This Sussex Life
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This Sussex Life

“It’s better to help people at the first signs of depression”

Mariyana Bushara joined the University of Sussex just over a year ago as an Organisation Development Adviser. She is passionate about promoting mental well-being in the workplace.

Any training that I deliver is very much about making people’s lives easier. It’s not about giving people slides to read, but about tapping into the skills and struggles they have and really bringing these examples to life. It’s also about challenging them a little bit, because I believe that that’s how people learn.

After studying for a BSc in psychological sciences, and a MA in rehabilitation psychology, my first role was working in forensic mental health. That was quite an intense job. I then moved into primary care, treating people with common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, using cognitive behavioural techniques.

I saw a lot of clients with work-related stress that had led to anxiety and depression. Many organisations aren’t good at dealing with this, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how to. I wanted to promote mental well-being in the work place and so moved into the corporate world. I’ve done various HR roles in organisations going through massive change, sometimes involving major recruitment programmes and large redundancies. I then took a side step into organisation development, which I love it because it fits with my values.

At Sussex, we had some provision for staff mental health and well-being when I first arrived, but it was difficult to find. I’m pleased to say that we have a well-being hub and we are working to promote it and develop it. We’re bringing all the resources together in one place for your physical health, your mental health, your financial wellbeing and any support for managers. This involves sign-posting to resources and also any e-learning and virtual workshops.

There are a number of stressors in big organisations. They can be quite hierarchical with rigid structures. Decisions usually sit at a senior level, hence the decision-making process can be quite slow. At the moment, the main stressor for everyone is increased workloads, adapting to change and uncertainty.

Working from home is struggle for a lot of us. My tips are simple, such get up every morning and get on with your day, even if you don’t feel like it. Keep as active as possible. Do things that make you feel a little bit better.Stay connected — see people outside.

This November I’m giving talks about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for the Staff Development Forum (SDF) Conference and the Association of University Administrators (AUA) on using CBT principles to improve psychological wellbeing. The talks are focused on providing people with self-help techniques.

With CBT it’s very much focused on the here and now — we don’t talk about the past. It breaks the problem down into four components — feelings, thoughts, physical response, behaviour — so that you can tackle each of these in turn, hence making the problem more manageable. It demonstrates that changing one area positively will have a positive impact on the other areas.

If you say to someone who is feeling low, ‘Try thinking more positively,’ they’ll probably tell you to get lost. That’s why it’s easier to start with replacing unhelpful behaviours, such as drinking, working long hours, withdrawal etc., with helpful behaviours, such as exercising, speaking to your manager about your workload, delegating, and effective time management. Anything that moves you forward and makes you feel a little bit better would be a helpful behaviour.

There will always be room for talking therapies. But it’s better to help people at the early stages, when they experience the first signs and symptoms of ill mental health. It becomes harder to engage them when they’re off work with stress for a few weeks or months. When we’re feeling low, common sense goes out the window. It’s finding out about what works for you and how to add behaviours into your daily routine. Doing more of the things that make you feel better will feed into your thoughts and help you to realise that you are coping OK.

I’ve been in interested in mental health since a young age. My first episode of low mood was when I was 14. I remember it so clearly. I went to bed fine, but the next morning I couldn’t get up. I’d lost all motivation. Life was doom and gloom. At that age I didn’t realise it was depression, but the one thing that helped me was actually pushing myself to go out and do the things I enjoy. I’m more open now about my feelings. If I’m feeling low, I’ll pick up the phone and speak to somebody; a friend or a family member.

As an organisation, we need to show that we care about people’s mental health. I deliver two training sessions: ‘Let’s have a mental health conversation’. I have one for managers and another for non-managers. Some employees have highlighted that they are worried about talking openly about their mental health, which is something we really need to address.

Interview by Jacqui Bealing



As everyone who studies or works at the University of Sussex knows, it’s the people who make the place special. Whatever their background, whatever their role, they each have a story to tell about why they are here.

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