Maggie's Men: her first cabinet in 1979

LEFT TO RIGHT, STANDING:

Michael Jopling, parliamentary secretary to the Treasury (chief whip), 1979-83, later agriculture secretary

Made a life peer in 1997, and father of BritArt super-dealer Jay Jopling. A grandee: Alan Clark claimed he dismissed Heseltine as a man who "bought all his own furniture".

Norman Fowler, transport secretary 1979-81, later social services secretary and then employment secretary

First minister to resign from the cabinet "to spend more time with my family" in 1990; later returned to spend more time with his colleagues as party chairman. Life peer, 2001; currently chairman of Lords communications committee.

John Biffen, chief secretary to the Treasury 1979-81. Later trade secretary, Lord President of the Council, leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Sacked after 1987 election, Biffen was a much-liked economic dry with a maverick streak. Bernard Ingham once described him as a "semi-detached member of the cabinet". Life peer, died in 2007.

David Howell, energy secretary 1979-81, later transport secretary

Now deputy Tory leader in the Lords, Howell is father-in-law to the shadow chancellor, George Osborne. Credited with having introduced the idea of privatisation in the late 1960s.

Norman St John-Stevas, Leader of the Commons, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1979-81

Responsible for creating select committees, but better known for coming up with "the Great She-Elephant" and "the Leaderene". Sacked in 1981. Ran Royal Fine Art Commission and was Master of Emmanuel, Cambridge.

Humphrey Atkins, Northern Ireland secretary 1979-81; later Lord Privy Seal

Affable man who was NI secretary during the IRA hunger strikes, he resigned with Lord Carrington over the 1982 Falklands invasion. Stood down 1987. Life peer; died 1996.

George Younger, Scottish secretary 1979-86, later defence secretary

One of Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet members, he also ran her leadership campaigns in 1989 and 1990. He resigned from parliament in 1992 to become chairman of RBS, becoming a life peer the same year. He died of cancer in 2003.

Michael Heseltine, environment secretary 1979-83; later defence secretary and Major's deputy PM

Millionaire publisher who brandished the Mace at Labour MPs in opposition. "Tarzan" resigned in 1986; his leadership challenge in 1990 led to Thatcher's downfall.

Nicholas Edwards, Welsh secretary 1979-87

In cabinet until he resigned in 1987, when he became a life peer. Has the distinction of being the only Tory Welsh secretary to have sat for a constituency in Wales.

Patrick Jenkin, health and social security secretary 1979-81; later industry secretary, then environment secretary

At Environment, Jenkin had many battles with local councils, whose power was reduced under Thatcher. Made a life peer in 1987; his son Bernard Jenkin is a Tory MP. Both are descended from Fleeming Jenkin, inventor of the cable car.

John Nott, trade secretary 1979-81, then defence secretary

Stormed off Question Time when labelled a "here today, gone tomorrow" politician by the host, Robin Day. Nott stepped down from politics in 1983 and was knighted the same year. He now lives in Cornwall, where he farms.

Mark Carlisle, education and science secretary 1979-81

Sacked from the cabinet in 1981 as one of the "wets", later life peer and judge in the Channel Islands. Clare Short decided to become an MP after working for him as a civil servant and thinking she could do better. Died in 2005.

Angus Maude, paymaster general 1979-81

Outspoken, sacked from shadow cabinet in the 1960s, was an early Thatcher supporter. Father of Francis Maude, junior minister under John Major. Resigned 1983. Life peer; died 1993.

Sir John Hunt, Baron Hunt: cabinet secretary 1973-79

A senior civil servant, Hunt stepped down as cabinet secretary the year Thatcher became PM, and was made a life peer in 1980. Later chairman of the Disasters Emergency Committee. He died in 2008.

LEFT TO RIGHT, SEATED:

Sir Ian Gilmour, Lord Privy Seal 1979-81

Urbane One Nation Tory. A baronet who once owned the Spectator, he had an acrimonious relationship with Thatcher. Was sacked in 1981. Remained on back benches until 1992, opposing policies such as the poll tax. Life peer; died in 2007.

Christopher Soames, Baron Soames: Lord President of the Council 1979-81

Winston Churchill's son-in-law, a vice-president of the European Commission and the last governor of Southern Rhodesia. He died from pancreatitis in 1987.

Sir Keith Joseph, industry secretary 1979-1981, later education secretary

Considered by many to be the driving intellectual force behind Thatcherism, he stepped down from the cabinet in 1986 and retired from parliament at the 1987 election. Died in December 1994.

