Ian Elsey, Operations Director at Liberty, shares his experiences after contracting the virus earlier this year and how support from that he accessed through Healthshield helped him to deal with the impact it has had on his mental health.
After having been relatively healthy for most of my life, it was a shock to be severely hit by COVID-19, with little I could do to fight against the illness.
As the pandemic took hold, I was very cautious around the workplace. I followed all the restrictions, being careful around handwashing, social distancing and ensuring that colleagues worked from home wherever possible.
Despite these measures, I contracted COVID-19 in March 2020.
Before taking ill with the virus, I was very much in the camp of believing it to be only a “flu-type” illness. However, as my symptoms got progressively worse over a period of around 15 days, I found myself hospitalised for a week and having to rely on the NHS and their limited knowledge at that time of what could help me get better.
Physical and mental impact
I focussed on trying to overcome the physical symptoms of COVID-19 when I came out of hospital, but I was unprepared for the significant mental health challenges that I would also face.
I’d always been proud of having worked for the business for 27 years and only ever having one day off sick during that time.
I found that I really struggled with the feelings of guilt of being off work when colleagues were going through a tough time, as well as dealing with the advice from my doctor that there was no quick fix and that it could take months to fully recover.
Physically I was shocked at how badly the virus had impacted my lung capacity and how weak I felt. After leaving hospital I was still experiencing high temperatures, high blood pressure and increased heart rate, which fortunately started to calm down after a few days. I had a continuous cough for the following four weeks which really took its toll, despite knowing that this was a natural reaction to fighting the virus and helping to clear my lungs of any potential legacy virus fibres.
Once the doctor had advised me that I was virus free and the worst was over, I knew I needed to turn my attention to dealing with the impact on my mental health.
I sought support from Healthshield’s counselling service which is available to all colleagues at Liberty, and this was a vital first step in tackling the trauma I’d experienced.
The service was very accessible and the People Team helped me in making the referral.
I was contacted within 24 hours by a counsellor who had an initial assessment call with me where we talked through what was troubling me.
Following that I had ten online sessions of around an hour where the counsellor broke down my issues. It gave me the chance to talk the through and helped me reach solutions.
He also showed me breathing techniques to deal with anxiety, which has made a real difference, and also how to break my workload down to achieve a better work life balance.
He helped me to deal with my chaotic mind and order my thoughts and to put into context what I’d been through.
Since going through the counselling, other colleagues have shared their own stories of mental health challenges and how they have overcome them.
It’s made me realise how important it is for us all to be open about mental health and to understand that it can happen to anyone. It’s ok to feel chaotic and down sometimes but its vital not to stay in that place too long before getting help – whether that’s from a family member or accessing support through a service like Healthshield like I did.