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Celebrating International Women’s Day – some personal reflections

In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we asked some of our female team members to share their experiences and perspective on how they have found themselves working in the mental health space.

Alex Austin – Senior Business Development Manager

As I start to write this I realise that this is the first time I have shared my story.

I was first exposed to mental illness at just the age of 7. I’m not sure that I really understood what it was back then, but I knew that my dad wasn’t well. As I got older I came to know that he suffered a nervous breakdown, which resulted in an unpleasant mix of psychosis, schizophrenia and deep depression. Throughout my childhood we would visit him at mental health hospitals when things were really bad, and he lived with us for quite some time after mum and him divorced so that mum could support him. I’m very fortunate to have had a happy childhood, my mum protected us from seeing much and supported us in every way.

Fast forward to my teen years and my interest in psychology grew. “Why is dad like this?”; “Why has he changed so much and no longer the dad I used to know?”; “Can he get better?”; “Is it his fault?”. I became determined to understand more, explore more, talk more… So, I decided to study Psychology at University, hoping that one day I could help someone like my dad.

Beyond the parties and the hangovers, I loved studying psychology. In particular, conducting research and analysing data, and I was fascinated to learn more about clinical psychology and all the different mental illnesses, some treatable and manageable, some possible to completely overcome. I learnt that I was a very empathetic person, conscious of treating people living with mental health issues with empathy rather than avoidance and prejudice as history unfortunately told. This empathy and sensitivity also meant that I talked myself out of training as a psychologist or mental health counsellor when I finished university, as I felt that I would struggle to separate my emotions from the work.

For the next 4 years, I found myself in the wonderful world of sales. Whilst not directly associated with my degree, I believe my interest in human behaviour and understanding others has led me to some great success over the years. I love talking to different people and have developed the ability to listen, influence and build trusted relationships.

In 2018, I left the UK and went travelling in Asia and then Australia. After finding love I stayed in Australia longer than I had originally planned and continued working in sales. Then, Covid hit in 2020. It was throughout that next year where I first experienced my own mental health issues. The closing of international and state borders, the lack of social connection, the distance from my friends and family all took its toll. I had people physically around me that I could speak to; my partner, work colleagues, friends I had made; but I couldn’t help falling into an overwhelming pit of loneliness. I felt so alone, no one else around me felt like I did either. I would cry in the bathroom at home and work, and I had intrusive negative thoughts about all aspects of my life. I felt low every day and it was consuming me, and on top of all that, I tried to hide it. I secretly had some counselling sessions, but eventually it all became too much for me and I left Australia in July 2021.

When I came back to the UK I felt that the next step in my career would have to be something meaningful and I felt strongly that my purpose was to be in the mental health space. I am grateful that this led me to Mental Health at Work, where I now spend my time working with HR teams and senior leaders within all kinds of organisations, to change attitudes and behaviours around mental health in the workplace. My passion is now embedded in starting open conversations, raising awareness and driving cultural change to help prevent people from experiencing crisis.

And as for my dad? He lives with his depression now but he’s just our dad and inspires me to fight stigma every single day.


Alysha Collins – International Facilitator

Ever since I remember, I was interested in psychology and mental health.  It started early.  My mom and dad were teachers and administrators who were always helping people when I was growing up.  My first memories regarding school psychology specifically began when my cousin would come over and practice administering psychological assessments on my brother and me. It was fun and we would compare how we did on all the tasks. Ultimately, this piqued my interest in helping others from a psychological perspective.  I always remember being a helper.  My teachers in primary school would put me with students that struggled, or I would be paired with the new student to help show them around.  I loved this.  I loved making others feel like they weren’t alone or could complete a task that may have been challenging.

School psychology took me on many different journeys to help lead me to where I am today.  I went to a 4-year college in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in the United States where I studied Psychology, followed by graduate school, where I earned a Master’s and also a Specialist Degree in School Psychology.   I then started work as a school psychologist in rural districts in Nebraska and helped students and adults with their overall wellbeing.  I loved this work, but knew I wanted to do more, so I went back for more schooling.  I will say, if I could be a full-time student and could afford to learn my entire life at a University, I would get as many degrees as humanly possible.  It was in 2018 that I started my doctoral journey to get my Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  All was well and then COVID hit.  That was hard.  Trying to meet the mental health needs of students and adults while being isolated was tough. However, it led me to begin researching hope, a positive psychology concept, for my dissertation. 

It was then where I started to change my outlook on what was next.  I was realising I was truly burned out and was not taking my own mental health advice that I so often gave students, colleagues, and friends.  I was feeling hopeless, so after we could go back to our typical way of working, I continued my role in the schools while simultaneously receiving my Doctor of Education.  I had decided on a new plan for the future.  A more hopeful plan.  Following that school year, I then became a full-time, remote consultant where I joined a variety of different organisations to bring my expertise to many settings.  I started as a Facilitator with Mental Health at Work in the UK where I helped contribute a mental health perspective to businesses in the United States.  I also began as a Head Researcher for a company called Vital Network that works to help retain talented professionals in our education system.  I was still doing mental health work for students and schools, while also completing some of my own side consulting and teaching psychology remotely to college students.  At the same time, I was applying for an international work visa to become an Educational Psychologist in the United Kingdom.  I am now writing this blog from my flat in London.  A girl from the middle of America is still doing mental health work from a beautiful city halfway around the world and truly loving every minute of it! I’d be honoured to share my knowledge in mental health and hope with your workplaces.  Let me know if you’d like to connect.


