Between 2017 and 2021, I worked at a tech firm in Newcastle. During my time with the firm, I had by far the most enjoyable time of my professional career. On a personal level though, my time there also delivered some of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had in my life.

Having left university and bounced between a couple of what most would consider dead-end jobs, life felt like it was finally on the up when a good friend of mine from a previous role contacted me about a vacancy at his place of work. At the time, it felt like a dream job. It was an opportunity to properly get stuck into a role in marketing – an area I had a genuine interest in; the chance to work for an exciting, vibrant and growing company, as well as the opportunity to work with and make new friends.

With relative ease, the first year of my time with the company was the best experience of work I’ve had. In spite of what followed, it’s difficult not to look back fondly and remember the good times. A relatively young workplace, professional and personal were really one and the same. I can barely remember a Friday night that wasn’t spent in a pub with colleagues that quickly became mates. It was a welcoming, fun environment. The organisation was flexible and forward-thinking. The hierachy was flat, and the trust in each other was so that you felt psychologically safe to raise any issue in the confidence that you could find a solution, no matter the sensitivity.

Unfortunately a year into my time with the company, financial issues hit when a client defaulted on payments. Typical of the organisational culture, people got their heads down. There was a feeling that we ‘were in it together’. When payday would come, sometimes nothing would enter the bank, sometimes you’d find say 20%. Though an obvious cause for concern, most found a way to laugh about it and continued to try battle our way out of the messy situation.

Dale ShareYourStory

"When they returned, things suddenly felt frosty"

Unfortunately though, the company couldn’t recover and was forced into making redundancies. Having not been with the company long but very much enjoying my time there, I was surprised and relieved to be lucky enough to keep my post. Nevertheless, the news and the way in which it was handled hit the company hard. The mood changed immediately and over the months that followed it led to further departure of several more friends – some of which can be seen making me look embarassingly short on the left.

In the weeks building up to the redundancies, I spoke to a colleagues within the marketing team over the phone. My colleague expressed concern that his continued absence due to mental health could lead to his departure. He had got it in to his head that the ongoing financial issues would force the company’s hand and that he’d be made redundant. Ignorant to the reality of the scenario that was unfolding, I reassured him that all would be okay.

Unfortunately, the company was pressed into the scenario my colleague predicted, and he was one of the unfortunate people to receive the email. To the organisation’s credit, they offered to continue the mental health support they were paying for and help find him work elsewhere. I’m told the conversation was actually fairly upbeat. That was a relief given my immediate concern that what I’d actually told him was completely incorrect.

After a weekend to take it all in, I returned to work on the Monday morning. I quite vividly remember the typically blaring sales team being called down to a meeting room first thing. When they returned, things suddenly felt frosty – and if a salesperson is quiet, it’s probably a sign something isn’t right. I think I recall a shrug that essentially said “?” to Rhi, a friend who I sat beside at the time.

Shortly after, myself and Rhi – the only people left in the marketing team, were asked head to the same room. In the room, we were told that the lad mentioned above had taken his own life.

Personally speaking, I think that was my first ‘real’ experience of loss. It was the first time I’d lost someone close while being old enough to truly understand what it meant – and certainly my first experience of loss that wasn’t natural. I volunteered to phone another colleague from the marketing team who’d been made redundant to deliver the news. On the call we both broke down in tears. That was probably the only time I properly showed any emotion about it.

Following the news, my reaction was strangely to ‘work harder’. Guilt probably played a part – both from that phone call and in not being made redundant myself. So too did the frustration I felt with some of the company’s leaders. It felt like communication was lacking at a time where it was needed more than ever. Most of all though, I wanted things to ‘go back to normal’. The mood change that arrived with the redundancies was  horrible. I saw pretty much all of the people I worked with as pals, and I wanted to do anything I could to get us all back on track, back to normal, pulling in the same direction.

I quickly found myself voluntarily working stupid hours. Normal hours were for marketing work, extra hours were anything I could possibly think of to drive and improve communication. I think a few other mates felt similarly, and on more than one occasion you could still find us in the office at 2:00am before being back in again the next morning.

