During lockdown Guernsey Employment Trust (GET) celebrated their 5th Anniversary. Plans for a party were unfortunately cancelled and instead the charity reflected on their successes and challenges with helping disabled people and those with health conditions to find and maintain employment.
GET’s services are more in demand than they have ever been and although many employers are inclusive, the employment rate for disabled people and those with health conditions remains significantly lower than nondisabled people.
After taking time out from nursing in 2017, Anna feared how difficult it would be to return to the profession. Anyone who has ever met Anna will know that she’s bright, compassionate and ambitious. She prides herself on having very few days off sick during her school life. When Anna was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2013 it changed her life. Anna describes a fairly typical Bipolar journey where for about 6 years she experienced many relapses, crises, medication trial and errors, years of being in denial and not accepting that she had a mental health condition.
Anna said: “The diagnosis and not being in my dream band 6 chemotherapy job that I once was in, naturally knocked all my confidence. I was once known for being a good nurse, but it seemed I was latterly known as being Anna who had Bipolar. I felt I was often looked at for my mental inability rather than my nursing ability.”
When Anna became well enough to start looking for work she wasn’t sure why her psychiatric team advised her to self-refer to GET. Anna admits she was initially uncertain as she did not feel that she had a ‘disability’ and was hesitant to accept support and help. Thinking back, Anna realises she didn’t fully understand the services GET offered and how they could help.
Anna explains “I feel strongly that professionals with a mental health condition should not be written off completely as nurses can get sick too. Time should be taken to consider what amendments are required in order to empower them back into their chosen vocation, like nursing. Here is where GET came into their own.” In fact, Anna admits with the benefit of hindsight she now wishes she had referred herself to GET for support much earlier in her career.
Anna first met Alex, her support worker, in November 2018. To explore if a return to nursing was realistic, Alex took time to understand the pressures and stresses within the nursing profession and attended joint meetings with Anna and her psychiatric team to gain an in-depth understanding of how Bipolar impacted Anna’s life and ability to work This built a good foundation for Alex to develop an understanding of Anna’s strengths and abilities so she could direct Anna to employment opportunities that were well matched to her skills and
experience as well as being within her health capabilities. Anna reflected that the support Alex provided was always honest rather than trying to build up unrealistic expectations.
Alex guided Anna with practical aspects of job finding, helping her fine tune her CV and providing feedback on her supporting statement for job applications. Anna found the practical support during a mock interview with the GET Management Team extremely beneficial, as it helped her prepare for all potential questions that an employer may ask about her diagnosis linked with nursing.
Alex’s support provided Anna with confidence. Anna says “Alex’s belief in me, gave me self-belief.” Alex encouraged and supported Anna to create a mental health care plan; one for herself and one for her employer. This helped build awareness of any warning signs or triggers that may impact Anna’s wellbeing, highlighted what keeps her well at work and what managers/colleagues can do to support Anna to stay well at work.
It was a proud moment for both Anna and GET when she was offered a job at the Medical Specialist Group (MSG) and got to wear her nurse’s uniform again. The support she receives from GET varies and is very much dependent on her needs at the time. At the onset of her role the support from Alex was more intense. As Anna progressed and settled into her role, Alex’s support became less frequent. However, GET have an open-door policy so Anna knows if she’s experiencing a problem at work, or notices warning signs of a relapse, Alex is only a phone call away.
Lara Le Pelley, Chief Clinical Officer at MSG says “Anna is such an inspiration to us with all that she has overcome and accomplished. When I interviewed Anna, I was completely blown away by her motivation, passion and humbleness about her achievements for herself and others. It was very clear that with Anna’s positive, determined and open approach along with fully embracing all the support she received that Anna was going to succeed in managing her illness to allow her to fulfil her aspiration of returning to a nursing role. Anna is a very caring, conscientious and willing nurse who is a great asset to the Ophthalmology Department at the MSG and a credit to her profession and her family.”
Almost a year has passed since Anna joined the MSG, and she has not had to take any sick leave during this time, apart from a day and a half awaiting results from a Covid-19 test. Anna’s renewed self-belief has helped her realise that it is possible to nurse alongside Bipolar. Anna is extremely grateful to the MSG for looking beyond the label of Bipolar at interview and for giving her a chance. She’s appreciative that she has such a supportive and understanding manager and work colleagues that have helped create an environment where she has been able to revive a career that she feels born to do.
If you resonate with Anna’s story in any way, Anna’s advice is “don’t be apprehensive about being supported by GET, there is no weakness in requiring their support. Managing to successfully hold down my nursing job has naturally improved my mental wellbeing and, consequently, my recovery has continued to go from strength to strength.”