Tom Lamb is a former civil servant with a master’s degree in political science.
Tom also spent 16 months in outpatient mental health care.
When he returned to work, Tom questioned whether his job fulfilled him. He’d talked publicly about his mental distress experiences and found sharing them “really meaningful”.
“Through my hardest times, I was always trying to find the person like me - somebody who’d been through university, held down a job and lived with mental distress,” he says.
“I wanted to be that hopeful story for somebody else.”
Noticing the signs
Tom first experienced mental distress when he was 19. He’d just returned from travelling in the UK, and “felt quite different” from his peers.
“Initially, I struggled with feeling very emotional as a young man, especially when I compared myself to my friends and other blokes at the same age.”
Over time, his feelings started to grow.
“I remember these episodes of feeling uncharacteristically sad that kind of got more and more intense and fed my anxiety. They culminated with my first proper panic attack at university.”
Tom went to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar.
“I wasn’t responding to any drugs that I was given, there were days where I didn’t talk, barely moved, it was pretty awful.”
Mental distress at work
Tom shared his mental distress experiences with family and friends and found it a “pretty positive experience”.
“I never felt like I was being judged or discriminated against.
“If people treat you unkindly when you disclose, well then at least you know that they’re an a******!”
In 2017, Tom took extended sick leave for three months during a 16-month period of outpatient care.
“I felt like there was a vacuum of policy and expertise for dealing with people in my situation.
“All diagnoses aren’t treated equally in workplaces. There are certain diagnostic labels which carry a huge degree of fear and suspicion, still. I feel like we’ve normalised anxiety and depression, but things like psychosis and bipolar and suicidal ideation, maybe not so much.”
Although his line manager was very supportive, Tom faced issues around his medical assessments, pay reviews, and job security while in the outpatient unit.
“It was pretty hard to take. I feared that my hospitalisation was going to torpedo my future progression throughout the organisation, because I’d had a bad performance review under the cloud of bipolar-related depression.”
Going back to work was difficult for Tom, but it was made easier by his employer. His workplace made many accommodations for him, including part-time hours and slightly different duties.
“I was really thankful when I went back to work, even though I was terrified of it. The value and increased sense of pride and self-worth that I got from being able to do that was massive.”
Two years on, Tom’s experiences have inspired him to help run No Worries, a Like Minds, Like Mine-funded programme for workplaces.
“For me, having this opportunity was amazing. The value of work, the experience of struggling in the workplace and then being able to come back to it; I can now all use those experiences to help employers and workplaces be that little bit more supportive.”
What’s his message to employers?
“Make an effort to know your people, to connect and have a relationship with them that’s not just ‘give me these reports by Friday’.
“If your employees feel closer to their managers and comfortable in disclosing their mental distress, it can make the situation better for everyone.
“You can work through it, you can work around it.”
Find out more about the No Worries project here.