'We flourish when we have our tribe': Ruby Wax on getting through depression at work

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The support network of the workplace can help someone experiencing mental ill health to recover, Ruby Wax OBE told an audience at the Safety & Health Expo on Wednesday.

The formidable comedienne, mental health campaigner, author and holder of an MA from Oxford university on mindfulness, imparted her wisdom through a combination of home truths and humour that brought humanity to an issue many find difficult to talk about.

Safety Management attended and asked Ruby what she thinks about whether it's best to go to work when you’re suffering from mental ill health, referencing that in health and safety we talk about supporting people with mental health to remain in work. We asked: "would they be better going to work or hiding under the duvet?”

Ruby answered that the individual will know if they feel well enough to come to work or not, but if you can get to work ‘that’s the best thing you can do’: “We flourish when we have our tribe, human company – half the cure is being with your people. But there’s a moment when that disease starts to turn into…it’s impossible to get up, it’s much better that [you tell that to people who need to] know.  

“I know there’s a moment where people go ‘am I being lazy here?’ but that’s the shame of it [that many sufferers will feel]. Believe me, your body will know when to get up again. But if you can get to work, go to work, because you’ll feel supported and if you can focus on something, that’s mindfulness too. If you can get in the flow that’s the word mindfulness.

Ruby Wax speaking at Safety &Health Expo on Wednesday

Elsewhere in her speech she gave some practical tips on dealing with stress which is the ‘normal reaction to the world we live in which is insane’. But she urged others not to confuse stress and mental illness and to adapt our support to such problems correspondingly.

Being stressed and frazzled or mentally ill is like being pregnant and not pregnant – it’s a disease, I can’t say it enough.

She said employers should help others to learn to recognize symptoms in colleagues at work such as a ‘dead look’ in the eyes and that people should be sensitively encouraged to seek medical help. 


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