Rebecca Sharp – International Facilitator

Working in mental health and supporting people in their most vulnerable space is such a privilege. 

As a child and a teenager, I suffered from really debilitating social anxiety. I can still remember spending my school lunch breaks hiding in the “forest” and the dread I felt before a big family event. 

Going through my own journey to better mental health has completely transformed my life. I’m grateful for the work I get to do facilitating learning events such as those with Mental Health at Work but quite honestly, doing the work I do now was unimaginable for the younger me. The support I received has enabled me to get to where I am now and working in the mental health space has been my way to pay that forward.

It’s certainly not uncommon to live with social or any type of anxiety, however, what is less common and particularly for women, is overcoming those things that hold us back so that we can let our light shine. As women so many of us spend our lives living small or hiding in the shadows. 

As a mum to a young daughter, International Women’s Day has become even more meaningful. I realise now that IWD is about helping to create change for the next generation so that young girls like Hazell don’t use history as a measure of what they can achieve.  I want to support her to understand the ways in which her own mental health ebbs and flows, to help her to discuss it openly and without stigma and I want to as best as I can, ensure that she doesn’t spend the first 20 years of her life living small, or experiencing the self-hate that I have previously experienced.

At Mental Health at Work we get to do this every day with a lens on supporting individuals in the workplace. That is both a unique approach and one that is incredibly important in changing the narrative of mental health, from being a “behind closed doors” conversation (if at all), to creating parity between how we speak about our physical, mental and emotional health. To be part of shifting the narrative around mental health in whatever small way is something that fills me with joy and pride.


Dervla Gallen – Senior Programmes Manager

At 10 years old, my doctor told me that I had anxiety.

For weeks I had been complaining of pains in my stomach, teeth and head and had completely lost my appetite. My parents had taken me to countless medical appointments, desperately trying to find answers, but to no avail. “I can assure you, there is nothing wrong with her”, my dentist told my Mum as he ushered me out of the chair. Until finally, one Saturday afternoon, my Mum decided to take me to an out of hours GP.

“Has anything happened lately that might be causing you to feel worried?” she asked me. I racked my brains but couldn’t think of anything. At this stage, my Mum interjected. She told the doctor that, after 7 years at home, she had recently decided to go back to work. The doctor turned to me and asked me how that made me feel.

Without hesitation, this question prompted an eruption of emotion, releasing my subconscious pent up anguish. It was the Summer holidays. The days were long and, albeit unconsciously, I was really missing her! I remember thinking, “How could it be true? How could these physical aches and pains be the result of anguish that I had not been aware of, nor understood.” It helped that I could now identify the cause of my distress: Anxiety.

From that point onwards, conversations about emotions and feelings became much more common place in our house. My parents and I worked together to understand the things that helped to alleviate my anxiety, and soon I was back to my independent, care-free and happy self.  

At 15 years old, I was once again faced with debilitating anxiety.

A series of life events caused my anxiety to return, and it hit me like a train. I spent many lonely and sleepless months trying to cope with racing thoughts, low energy and lost appetite. My parents did all that they could to help me, but this time we knew that it was beyond something that we could manage ourselves at home, and we sought professional help.

I am grateful to say that, once again, my GP recognised the signs and helped me to get the support that I needed in order for me to get back to feeling like myself and to move past this very difficult period of my life.

Noting what I had learned, I was determined to do something positive with my experience – to promote awareness of mental health issues and to help others to navigate challenging times in their lives and overcome adversity. My mind was made up. I was adamant that I would go on to study Psychology at University!

At 28 years old, anxiety is still something that I navigate!

Achieving a BA Psychology and MSc Applied Psychology, I have spent my entire adult life working in the field of mental health. Being older and wiser hasn’t meant that I am immune from a recurrence, but I have learnt so much – about myself and about supporting others. Having worked in Ireland, Australia, and the UK, I feel so proud of the amazing experience that I have gained across the mental health sector, and the journey that I have travelled to get here.  

As Senior Programmes Manager at Mental Health at Work, I now spend my days working alongside amazing and passionate organisations, who want to join us on our mission to improve working lives by changing attitudes and behaviours around mental health. Every day, I get to work towards breaking the stigma around mental health and spreading the message that, in the same way that we must all look after our physical health, we also all have mental health that we need to acknowledge and care for!

My journey with anxiety over the last 18 years has undoubtedly shaped the trajectory of my career and moulded the type of person, daughter, friend, partner and colleague that I have become. For me, it has meant learning to live in the moment and accept all of life’s uncertainties.

However, I am certain of one thing – I know that the frightened 10 year old girl sitting in the doctor’s office all those years ago would be so proud to see how she would grow and what she would achieve as a result of our anxiety.  

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