not make for particularly arresting photographic material. So come rain or shine, hail or snow, I have little option but to venture outside into nature to get an interesting shot.

My camera is my equivalent of a dog. Some people find that their pet gives them the incentive they need to get up into their local hills, fields and parks, or perhaps along the coast. For me, it’s photography. For you it may be something else entirely. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that a daily dose of nature can have an enormous positive impact on your mental health.

I suffer from depression and anxiety and at the lowest points in my life I have hidden myself away for days, even weeks on end, when even getting dressed and putting on a pair of shoes seemed like a monumental effort for which I just couldn’t muster the energy. But it was during a spell on a mental health ward that my mind was re-awakened to the healing power of nature. I was taken across to a nearby park; it was mid-summer, and my dulled senses stirred gradually to take in the glorious bright colours and fresh aromas. It wasn’t an instant transformation from despair to jumping around for joy, but when I look back at that day it was a crucial moment in calming my anxious, muddled mind and making me feel more alive again.

Now, it is my automatic response when I start to feel low, or when my chest and shoulders feel tight and I feel the onset of panic and worry. Some days it will take me a long time to get going – I’ve been known to sit on the edge of the bed with one shoe on for an hour or more. Eventually, though, I get out of the front door. Even if I only make it to the local park which is a couple of minutes from home, just sitting on a bench and watching trees sway in the breeze and raindrops patter leaves and squirrels and birds flit around in their never-ending quest for food gives my mind a new, relaxing focus.

It’s also a great time to practise mindfulness; more information on how to do that can be found here.  Being able to block out the external and internal noise and concentrate the mind on the here and now takes practice, but can have huge benefits.

I’m off now to take my daily picture and I can see the early clouds have given way to bright blue skies – it’s much easier on days like this!

My two experiences of approaching an employer about my mental health could hardly have been more different.

Back in 2002, I was juggling my studies with a full-time job in a call centre. While I loved the camaraderie with my colleagues and the fact I could fit my hours around other commitments, the work was pretty unforgiving; long hours, regular rejection and huge pressure to make sales targets. One evening, without any real understanding of what was happening to me, I dried up in the middle of a call. I couldn’t speak or even breathe properly, I felt sick and hot and my chest was tight.

I learned afterwards I had experienced a panic attack.

A couple of days later, I approached my manager tentatively. I blurted out that I was struggling, not sleeping, feeling under great pressure. Her response was pretty short and to the effect that if I didn’t sort myself out, plenty of others were waiting to fill my shoes.

I’ve reflected a lot on that pretty chastening experience since, and especially when some years later I found the courage to do it again, this time with a much more understanding employer.

I explained I was having a crisis in my life that was impacting on my mental health, and asked if I could be released from the ‘on-call’ roster that required me to be available after hours for one week in every month. Her response, in comparison to my previous experience, was extraordinary. She made me realise I was a highly valued member of the team and was happy to provide whatever adjustments or support I needed. Not only was she true to her word, but she continued for years afterwards to look out for any signs I might be struggling, and intervene gently where she felt it necessary.

Nobody is obliged to disclose a health condition to an employer, and no employer has the right to ask you to. But if you feel it may impact you at work then it makes sense to raise it. Employers have a legal duty to make adjustments to enable staff with a mental health problem to work. While disclosure can be daunting, employers in 2021 are generally more aware of the need for equal opportunities and to be more understanding of diversity in their workplace.

It’s best to come forward in a positive manner; your health condition is nothing to be ashamed of, or to apologise for. Describe how you are managing your condition and what support you already have in place. You may wish to develop, in collaboration withs your employer, a Wellness Action Plan. This enables your manager to better understand your needs, identify warning signs and triggers, and determine the best ways to support you.

More information about how to have this conversation and develop a Wellness Action Plan can be found here. As for my earlier employer, I soldiered on for a couple more weeks until I secured another job. For refusing to value my work or understand my needs and treating me like a number, it was their loss, not mine.