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ICYMI Working with a Mental Health Need - World Mental Health Day @colleaguesontap @HP_artcreations

"Wow, you run your own business, that must be great”! This a phrase I have heard many times over the past 3 years and my reply is often “Yes, it is – most of the time”. Nobody wants to get into a deep and meaningful conversation or bare your soul during a networking meeting but the truth is that running your own business can be tough, especially if you have a mental health issue. Disguising your symptoms and managing your anxiety becomes part of your daily routine for some.  There are many sources of support and funding for start-up businesses when it comes to learning about social media, business planning and accounts but what about support for those of us who have mental health needs and want to ensure our businesses continue to operate on a day-to-day basis?

This is a subject I talk about regularly with Gail Curry from Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC. Gail is a regular coworker at our North Shields Colleagues on Tap venue and has written about her experience in this fascinating blog post below. With over 4.5 million people who are currently self-employed in the UK surely we can’t be the only 2 people who need support with this? Let’s talk about it….

(Jo Cameron, Colleagues on Tap)

World Mental Health Day has been observed since 2006 and is observed on October 10th each year to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to lessen the stigma associated with them.

 In the UK 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in our life, and 1 in 6 absences from work are related to illness attributed to mental health related issues. Seeing these statistics should help to show that mental health in the UK is not a minority issue and we should be prepared to talk about and be informed as to how to go about safeguarding and maintaining our own mental health. There is a wealth of free information and resources available from organisations such as ‘Mind‘, ‘The Mental Health Foundation‘ and SANE to name a few.

 However what I have so far found to be true is that there is a distinct lack of help for those of us with mental health needs, once we have an issue and who are self-employed. My own particular diagnosis is post-traumatic stress disorder, which impacts in several ways on my ability to run my business, Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC as well as working as an artist. One of those areas is networking in the traditional sense, i.e. attending a networking meeting, something I have never been able to do. The idea of going to an unfamiliar place and meeting lots of unfamiliar people fills me with absolute terror. The advent of Colleagues on Tap arriving in North Shields was very helpful to me, especially given it was held in a familiar building and hosted by Janice Ross, a business advisor who had worked with me at the Business Factory. People who attended those sessions hopefully didn’t see the turmoil I occasionally held, but those of us with mental health issues often become expert mask makers and wearers and only show you what we want you to see. I wonder how many colleagues cottoned onto the fact I always asked for a seat by the window, so I could see the sky, as that is part of one of my coping mechanisms? What that day offered me was a safe and supportive environment in which I could feel I was part of the business fraternity, which I used to work on the more traditional admin related aspects of my business.

 Eighteen months into re-learning myself I am still finding new triggers and learning new ways to manage them, given that I am on a waiting list for treatment. I often feel as though I work two days in one. The first one is the normal day that working for oneself involves and then there is the secondary which is micro-managing myself and how whatever is happening that day may, or may not, require inventive adjustment.

 Having already sought help from various sources, I am yet to find one that I fit the criteria for, and sadly what I find the underlying message to be is that I shouldn’t be self-employed. I don’t believe that to be true and I also believe it needs to be challenged.

 I have talked to Jo Cameron about how I manage myself and I am convinced I can’t be the only business owner in the North East who struggles to maintain running a business with maintaining their mental health needs. World Mental Health day seemed to be the most appropriate day to ask the question. I would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone else who has either found themselves in my situation and was able to find resources to give them the support they required. Alternatively, I would welcome contact from anyone who identifies with my position and who is also in need of support, as it may well be easier to find that elusive needle in the haystack together instead of searching alone.

 Gail Curry - Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC

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