PwC partner speaks out for World Mental Health Day: "You aren't alone."

| Oct 10, 2016

Today is World Mental Health Day 2016. Earlier this year, PwC in Scotland partner Philippe Guijarro spoke of his own experiencess coping with mental health issues.

Partner at 38 so why was I low?

There I was, aged 38. I’d joined PwC as a senior manager in the actuarial team in 2003 and quickly risen through the ranks, becoming a partner in 2007.Things were going well – I had a fantastic family, great friends and a range of hobbies including cycling and swimming. It was what many people might aspire to and I’d achieved it.

The future looked great. So why was it, that by 2012 I was feeling anxious and low?

It was in 2011 I started noticing that things, which would normally have been straightforward at work, seemed to be having more of an impact on me - for example over-analysing decisions and perceiving things to be more challenging than they would normally have been.

As this went on, I was sleeping less well, had become more irritable, had less confidence in certain settings and felt low - none of which were things I had experienced to this degree before.

At first, I took these things to be part of the busy lifestyle I was leading.

Small changes caused a big impact

With hindsight it’s because things changed incrementally that I never noticed how much it was all having an impact on me - but it came to a head in the spring of 2012.

I was in an internal meeting in London and can vividly remember being asked to give a view in the meeting on something which was straightforward and feeling a strong need to excuse myself from the room for a moment.

That day was the first day I accepted my mental health was not as good as I would like it to have been.

Writing the last sentence still feels strange but the fact I can write it is a sign of how much I have learnt about myself and also the stigma that 'mental health' had in my mind back then.

I wouldn't say that I was in denial - it was more that my perception of poor mental health was very narrow and something very different to what I was feeling.

I still don't know exactly why it was that meeting on that particular day, but it remains the most important working day of my life to this day.

The biggest difference that helped

The thing that probably made the biggest difference that day was another person speaking to me afterwards to say that I didn't seem to be myself and that they sensed something was wrong.

I didn't know that person well at the time, which makes what they did more impressive and I am so grateful to him.

Coach

We have since become good friends and it turns out he also experienced the same thing earlier in his life. He suggested a few things that he thought might help and I followed up on one of them, which was to seek support from a professional coach within PwC.

She was fantastic and helped me to better understand what was going on and to think of things that could help me.

For example, helping me to recognise false or narrow thinking that I had about certain things and to understand the broader range of options that I had when faced with certain situations.

That in turn led to different types of support being trialled including support from outside PwC.

I would describe the first six months as learning more about myself and the next six months developing strategies to deal with things differently.

Examples would be to become really clear about what the priorities are in my life and to be more realistic about how much I was taking on.

A better place

By 2013 I was in a much better place. This was far from a smooth process and involved a number of highs and lows - learning ways to keep a more constant view of how things were going was important.

When things were tough I would make time to understand what the root cause was and talk to people who knew what I was trying to improve on.

Talking really helped.

I am not sure exactly what would have happened if I hadn't taken help, however I am certain that life (including work) would have been nowhere near as enjoyable and positive as it has been over the past few years and I would not be in a position to do the range of exciting work that I continue to enjoy so much with a range of great clients.

One thing that is clear to me is there is no 'set end goal' for me - the potential to develop and improve will always exist as it does in any other area of my life. For that reason I continue to take ongoing support, albeit less frequently than in 2011.

I am more aware of the things that can cause me to react in a way I don't want and I also know better how to deal with that and that more support is available if I need it.

PwC has been fantastic in the support and advice I have had throughout, as have my family and friends.

Without all of that I am certain that I would not be able to enjoy life and work in the way that I am able to now.

Looking ahead

Was this brought on by work? That’s the wrong question in my opinion.

What I do know is that my psychology has enabled me to be successful and happy in many ways in life, however it also has the potential to be unhelpful to me in some specific situations.

I think these situations would be likely to arise whatever job I had chosen in life.

Given that, the important thing for me is to be working with an organisation in which I am accepted for who I am and that provides me with good support when it is needed.

In terms of advice to others, one thing I have had first-hand experience of is that this affects a lot of people.

The national statistic is that one in four people is affected by mental health issues - far more than I had expected - and including people I would never have thought had been affected by mental health.

One day, hopefully, we will talk about these issues in the same way we discuss a cold or a broken leg.

Keeping a promise

The person who first helped me has since retired from the firm having had a very successful and enjoyable career.

At his retirement celebration he asked if I would return his effort by seeking to help others who may need help in future.

This is my way of keeping my promise.

My message and learning from all of this has been that we should not be afraid to talk – to colleagues or to organisations like SAMH.

And if you can’t find someone to talk to, find me and come talk to me.

You aren’t alone.

(This article first appeared in Business Insider)

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