“Mental health issues don’t define us and they definitely don’t define how capable we are.”
It’s refreshing that the conversation around mental health is becoming increasingly sensitive and empathetic and that there just seems to be a lot more of it in the mainstream media now than there ever has been.
There’s a growing shift in perception around it not least because a number of incredibly strong people have started to speak out and share their stories of mental health challenges and how they get through their day to day.
Jana Dowling is one of those people and she has taken it one step further – she has founded an organisation to support and create work opportunities for people with mental health issues.
The 888 Collective delivers courses focused on providing tools that people can use to manage their mental wellbeing, either in the work place or with a view to getting back into work.
Jana was kind enough to share her story with me recently and tell me more about the work of the Collective.
Tell me a bit about your background
I’ve had a bit of a crazy background (pun intended). Looking back you can see my BiPolar (which I wasn’t diagnosed with until December 2016) in both my personal and professional decisions, which has lead to a colourful C.V and narrative. With my career I went straight from school into work because the academic environment wasn’t for me and university would have been a stretch too far considering I barely managed to secure 3 A levels. I did what everyone else does, went out and took the first opportunity that came my way, which just happened to be working in a flower shop. I then went on to work in television and then fashion publishing before having a little crack at acting and presenting.
Where did the idea for The 888 Collective come from?
In a nut shell it was through personal experience. I was working in T.V managing a well-known series, whilst doing Stand Up comedy (see what I mean by colourful).
After a week on holiday doing my stand up show in Edinburgh I went back to work and started to feel awful. I went to the doctors, got diagnosed with depression and started anti depressants.
The side effects hit me hard, the most irritating one was I had to yawn every 2 minutes. You know that feeling when you’re trying to hide a yawn? I had that all day. Not to mention my work colleagues noticed I was a slightly zombied version of myself with what must have looked like a very weird chewing gum technique (I used to chew gum to try to hide the yawns).
I stopped taking the meds because it was too much to handle at work and that lead to a severe depressive episode. I spent five weeks in bed under 24 hour watch as a high risk suicide patient. I was diagnosed with bipolar, prescribed new medication and took on my recovery like a job, because that’s what it was and still is.
When I was well enough to start looking for work I was hit with another massive obstacle, what do I do? What can I do? Who’s going to hire me? Do I tell the truth? This fear was a massive block and set back and alleviated by a mate of mine who gave me a job as her P.A. She didn’t need one but she could see how much I needed a job. She let me make mistakes, she treated me as an equal and as someone who was capable, even though sometimes I’d have to send out five meeting requests for one meeting because I would have sent out the wrong, day, time, location and I’m pretty sure I once sent it out in the wrong year!
With her support I was producing and directing online videos for her clients with in three months. In that time I learnt how to manage my “new” self and mental health issues in the work place. Having been through that experience and meeting others who needed the same opportunity I was given, I decided to stop saying “I wish you had a friend like mine that could give you a job” and instead to do something. So I’m doing it.
What are some of the challenges that the people you help come to you with?
Dealing with every day symptoms of their mental health and how it affects their day to day life. Managing and understanding themselves. Often people just don’t know where to start or what they can do for themselves to take the right steps to gaining a better understanding and management system for their mental wellbeing.
How do you and the team at 888 help people?
We provide the tools needed to understand, track and manage mental health issues and the inspiration and support needed to accept responsibility and take the step back into the work environment. We run courses and events to help and support people.
What are your thoughts on why it’s so important that we’re discussing mental health more openly now?
Because it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It affects a huge amount of people and it’s simply a fact, people have mental health issues. I have BiPolar, that’s a fact. The medication I take helps me manage my moods, it’s the same medication prescribed to some people who have epilepsy, would you think that person was any less capable of doing their job as I am? Would you ever ask someone with epilepsy if they’re going to come off their medication? No, why? Because it helps them function and live a balanced life, just as it does for me.
To live the life I want I have to track, monitor and adapt my everyday actions to ensure I live in my optimum mental wellbeing. Just like someone with diabetes has to monitor their levels. The key is accepting responsibility, not taking all of the responsibility on your shoulders, but accepting that building a healthy mental wellbeing begins with you.
You spend more time with you than any other person, so you can track yourself and your behaviours and pass that information on to medical professionals who can help you. Once you do that, you can take positive action to alleviate symptoms and start to build a strong understanding of yourself.
Mental health issues don’t define us and they definitely don’t define how capable we are. If we are all open, honest and have the right tools and understanding people will feel less afraid of speaking up, people will be less afraid of the unknown.
The 888 Collective is running a Managing Mental Health In the Workplace Course on 21st July. The course is for those in work looking to better understand mental health issues and how to spot & support them in the workplace.
The fee for the courses goes directly towards delivering free courses for people with mental health issues that are in receipt of benefits and are looking to get back into work.