Positive conversations about mental health can change lives. Emily Hall Strutt, ex – Fast Stream, now Head of Engagement for Digital & Technology at the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice (MOJ) shares her story.
I have a Grade 7 role and I’m loving it, but getting here hasn’t been easy: I’ve had to do all of this with recurring depression and anxiety, compounded by my dad’s death by suicide in June 2015.
I was 5 when my dad had his first nervous breakdown and was off work for several months. After that my mum was treated for depression and I started counting my steps and was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, which I now understand is a form of anxiety.
When I was 18 I started to struggle to make decisions, find small disappointments devastating, and have anxiety attacks before going out (usually meaning I wouldn’t). Fortunately my parents recognised the symptoms and took me to a doctor. I took antidepressants for a year and had counselling, but it was a short term fix for a long term problem.
Joining the Fast Stream
When I started on the Fast Stream the steep learning curve was overwhelming. My stress levels were high and my sleep suffered. When I moved into my second posting in a digital team I realised that work could ease my anxiety rather than exacerbating it. It felt creative and practical while making a meaningful, tangible difference to public interaction with government. I knew it was the right area for me to work in. I looked forward to work each day and was able to keep a good work-life balance, which was great for my mood.
In 2015 I was on secondment when my dad started to show signs of severe depression and anxiety. We encouraged him to see doctors but for a long time he refused treatment. When he took his own life it was like I’d been hit by a wrecking ball. I couldn’t imagine a life without him or how I could carry on along the same trajectory without his encouragement and support, but somehow I found the strength to keep going.
My cohort leader gave me 4 weeks of special leave and agreed to extend my secondment to delay the upheaval of changing roles. When I moved into my next position in MOJ Digital my activity manager encouraged me to apply for workplace counselling. I now have occasional counselling sessions through the NHS, which I find really helpful, and I’m on medication to ease the anxiety and depression triggered by my dad’s death. I’m still exhausted a lot of the time – grief and depression can both cause chronic fatigue – but my role allows me to work from home whenever I need to rest. My team is so supportive and work so engaging that I find myself continuously motivated to get involved and work hard, which is a great distraction and really boosts my self-confidence.
I’m proud to have proved to myself that mental health problems and traumatic loss don’t need to stop me from succeeding in life. Despite my struggles I managed to get the promotion I wanted into the role and department I was most interested in. I know that whatever the future brings I’ll get through it.
Fast Stream welfare officers