"I saw it as a sign of weakness"
One in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lives. At the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, we speak to Christine Meakin, Director of Transformation at Barclays, about recognising how stress and anxiety was affecting her life – and why seeking help “felt like a weight being lifted”.
When did you first realise you were struggling?
As a female Director with two young children, I juggle a challenging work and home life. Back in 2014 I got the balance wrong and paid the price. I was pushing myself to be everything to everyone because I didn’t want to let people down. I was in denial about how I felt, but I didn’t want people to see that I was struggling and I didn’t want to ask for help because I saw it as a sign of weakness.
I never thought I’d be someone who’d suffer from anxiety or stress – I thought I was too strong. And I certainly never thought I’d have to take five months off work because I’d ‘burnt out’. But the reality is that it’s not about being strong, it’s about being honest with yourself and not being afraid to admit when you need help.
My advice to anyone is to talk to someone and get the help you need. Taking the first step is hard, but once you’ve taken it you won’t look back.
Why did you seek help?
I didn’t really have an option. I had to act. I was desperate. I was close to losing everything. My husband told me that I wasn’t easy to live with and that he and my children couldn’t take much more. I hadn’t realised how much my behaviour had impacted them until this point. It was the realisation of losing them that made me seek help.
What did you learn from the experience?
What’s most important is that people are talking about mental health and that they don’t feel ashamed if they are struggling with it. If I’d known more about wellbeing when this happened four years ago I may not have reached the low that I did. I learned that stress is indiscriminate, it can happen to anyone and is not a sign of weakness.
My advice to anyone is to talk to someone and get the help you need. Taking the first step is hard, but once you’ve taken it you won’t look back. I felt like a weight had been lifted when I opened up.
Why have you chosen to share your story?
I hope that by sharing my story I can help others who are struggling with their mental health. By talking about mental health issues we reduce the stigma around them and we normalise them. And when we normalise mental health we take a huge step towards making things better. I want people to know that there is hope. With the right support, mental health conditions can absolutely be managed.
What support does Barclays offer you?
Dynamic working means that I get to work remotely when I don’t need to be in a specific location and this enables me to take my children to school which is precious and something that’s really important to me. Travelling really takes its toll on me physically and can be a trigger for my anxiety. I now travel only when I need to, knowing that my manager supports me in working remotely.
As a result of this openness and trust I feel fully empowered to work in a way that benefits me and my family. I am proud to work for an organisation that promotes dynamic working as it has allowed me to balance my work and personal life.
I want people to know that there is hope. With the right support, mental health conditions can absolutely be managed.