When Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced their decision to step back as senior royals, many were in uproar, but journalist and friend of the couple Bryony Gordon was not among them.
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"I've spoken to Meghan and Harry a lot about mental health, and what they've done in prioritising their family is fantastic," Bryony told HELLO! for our Mental Health Digital Issue, guest-edited by Scarlett Moffatt. "I think that anything you put before your mental health you're going to lose anyway," Bryony continued.
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"I feel Meghan and Harry have become figures for everyone to put their frustrations on, but I think what they do is brilliant, and I find it mystifying when people have a different opinion on it."
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Bryony has long had a relationship with Prince Harry, strengthening their bond when he spoke openly about his mental health on her Mad World podcast in 2017. "I will always have a place in my heart for Harry, it's five years since he did the podcast and I was honoured he chose to do it with mad old me."
Prince Harry appeared on Bryony Gordon's Mad Girl podcast in 2017
The Sussexes' decision to step back from their senior royal roles, and also focus on their mental health, is a move anyone who has ever struggled with mental illness in the workplace will be able to relate to. In fact, Bryony struggled with her own mental health at work, thanks to Pure O, the form of OCD she has, which means she faces persistent and disturbing intrusive thoughts.
"I describe OCD as your brain refusing to acknowledge what your eyes can see," Bryony says. "When you're mentally ill it impacts absolutely everything and [my OCD meant] I would be really worried I had sent an abusive email to someone and deleted it."
Bryony believes that the pandemic and working from home has exacerbated mental health issues in the workplace. "So many people have been working at home and I've found since working from home, I've become more paranoid about work.
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"When you're with your colleagues, you pick up their cues and you know what's going on. If they're quiet, you know it's nothing to do with you, but when you're sitting at home in your bedroom you think: 'They haven't got in touch with me because they hate me and I'm going to be fired.'"
"While it's comforting to stay in the safety of our own homes and not confront the work-related things that make us feel anxious, when we force ourselves to do the little things we don't want to do relating to work, be it meeting a new contact, answering the phone, or sending a stressful email, we feel so much better for it," Bryony adds. "All of those daily challenges are really good for us in the long term."
Bryony counts both Meghan Markle and Prince Harry as friends
"My brain will tell me I can't do anything – it'll say 'you can't go to work, you can't go for a run, you can't get showered,' right from the moment I wake up, so the more I'm able to challenge it, the less power I give it. The inside of our heads have been given a lot more power over the last two years," Bryony continues.
What to do if you're struggling with your mental health in the workplace
Bryony shares that her relationship with her mental health and the workplace shifted when she was open about it: "That just changed everything," she said.
"Talk to someone you trust," advises Bryony. "There will be someone. It doesn't have to be a line manager, it could be a friend and remember you are legally protected, no matter how bad someone might make you feel, you have legal support if you're experiencing a mental health issue."
Bryony supported the Sussexes in their decision to step down as senior members of the royal family
"Remember, sometimes we need to take time to look after ourselves, you can't pour from an empty cup," she adds. "Sometimes I suffer from the delusion that I can't take time off because there's so much to be done and then I just crash and I'm forced to take time off."
Bryony points out that work can be a good distraction if you're in a bad place mentally, but that we need to be careful not to become too reliant on it.
"Work can give you confidence and focus and help take your mind off things, but it's about that balance so you don't become reliant on it to stop you thinking about what's going on."
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