Employers must support parents during family crises, stresses Teesside lawyer

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A leading Tees lawyer has revealed how her attempts to be the perfect mum and colleague led to anxiety.

“I tried to be the perfect mum, the perfect colleague and always have a smile on my face. I masked my feelings to the point where I became very depressed and was suffering from severe anxiety.”

These emotional words come from Elaine McLaine-Wood, managing partner of Stockton-based solicitors Punch Robson as she marked World Mental Health Awareness Week by speaking candidly about her daughter Bethany’s illness and her own struggle to juggle work and home life.

Elaine was in discussion with Tees Business executive editor Dave Allan on Talking Business, the weekly Facebook interview in association with human resource specialists, HR Alchemy.

As a single mum with a demanding career, Elaine had always made sacrifices for the future of her son Callum, now 17, and daughter Bethany, 22.

“I became a single mum just as I qualified as a solicitor,” says Elaine.

“I had a large mortgage just prior to the recession and the credit crunch, so I put additional pressure on myself to generate work since redundancies were occurring in my profession but fortunately did not affect me.

“I remember picking up the children from school and nursery, dropping them at my mums and then going back to work. I’d forego holidays and work weekends when I needed to, always desperately trying to make up that quality time.”

When Bethany became ill when she was 13, self-harming, Elaine blamed herself.

“I know my workload and own mental health didn’t cause the illness, but I’m sure it can’t have helped either,” she admits, with sadness.

Tees Business Talking Business with Elaine McLaine-Wood, Punch Robson Solicitors

Talking Business is back!As this feature returns – which is kindly sponsored by HR Alchemy – we chat to Elaine McLaine-Wood, managing partner of Stockton-based law firm Punch Robson Solicitors.Elaine gives us a typically honest account of her career, education and personal life.She also talks very openly about her and her family's experience of mental health issues, which coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week.Talking Business is brought to you in association with Middlesbrough-based HR Alchemy.With over 24 years' experience, HR Alchemy are able to give HR guidance and solve complex HR issues for a range of companies, no matter the size or sector they operate in.From new start-ups to established household brands, they help our clients throughout the North East and North Yorkshire with the HR support that they need.Please share and let us know what you think!

Posted by Tees Business on Friday, 9 October 2020

Elaine accompanied Bethany to CAMHS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – where her daughter had counselling and was given medication. Though initially she rallied, things soon worsened again.

“Bethany’s level of self-harm got much more severe and she was sectioned numerous times,” says Elaine.

“There was an ambivalence going on – it was as if she wanted to die. She had non-epileptic psychogenic seizures, which were terrifying, and her emotional state caused her to hear voices.”

Unsurprisingly, Elaine felt huge pressure both personally and professionally.

“I decided that I needed to carry on, despite being torn in two. Life had to continue. Unfortunately, not everyone was supportive.”

Elaine received comments from a partner questioning whether she could do her job given her situation, and the private school Bethany attended offered to give back her term fees if Elaine removed her.

“They just wanted the problem to disappear,” she says.

Bethany eventually hit rock bottom, voluntarily entering hospital when she was 16, a few days before Christmas 2014.

Elaine was told that Bethany may never live an independent life and that she may remain institutionalised.

Fortunately, Bethany later accessed specialist healthcare, having moved away to Stroud, Gloucestershire from the age of 17 until she went to university, where she could be independent.

“I’d joined Punch Robson in August the year she was hospitalised and the partners were great, so understanding,” says Elaine.

“They allowed me to finish work early to collect Callum and they really listened which made the world of difference to my state of mind.

“It’s so important for employers, even if they don’t understand a situation, to have a helpline or someone that member of staff can go to for support.”

Though she worried about leaving the sanctuary of the hospital, Bethany moved to Stroud for specialist health care and was home schooled to obtain her A levels and went on to study an Integrated Masters BSc in Mental Health Nursing at York University.

“She’s come on leaps and bounds,” says Elaine proudly. “She’s been nominated as Inspirational Student Nurse of the Year with the Nursing Times and was an aspirant nurse during the pandemic, which she absolutely loved.”

Currently enjoying a placement with the Northallerton Crisis Team, Bethany is taking things one step at a time.

“She still has her moments,” admits Elaine. “Her moods can fluctuate and she’s on medication, but when I think of the times I saw her in so much pain and couldn’t see an end to it, I’m just so thankful she has come so far and is now helping others.”

• Anyone who feels they may need to speak to someone about any of the issues raised in this feature can call the Samaritans free on 116 123, the mental health charity MIND on 0300 123 3393, or speak to your GP.