What I was doing might have been helping keep my mind off of things, but it certainly wasn’t helping. I was rapidly burning myself out. I was focusing on changing things that I had no real control over, and I was probably in denial about the death of a friend. Mentally, I was all over the place. Towards the end of my time with the company, I’d laugh about how I’d cried in every single meeting room. I used to live a 2 minute walk from work, and would have to retreat there to gather myself on numerous occasions. On the way there and back, I’d think about throwing myself in front of one of a car.

I’ve never been great at hiding my feelings, hence the hiding spots. But when you have a face as miserable as mine no hiding spot is good enough. I knew people were noticing, and I could tell many didn’t really know how to approach it. The one person who did was Rhi, who has a knack for all things people and continued to press me to access counselling. Eventually after one particular breakdown over nothing, I gave in and asked for a referral.

Counselling definitely helped me to understand my feelings, frustrations, denial and my coping mechanisms. I can’t say it’s something I particularly enjoyed – some weeks feel like you’d made progress but often you’d exit more confused than when you arrived, and the cups of tea were always memorably grim. But overall, it’s something I’m glad I did. I felt like my counsellor said a total of 12 words across all of our sessions, and that’s an introvert’s worst nightmare when each session is an hour long.

And although counselling definitely helped, I think the damage was done by that point. I had completely burnt myself out and my quality of work was nowhere near what it once was. I actually ended up shifting roles to be a dedicated internal communication officer some time after. I was chuffed with that – I thought if justified my additional efforts. But whether it did or not, I wasn’t there mentally anymore. Dozens of mates had left, and it felt like fighting a losing battle. Amongst my first couple of major projects were another round of redundancies and a comms review. Strangely, they were a good experience, but their outputs were both naturally quite negative, and I was also now in a team where being mates with those I worked with was often counterintuitive. I still wasn’t anywhere near the headspace I needed to be to deal with the kind of work I was on with, and I began losing friendships with those who were still about too.

Fast-forwarding towards the end of my time with the company, I was told financial pressures meant I needed to return to marketing. I had zero interest in it. After years of doing anything and everything for the company, I found myself doing the bare minimum. I was absolutely spent. If furlough was a relief, it felt like a blessing when I was eventually made redundant myself in 2021. Redundancy would have destroyed me back in 2017, and it led to the unthinkable with a colleague. Yet when I eventually experienced it at the place I’d put so much into, it felt like a weight off my shoulders.


"I couldn't be where I'm at now if I hadn't gone through the bad experiences, nor had I not finally gave in and accepted that I needed help"

My time in internal comms led to me finding my next role here at Gateshead. I was particularly interested in the role as the role as part one of its responsibilities was to act as the dedicated comms link to the health and wellbeing team.

Drawing attention to the support that is available to you and redefining what you support you expect of your employer are things I’m really passionate about. Earlier this year I successfully applied for the role of Health and Wellbeing Lead, and now I’m proud to be leading the team that are there to help you stay well, deal with difficult times and be at your best.

I suppose the reason I wanted to share the story above is to stress that I couldn’t be where I’m at now if I hadn’t gone through the bad experiences, nor had I not finally gave in and accepted that I needed help. Our trigger events are unique to us all but because we have no control over them, are largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of ensuring that we stay well. Our lives can flip at any minute, and we need to know how to stay afloat and where to turn to for support when faced with those challenges.

Mental health is still so underdiscussed, and mental health support is so underaccessed. Whether you’re struggling mentally, financially, socially, physically or otherwise, reach out. Keeping quiet is without doubt the most ineffective way of dealing with things. You have an entire team here to support you and an entire organisation committed to trying to improve our support for you.

A big well done if you’ve made it this far – brevity has never been a strength of mine! As touched on above, simply taking the time to talk or write and ultimately reflect on challenges can be quite therapeutic.

With that being said, if you’d be interested in getting involved in #ShareYourStoryGH – please use the button below to contact the health and wellbeing team and we’ll get back to you.

Share Your Story

We're looking for Gateshead Health colleagues to help break down barriers around the discussion of mental health by sharing their story. If you think you've got a story to tell, please get in touch with the health and wellbeing team.