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10 October 2017

This World Mental Health Day I’m sharing my personal story….

Today is World Mental Health Day and in the spirit of advocating for this day, and for greater awareness and de-stigmatising of mental health every day, I am choosing to share my personal experiences with a global audience both inside and outside of PwC for the first time via our Global Gender Agenda blog. 

My name is Anna – I live in the UK with my husband Mark, my 3 year old son William and a very crazy puppy called Rosie. I am a Partner in the Assurance practice in the UK, a mental health advocate and I had post-natal depression after my son was born. My experiences with mental health illness started before then – as my Dad was unwell when I was young and my sister suffers from anxiety. In my client-facing work I also work with many mental health care providers so it touches both my personal and professional life and it is something I am extremely passionate about.

It probably goes without saying that having my son William was life changing – in so many wonderful ways (he has a wonderful cheeky personality that always makes me smile!) but it has also been incredibly challenging. For a long time I thought I was just sleep deprived (William is a terrible sleeper) but once he got to 18 months old and I still wasn’t feeling ‘normal’ I knew something more was probably not right – but it took several discussions with a wonderful member of the coaching team at PwC to really get me to realise I needed some help. For me, not ‘normal’ was waking up in the night despite being very tired all the time, not being able to concentrate due to what I describe as ‘brain fog’ in addition to physical symptoms such as achy arms and legs. Over the past year I have had lots of support from my GP, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a coach at PwC – and everyday it gets a little better!

My role as a mental health advocate in the firm has played a really important role in my recovery – it gives me an opportunity to support others, listen to them, and signpost how they can get help to get well again. For me it means something good has come from the challenges that I have personally faced.

People often ask for my advice on how to manage mental health but the truth is I am not expert on managing mental health – I only know what works for me. What I have learnt over the years is that it is different for everyone and it changes over time. What works for one person may not work for another. For me it's lots of sleep, making plans to take time away from the everyday (getting on a plane for a holiday is really important for me, as is sunshine!), lots of laughter, and cuddles with William - and reading trashy novels. For others its exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends.

My only piece of advice for anyone who reads this, is to work out what works for you – just one small thing – and to build that into your day to day life. Plan it and commit to it – we all have mental health and we can protect it.

For me the most important thing organisations (including PwC) can do to support employees with mental health is to talk about it – so eventually mental health is considered in the same way as physical health. The stigma associated with mental health means people are reluctant to ask for help or talk to their friends or colleagues – fearing that they will be seen as ‘not being able to cope’ or ‘crazy’. If we could change this – I believe people would ask for help sooner and get better quicker. We would all ask for help if we broke our leg – having a mental health illness is no different and let’s face it – we employ people for their brains!

At PwC UK, all of our mental health advocates are Partners, with first-hand experience of mental health problems, who want to make a difference to the way we think, feel and talk about mental health in the firm. I believe this approach means we can make a real difference to our people. What I think our people want more than anything is to know that they ‘aren’t the only one’, that they’re ‘normal’ and that ‘it will get better’, and I promise – all of those things are true!!

I know this isn’t an easy topic and not everyone is comfortable talking about it – but my plea is that if you are willing to share your experience – then please do in whatever ever way works for you – as you will have a massive impact on those around you.

Click here for background on our mental health and wellbeing agenda in PwC UK: https://www.pwc.co.uk/who-we-are/annual-report/stories/green-light-talk-mental-health.html

Anna-Blackman Anna Blackman is Partner at PwC, based in Southampton in the UK. She joined the company in 2001, following studying for a degree in Geography at the University of Portsmouth.

Anna specialises in providing assurance and accounting services to public sector organisations - with a particular focus on the health sector. She leads the statutory audits of a number of Foundation Trusts and CCGs as well as working in the role of Head of Internal Audit for two Foundation Trusts. Alongside assurance services, Anna supports public sector organisations with business planning, long term financial modelling, accounting advice, due diligence, clinical data quality, and board/organisational development.

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