By Justine Thompson, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Manager with special feature from Sabrina Tozzi, Associate, Intellectual Property at Baker McKenzie
Mental Health is said to affect 1 in 4 people in Britain in any given year. Encouragingly, more employers are taking proactive steps to support those facing a mental health challenge and to challenge the stigma associated with mental health.
In 2016, Baker McKenzie participated in This is Me in the City, a Lord Mayor's Appeal Campaign which focuses on encouraging people who have experienced mental health issues to share their story. The objective of the campaign is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and to dispel myths around mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
15 people from Baker McKenzie's London office participated in the campaign, which had a tremendous impact. One of those to share their story was Intellectual Property Associate Sabrina Tozzi, who shared her experience of depression and anxiety. Sabrina has agreed to share her story with the My Plus Student's Club.
"The black dog, Winston Churchill called it. That's never seemed quite right to me. I like dogs. All dogs. I don't, however, like depression.
I have suffered from some form of depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I didn't always know it of course. I was formally diagnosed in my early twenties and have been on and off medication since then. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of being on medication but, as a wise lady once told me, if I had diabetes or any other chronic physical condition, I would be taking medication, so why should mental illness be treated any differently?
The "episodes" vary in severity. There are common themes - lethargy, inability to focus, inability to get out of bed despite my best attempts, dark thoughts and a feeling of emptiness, of just nothing. Most of the time my depression and anxiety doesn't affect me, at least not in a way visible to the outside world. They have been severe only a handful of times and I have only been affected once by one of these major episodes since starting my training contract in March 2012 - that was in Autumn 2015 when I was off work for a month in total. The signs had been there for a while. I wasn't "me" anymore. I didn't know where I had gone. As I'm sure many people will attest to, I can talk for hours about nothing. At that time, speaking was an effort. I was frustrated at myself. Frustrated that being around people made me want to burst into tears. Frustrated that I couldn't work. Frustrated that I couldn't leave my flat and friends had to come and babysit me. The thing I wished the most was that my depression and anxiety was something that showed up in a scan or on a blood test. Something that could be attacked with a laser or cut out with a scalpel or treated with a magic bullet. I wanted someone to say "yes I see it".
I work in the London office of Global law firm Baker McKenzie. My firm's HR team and my department were incredible, as were my friends and family who have always known about my condition. I have always been incredibly lucky to work in a supportive department where a number of people knew about my condition. I won't embarrass them by calling them out by name but there are some very wonderful people without whom I very genuinely wouldn't have been able to get through to the other side. My psychiatrist put me on new meds and I started therapy and fortunately I turned a corner. I came back to work properly after a month on reduced hours. I have been working as "normal" since the end of January.
I'm not embarrassed by my condition. Yes, I get annoyed at people likening it to "being a bit sad" but the last thing I am is embarrassed. The scary thing is how many fear talking about depression. It is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. It is important that we start to talk about it. I don't believe I will ever be cured but I am starting to learn, better late than never, how to manage my condition. The wonderful Nora Ephron once said "Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy." Maybe more of us need to admit that we are crazy."
Baker McKenzie is a leading global law firm based in over 75 locations in nearly 50 countries. The firm strives to enable trainees to be the best they can be. We are looking for trainees who are stimulated by intellectual challenge and respect and enjoy the diversity of cultural, social and academic backgrounds found in the firm. If you consider yourself to have a disability or a health condition, we want to reassure you that any information you share with us will be treated in the strictest confidence. Our aim is to provide you with as much help and support as possible. Read more about opportunities and support available here.