My story: Living with mental illness in the accounting industryby
For UK Mental Health Awareness Week, Sammie Johannes raises awareness of the impact mental illness has on professionals in the accounting industry by sharing her story of battling mental health.
Given the turmoil of the last twelve months, it was inevitable that accountants would find their mental health impacted as a consequence.
The AccountingWeb survey results from December 2020 shows that 66.1% of practitioners within the accounting industry have experienced increased anxiety and depression in the last year, and 74% identifying as having a mental illness.
These statistics are concerning, and it is important that individuals who are living with mental illness speak to their employers, or someone they trust about this, despite how difficult it might be to do so.
It is also important that people share their stories to raise awareness and support, if they feel comfortable enough to do so.
I live with mental illness – specifically an eating disorder, anxiety and depression. When I write about mental health, I write about it from my experiences as a mental health advocate, not as an expert on mental health.
Speaking about my mental health story hasn’t always come as easily to me. In fact, I used to be completely terrified by the thought of it.
In the past, my view of mental illness was quite negative, and I was terrified of sharing what I was experiencing with others. I tried extremely hard to hide my mental health issues for several years, but it was extremely draining to keep up the facade of pretending that everything was okay.
I was just 20 years old when the partners of the accounting firm I worked for identified how bad my mental health was. At that point, I was deep in the throes of a very severe relapse with an eating disorder, anxiety and depression. I was non-functional at work, unable to stay engaged on a task for longer than 10-15 minutes, and finding ways to hide the fact I wasn’t eating from my colleagues.
However, I was very fortunate that they had an understanding of mental illness and took an active interest in my wellbeing, staging an intervention and investing in helping me to get better. I wouldn’t be here today if they didn’t intervene – they saved my life
They were not mental health experts, or experts in what I was going through, but they determinedly set aside time to help me get better. They supported me all the way and helped me reframe my eating habits, as well as providing me with an outlet – and a hugely important new hobby – to help manage my mental health. This was powerlifting.
Workplace stigmas around mental health often prevent those struggling from feeling comfortable opening up to employers about their experiences. I have experienced how prevalent this stigma can be, as sometimes being open can backfire on you.
In one instance, I openly explained my mental health issues to my colleagues, as I felt that hiding them was going against what I had worked so hard to do, to have the courage to share my story.
However, some colleagues' inability to want to understand mental health issues, or understand how to respond to someone with mental health issues, is something that is completely out of your control.
On more than one occasion in the workplace, I was treated differently or routinely bullied and publicly humiliated, by those in positions of responsibility for me, because of my mental health issues. As a result, this negatively impacted my working relationships with other colleagues.
In order to mitigate negative responses to mental health issues in employees going forward – something I believe is truly important – is educating employees, specifically those in leadership or management positions, on mental health.
I also believe that it is extremely important, given the rise in instances of bad mental health, to have someone in each team or office who is Mental Health First Aid qualified.
If you want to hear the full story of my struggle with mental health issues, you can watch my YouTube video, where I share the story in its entirety.