Practice Resource Manager, Russ Martin, explains how he’s been supported through his mental health challenges and how he’s now helping others in similar situations.
What challenges have you faced in the workplace?
In previous firms I have worked at there have been huge variations in the level of knowledge on how to work with someone who lives with a mental health issue. To have to deal with a management team that just doesn’t understand what you are going through is a really tough place to be.
It’s easy to have your cards marked as someone who won’t be able to cope with the level of pressure in a legal firm, copious amounts of work or long hours. Unconscious bias can put significant barriers in place.
You have to think of mental health as a continuum; your mental health is forever changing and someone who has previously had no mental health issues can develop them. I know what my triggers are and how I either avoid them or deal with them when they do arise. There is also a widespread misunderstanding about whether someone with mental health issues can ever recover fully; many make a full recovery.
What’s your advice to others facing mental health challenges?
Talk! The saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved” is never truer than in this situation. As a mental health first aid instructor I get approached at work by people who just want to talk about something. It may be minor. If it is, we discuss and work through some coping mechanisms. If it appears to be something a little more severe, then I will help signpost them to relevant resources so that they can find the next stage of support. I am seeing more and more people come forward to work with their mental health first aiders at work and this is really comforting to see. There is no need to be ashamed about speaking to your manager about what you are going through.
How has Ashurst supported you?
Ashurst have put in place a very flexible work environment. Smarter Working policy makes working from home or other locations a lot easier. We also have a ‘dress for your day’ policy that, especially in our brand new offices in Spitalfields, produces a much more relaxed workplace environment. This, coupled with our brand new technology (where everyone now has a laptop and isn’t tied to a specific desk), means we can choose to sit in the sunshine on our terrace overlooking East London while working at the same time. Ashurst have also allowed me to take time off work to train as a mental health first aid instructor. I am now able to deliver courses on the full two day MHFA England certification as well as a half day mental health awareness course. As someone who has previously experienced mental health issues, I know that should I ever be in that position again, then I am at the right firm with a large (and growing) community of people who have a much better insight and understanding of mental health and wellbeing awareness training.