This is me
Author: Lyssa Barber - UBS Wealth
Date: May 2019
There's a list which appears in magazines occasionally -
‘Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events’. It highlights
the things you can go through which have the biggest psychological
impact. I'm fairly sure you're only supposed to experience them one
at a time, but in 2004 I managed to tick off: organising our
wedding, bereavement, changing jobs (both husband and me) and
moving house twice. Having carried me successfully through all
those, my mental health waved a tiny white flag and I experienced a
complete breakdown. Panic attacks, depression, anxiety,
My mental health had been patchy since childhood. Mental
ill-health is a combination of nature and nurture, so being the
grand-daughter of a depressive hypochondriac (grandpa), and the
daughter of an anxious domestic violence victim (mum) had gone a
fair way to making me more vulnerable. Add in mum's messy divorce,
an unstable living environment, a custody battle and limited
familial support and you end up with a perfect recipe for childhood
mental ill-health. I became a teen with significant self-esteem and
behavioural issues which – lacking the right help –meant a future
of mental health struggles.
Through the work I've done with my therapist, I've been able to
mourn the loss of my younger years to mental ill-health. How
different my teens and twenties might have been! But living with
someone who's also seriously unwell means it's not likely your own
needs will be met. My sister's youngest daughter looks a lot like
me and is the most confident, outgoing, self-possessed little girl.
She's two. Mum recently said to me 'She reminds me of you at the
same age'. This seemingly innocuous comment felt like a knife. My
pain was twofold – a reminder that my life could have moulded me
very differently, and also that she is just as vulnerable to life's
slings and arrows as I was.
This is far from being an unusual story. The figures speak for
themselves; 75% of adult mental health issues start in childhood.
One in four people will suffer with a mental health concern in any
given year. Only 24% of us get any kind of treatment. Ongoing loss
to the UK economy is close to £100bn. Suicide is the biggest killer
of men under 45. So we have a problem which will take a concerted,
ongoing culture shift to address.
Looking back, I was pretty fortunate. Mental health support via
the NHS has been cut to the bone in recent years, but my local GP
was really switched on with regards to mental health, and worked
with me to provide the right support. I found a therapist I trusted
and, with a bit of trial and error, found a medication which worked
That period – over about a year or so – was a total eye-opener
for me as to the ways that mental ill-health symptoms can manifest.
On the psychological front, I had panic attacks, psychotic
episodes, derealisation and paranoia to go with my crippling
depression and endless anxiety. On the physical side, I experienced
joint stiffness, palpitations, muscle pain, fatigue, headaches,
nausea, loss of appetite, night sweats and more.
Sleep was a non-starter, which added into the difficulty I had
functioning. I remember the first decent night's sleep I had after
doing a lot of research – I went full-on with my approach. Hot
bath, low lights, drowsiness herbal remedy, lavender on my pillow,
mindfulness recording. 8 hours' uninterrupted sleep; the first in
Between 2004 and 2013 I was moderately OK. Peaks and troughs.
The depression eased, but the panic attacks continued apace. It was
only in 2014 that I got a formal diagnosis of OCD, which is what
was triggering the panic response. Public perception of Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder is limited mainly to those who have the
compulsive aspect – hand washing, cleaning, hoarding, needing to
repeat certain actions many times etc. The obsessive type is less
well-known; and it's not liking things 'just so', so feel free to
call out anyone who says 'Oh, I'm a bit OCD about these
I deal with what are termed 'obsessive ruminations' – horrible
thoughts which plague me. Husband late home from work? I'll play
out a series of events in my mind which culminate in the police
arriving at my door to tell me he's dead. I get very strong visual
images of murdering my beloved cats. Or harming my nieces and
nephew. These particularly are terrifying, precisely because they
run so counter to what I would do in real life. When I was at my
poorliest, I became lost in hypochondria. All those psychosomatic
symptoms I was experiencing were signs of AIDS, or cancer, or ME.
It was constantly exhausting and terrifying. And I worked full-time
through all of it.
You wouldn't expect someone with a debilitating physical illness
to come to work, but it's what we seem to expect of those with
mental health issues. Particularly anxiety and depression. They're
stigmatised to the extent that people just soldier on, never
telling anyone and never asking for help. In some cases having
normalised what they're experiencing so much that they don't
realise they need to ask for help. This is one of
the things I'm working to change.
I'm in a very good place now. I’ve had some ups and downs in the
last few years - particularly after my stepdad passed away in 2014
– but having been through it before left me better equipped to act
when I realised I was headed down a spiral.
I founded the mental health network at UBS in the UK. We
launched in 2016 and have over 350 members, and growing fast.
Mental health and wellbeing is discussed across the whole of our UK
business, with meditation, VR mindfulness, quiet rooms and Mental
Health First Aiders all in the pipeline. I directed and produced
our This is Me
film, in partnership with the Lord Mayor’s Appeal Campaign, and
recently abseiled down the side of 100 Bishopsgate to raise funds
for the Samaritans. I've spoken at events across the country,
including for St John Ambulance, BBC Radio Jersey, the Wellbeing at
Work conference and more .
I’ve done all these things because of my mental
health issues, not in spite of them. 15 years ago I would have had
neither the confidence nor the fire to achieve any of these things.
Ironically, the first spark of my motivation to help change typical
business approach to mental health happened back in 2004, when I
approached my then-boss with the news I’d been signed off work with
'I don’t really believe in depression', he said. In one glib
sentence erasing my lifetime of struggle. Well, much like gravity,
you don't need to believe in it for it to be real. I do believe in
it, I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that. I want a
better understanding of mental health & wellbeing for everyone,
in any size firm. I believe passionately that good levels of mental
health & wellbeing are needed for everyone to really thrive.
And thriving, engaged employees boost productivity. Check out the
I’ve been delighted to see the groundswell of focus on mental
health over the last couple of years, and am excited about the
potential for positive change. We all need to do more, and I'm
ready to lead the charge.
About the author:
Lyssa Barber joined UBS in 2013 and is Head of Internal
Communications for the Wealth Management Division. In 2015 she
founded Headscape, the UBS mental health awareness group, which she
also currently chairs. Headscape provides information and resources
on mental health and wellbeing for all UBS staff in the UK. Lyssa
is also responsible for the delivery of Mental Health Awareness
Week and represents UBS on the steering committee of the mental
health initiative, This is Me in the City, part of the Lord Mayor’s
Charity Appeal. When not at work, Lyssa loves travelling and scuba
diving. She volunteers with the Cinnamon Trust and lives in
Walthamstow with her husband and lots of cats.
Linkedin: Lyssa Barber