Furlough and Mental Health – a success story in tough times

Written by Sam Barrett

Furlough has been one of the hottest topics of discussion in the UK for the past 4 months. Whilst there are undoubted positives to take from the scheme, especially when you consider redundancies appear to be on the rise, many will not have enjoyed the prolonged break. Not least of all those who suffer from mental health issues.

As someone who has suffered from issues with my mental health in the past, I had mixed thoughts about being put on furlough. It was obviously something that I initially welcomed, with the alternative of redundancy not being an option. Especially considering I’d just moved into a new flat a couple of weeks beforehand! 

If I had been made redundant, that would have been a whole other different series of emotions to contend with and my deepest sympathies go out to those who have been unfortunate enough to have faced that outcome.

But as it was explained to me back at the beginning of April, this was being done in order to save my job. So I took a positive outlook on the situation. Over 3 weeks leave. Full pay. New flat on the edge of Regents Park. And the weather was decent too. What other chance during my employment would I get to have almost a month off? 

Yeah so everything was in lockdown. But my one bit of exercise a day just happened to take me around Regents Park or Primrose Hill. There are worse places to go for a walk! Plus I have 4 consoles set up. Plenty of time to catch up on some gaming!

It’s been 17 weeks now.

The walk has become tedious and there is only so much Assassins Creed one can play.

But I’m not on the verge of having a nervous breakdown and given my track record when it comes to my mental health, I should be right in the thick of the emotional darkness that nearly ruined my life not that many years ago.

So why aren’t I?

Let me take you back to mid way through April when I was told my furlough was being extended until the end of May. OK. Not the end of the world….

…..BUT…..

I was also told that I might want to use that time constructively to look at how the business has changed shape and what that might mean to my position longer term. Redundancy seemed to be one very real and possible outcome.

Damn. 

I hadn’t even considered that as an option and there was a brief period after that, for about a week or so, when I almost cracked. I struggled to motivate myself to get up in the mornings. I was miserable and would snap at my girlfriend over the most minor things. I was smoking too much. And drinking too much. Old habits were creeping their way back in.

But with a bit of support from my girlfriend and my Directors, I began to see this not as a negative but as a positive. An opportunity to carve out a niche role, all for myself. Something unique that would set out a clear path for growth within the company.

So I decided to invest my time in writing a proposal for a role I had secretly aspired to anyway, but now from adversity, perhaps had legs. I knuckled down and put together a 20 page business proposal and by the end of May, that document had been shared with all the Directors and the investor.

The outcome….I’m still on furlough but as of next Monday, will begin another stage in my Ad Idem Consulting career with so many exciting announcements to make later in the year.

It’s not only the relief of knowing my job is secure that has ensured being on furlough for 17 weeks hasn’t affected my mental health negatively overall. Obviously it helps having the love and support of my better half. But aside from that, the way the business has handled my furlough leave has been impeccable.

One of the hardest things to contend with as someone who suffers from mental health issues is that feeling of being alone. That no one understands what you’re feeling. You don’t understand what you’re feeling. That you can’t talk to anyone. That last part is especially true to say of men. I speak from experience.

But at no point in the last 4 months have I been made to feel like I’m being left in the dark by the business. The furlough mentality of out of sight, out of mind has not once crept into things.

I have been encouraged to still remain on daily update calls. Not every day but a couple of times a week. I’m still in the group chats. I’ve been put through some learning and development training. We’ve even met for a socially distanced drink as a company. 

It’s these seemingly small acts that have helped me maintain my sanity through a prolonged period of furlough. Whilst you may consider this to be normal practice, I know for a fact that there are people out there that have been on furlough as long as I have that haven’t had anywhere near the same levels of treatment.

So this is my success story and whilst not everyone suffers in the same ways, I’m a huge believer that employers have a duty of care to ensure that there is a proper culture and proper processes in place that allow their staff to talk about any troubles they may face. Whether they’re on furlough or not.

For anyone who has faced, or still is facing, the prospect of a longer period of furlough, I encourage you to speak with your managers if you have any concerns about your own wellbeing.

Admitting a problem is not a weakness. Remember that. Best of luck to everyone going through a tough time right now and thank you for reading.

All the best
Sam Barrett
(New title to be announced soon…..)


“Thank you to Sam for this blog on his experiences dealing with furlough and the mental health issues that surround it. Sam works for Ad Idem Consulting, a client who we’ve been supporting through this difficult time. For more information on dealing with the wellness of furloughed workers or any other HR & People queries you might have, contact us today.”  

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