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Mental health stories: Be kind. Always.

Deloitte New Zealand senior, Helen, shares her story of receiving a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as an adult as part of our series aiming to reduce societal stigma around mental health

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember and it’s something that has always been with me. For the past few years, I’ve been seeing a psychologist who has given me amazing tools to manage it.

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to be open about my mental health at work and have found my leaders to be supportive and understanding. I don’t feel like being open has held me back in my career; in fact, I’d say that my work environment helps me manage my anxiety. One of the best things about working in a fast-paced environment is that it keeps me engaged. It’s when I’m not busy that I have headed into a downward spiral of self-doubt and the depression and anxiety kicks in.

In the past, I found unhealthy ways to manage my anxiety and it was only through opening up, first to my therapist, then to friends, family and colleagues that I’ve been able to shift my mindset and adopt healthier strategies to manage my mental health. But despite the progress I made with my therapist, I still struggled during times when I wasn’t occupied. My psychologist suggested that I see a psychiatrist to be assessed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and I received a confirmatory diagnosis at the age of 25.

The diagnosis wasn’t a huge surprise – I and people around me had suspected I might have ADHD – but getting a clinical diagnosis made it official and put a label on it, which was both scary and liberating at the same time. While it was hard to come to terms with at first, I realised that some of what I’d considered to be personality traits such as forgetfulness, high energy and trouble concentrating were actually symptoms, as were traits that caused me a lot of anxiety relating to how I would interact with others like interrupting and talking over people.

I’ve become more able to recognise certain behaviours as being linked to my ADHD, but even so, it’s not always clear where my ADHD ends and I begin, or whether it’s possible to separate the two. But I do know that being on ADHD medication, in conjunction with therapy, has contributed to managing my anxiety and helped me function and gain control over basic, everyday tasks that I used to find overwhelming. Being on medication is certainly not a cure-all, but having the awareness granted by a diagnosis has enabled me to better recognise and manage my symptoms.

In many ways, I wish I’d gotten the diagnosis sooner. I think part of the reason that I didn’t is because I wasn’t in an environment that created a safe space to talk about mental health. I believe that there’s a generational and gender divide in New Zealand which means that people from my mum’s generation, for example, aren’t as open to talking about or recognising mental ill health. She comes from a generation that thinks it’s a ‘young people problem.’ Likewise, many men across the generational divide are conditioned to not show their feelings and discuss mental health.

What’s needed is for more people to open up about their mental health. By raising awareness in this way, it helps normalise the conversation. And in the workplace, when senior leaders and men especially, are willing to have that conversation, it helps others feel OK to talk about their own mental health.

What I’ve learned is that you rarely can tell what someone is dealing with based on appearances so we should interact with others with empathy, compassion and above all, kindness.

Helen, Deloitte New Zealand

Deloitte’s mental health story series aims to break down barriers to talking about mental health. It is not intended to – and does not – offer advice nor substitute professional mental health support. If you are experiencing mental ill health or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, please contact your national or local helpline or healthcare provider for support.