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21 Jan 2022


Busy receptionist Caitlin Gilgannon was feeling overwhelmed and struggling to achieve a work-life balance when she reached out to Able Futures for help. The 32-year-old, who lives in Wigan, was becoming increasingly anxious and had started to experience panic attacks.

As her anxiety spiralled out of control, she was haunted by memories of a traumatic incident that had happened in her previous workplace. An armed robbery at the fast-food company where she was a supervisor in 2015 had left Caitlin with mental health problems. She had been unable to work for a few years until she joined the NHS as a receptionist, having previously been a ward clerk.

After settling into her new job, Caitlin’s mental health problems began to resurface. “I started struggling again because the environment was very different, going from ward clerk to receptionist, it was more front-facing,” says Caitlin. “I was also going through a lot of stuff at home and I was getting to the point where the old issues I had from the armed robbery were flowing back up again. My anxiety was getting me down and I was having panic attacks. After I had a full-blown panic attack at work, my manager sent me home and I was off sick for a week.”

She was thrown a well-timed lifeline when the NHS sent out an email newsletter to staff, recommending Able Futures for support with mental health issues. Caitlin knew she had nothing to lose and decided to reach out “on a whim”. Able Futures, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, provides free mental health support to help people stay in work and avoid long-term sickness. Participants are given regular appointments with a mental health specialist known as a Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant (VRC).

Caitlin began working with VRC Laura Disley to address her anxiety and it proved to be just the help she needed. “The support I had from Laura was fantastic,” says Caitlin. “We had weekly chats and it was brilliant to be able to vent and know that it’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes we would go off on a tangent unrelated to mental health and just have a general chit-chat but I really needed that, especially during Covid.

“Laura suggested mindfulness techniques and apps which were really useful. She would check in and ask if they were helping, then she would suggest something else. She was really good and knowledgeable, and she did a fantastic job.”

Caitlin had nine months of support from Laura and is now able to put all the coping mechanisms into practice. She has learned to put herself first and let go of things that are outside her control. As a result, her resilience has increased and she is happier at work.

“If you’re struggling with your mental health and you’re thinking of signing up to Able Futures, I would say reach out, just do it,” says Caitlin. “It kept me working. I would have been off long-term sick without Able Futures as things were getting quite serious.”

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