Harper Adams University: Lecturer draws on own experiences to support Yellow Wellies’ Mind Your Head mental health campaign

This year’s Yellow Wellies Mind Your Head campaign features a Harper Adams lecturer – who wants to use his own experiences over the past year to encourage others to talk about their mental health.

In a powerful video produced by the Mind Your Head team, Agriculture Placement Manager Terry Pickthall explains how he found his mental health deteriorating – and how, following his very personal story of suicidal ideation, he has focused on seeking professional help and support.

Terry said: “I have had these problems, on and off, for all of my life. When I came to Harper Adams in 2009, it was a career change for me – I had originally intended to use it as a stepping stone, and to become a technical author – but I found I really loved it!

“Then, we decided to start a family, so plans changed – and when my current role as a placement manager came up, I went for it.

“For more than a decade – between that decision in 2010 and last year – I had the most stable years of my life.

“But then last year – particularly after Christmas – I started to feel like things were going a bit out of control. I think it was a combination of factors – the lockdowns, that they meant working from home, that I wasn’t able to take part in my hobby – working at the Llangollen Railway – and so on. I told myself I would just get through until Easter – things always get better after Easter.

“However, when I got past Easter, I became very unwell, very quickly – I said to my line manager ‘I am going to need some time off.’ But I just felt worse and worse, to the point where I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t sleeping.”

As Terry explains in the video, he found himself at a crisis point – which made him realise he needed to seek support.

With the support of Shropshire Sanctuary, his GP, a private counsellor and colleagues at Harper Adams, Terry began a process of recovery – and believes that while his experience has left a scar, it is a scar which will always remind him that he got better.

Speaking about his return to work after the events described in the video, Terry relates how both the support of Harper Adams colleagues – and his physical return to campus – helped him.

He said: “It wouldn’t matter what I was doing – I could have been stacking shelves in a supermarket and this would have happened.

“After everything I have been through, I have come out of it knowing more about myself. For me, it is about getting a toolkit of stuff which helps me – counselling, mindfulness, medicine – and using it to look after myself – I have got a mix of those things that is going to work for me.

“Through the Harper Adams employee assistance scheme, I was linked up with a counsellor – I got help very quickly. She worked with me and at the end of our sessions, she told me: ‘keep this up – it will help you’”

As he began to feel better, Terry spoke with colleagues – and recalls warm conversations with friends and team members, both in the Agriculture and Environment Department and across the University.

After some of these discussions, he started to think about returning to work.

He added: “There was no pressure, but I decided I’d come back to campus – and as soon as I came back through the door to Harper, it was a tonic.

“I decided I wanted to come back – I had a catch up with my line manager, and he said ‘no pressure.’ Though I knew I wanted to come back, they were still saying not to worry until I was ready.

“I came back three mornings a week, nine until twelve, and took on some of my work – and then, by November, I was back at it full time.”

Among the help which Terry found particularly valuable was the advice of an Occupational Therapist, following a suggestion from the Harper Adams Human Resources team.

He added: “When they suggested that I talk to an occupational therapist, I basically thought ‘work are offering me more help, why turn it down?’

“He told me to look at what I was doing, and to get myself back on an even keel – and to realise that people should make reasonable adjustments to my role to help me through the early stages of my recovery. That was a fantastic help for me.”

Following his experiences, Terry is now keen to engage people with the Mind Your Head campaign – and to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and any challenges they are facing.

He added: “When I was ill last year, I didn’t want to engage with anyone. When I was at my lowest, I found it very hard to access the help I should – and I know people wanted to help me but I didn’t know how. Now I am back, I want people to see my story and think ‘if he can do it, I can do it as well.’

“I think raising the profile of mental health like this is a really good thing. It makes sense to talk– not in an activist fashion, just to be me and to talk about it.

“Making people feel more comfortable about talking about these things may mean that you can have that conversation with someone and make it easier for them to get help. If someone like me – a white, 40-something male, linked to agriculture – can talk about needing to get help, then if that makes a difference to someone else, that’s good.”

Harper Adams University works with Health Assured to provide an enhanced Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).

The programme allows employees to directly access counselling, legal information and advice on debt, work, lifestyle addictions and relationships.

Contact details are shared with employees every week through an internal newsletter. Employees also receive wellbeing support from line managers and our Chaplaincy, HR and Mental Health First Aid teams; in addition to occupational health services provided by Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust.

We all have mental health and we encourage our students to reach out if they are experiencing any difficulties.

It’s important to look after our mental health just as we do our physical wellbeing. You may be a student at the start or end of your student journey, or somewhere in between, or a member of the wider university community. You may feel you can talk to friends, your course team, colleagues and or your GP but the important thing to remember is no problem is too small and it can help to talk things through.

It is never too late to let someone know how you are feeling and asking for help. At University, specialist support can be offered via self-referral to the wellbeing team, by accessing the Student Assistance Programme or talking to one of the Mental Health First Aiders.

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