Peter Carrington, Lord Carrington: foreign and overseas development secretary 1979-82

Last hereditary peer to hold one of the great offices of state. In cabinet under Heath and Douglas-Home. Resigned at the outbreak of the Falklands War, holding himself responsible for the failure to deter the Argentinian invasion. Nato secretary general, 1984-88.

William Whitelaw, home secretary 1979-83; later leader of the House of Lords, Lord President of the Council and deputy prime minister

Initially challenged Thatcher for the Conservative party leadership in 1979, but became famous for his loyalty to her, which she rewarded with the words: "Every prime minister needs a Willie." After the 1983 general election became a viscount, the last commoner to be created a hereditary peer.

Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham: Lord Chancellor 1979-87

Author of The Case for Conservatism in 1947. Theatrical barrister who had hoped to succeed Harold Macmillan as Tory leader in the 1960s. Author of the phrase "elective dictatorship", later much used about Margaret Thatcher, in 1976. He died in 2001.

Sir Geoffrey Howe, chancellor of the Exchequer 1979-83. Later foreign secretary, leader of the Commons, deputy prime minister

So somnolent in appearance and delivery that Denis Healey said being attacked by him was like "being savaged by a dead sheep", Howe was responsible for bold fiscal policies as chancellor. His resignation was followed swiftly by Thatcher's.

Francis Pym, defence secretary 1979-81, then foreign secretary

Leading Tory "wet" who lost his job after warning against over-large Commons majorities. Descended from the Roundhead John Pym, he stood down in 1987. Life peer; died 2008.

James Prior, employment secretary 1979-81; later Northern Ireland secretary

Avuncular figure who angered Thatcher by not being hard enough on the trade unions when employment secretary. Was demoted to NI instead. Stood down in 1987; made a life peer.

Peter Walker, agriculture minister, 1979-83; later energy secretary and Welsh secretary

A close ally of Edward Heath and founder of the Tory Reform Group. As energy secretary, was criticised by Thatcher for a supposed lack of zeal during the 1984-85 miners' strike, but was the only wet to serve in all her cabinets.

Research by Kate Ferguson and David Patrikarakos

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Thatcher: 30 years on, the final verdict

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“I felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen”: why aren’t we taking mental health sick days?

Some employees with mental health problems fake reasons for taking days off, or struggle in regardless. What should companies be doing differently?

“I would go to the loo and just cry my eyes out. And sometimes colleagues could hear me. Then I would just go back to my desk as if nothing had happened. And, of course, no one would say anything because I would hide it as well as I could.”

How many times have you heard sobbing through a work toilet door – or been the person in the cubicle?

Jaabir Ramlugon is a 31-year-old living in north London. He worked in IT for four years, and began having to take time off for depressive episodes after starting at his company in 2012. He was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last January.

At first, he would not tell his employers or colleagues why he was taking time off.

“I was at the point where I was in tears going to work on the train, and in tears coming back,” he recalls. “Some days, I just felt such a feeling of dread about going into work that I just physically couldn’t get up ... I wouldn’t mention my mental health; I would just say that my asthma was flaring up initially.”

It wasn’t until Ramlugon was signed off for a couple of months after a suicide attempt that he told his company what he was going through. Before that, a “culture of presenteeism” at his work – and his feeling that he was “bunking off” because there was “nothing physically wrong” – made him reluctant to tell the truth about his condition.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem; the way they treated me amplified that”

Eventually, he was dismissed by his company via a letter describing him as a “huge burden” and accusing him of “affecting” its business. He was given a dismissal package, but feels an alternative role or working hours – a plan for a gradual return to work – would have been more supportive.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem. The way they treated me definitely amplified that, especially with the language that they used. The letter was quite nasty because it talked about me being a huge burden to the company.”

Ramlugon is not alone. Over three in ten employees say they have experienced mental health problems while in employment, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Under half (43 per cent) disclose their problem to their employer, and under half (46 per cent) say their organisation supports staff with mental health problems well.

I’ve spoken to a number of employees in different workplaces who have had varying experiences of suffering from mental ill health at work.

***

Taking mental health days off sick hit the headlines after an encouraging message from a CEO to his employee went viral. Madalyn Parker, a web developer, informed her colleagues in an out-of-office message that she would be taking “today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health – hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 per cent”.

Her boss Ben Congleton’s reply, which was shared tens of thousands of times, personally thanked her – saying it’s “an example to us all” to “cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work”.

“Thank you for sending emails like this,” he wrote. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations.”


Congleton went on to to write an article entitled “It’s 2017 and Mental Health is still an issue in the workplace”, arguing that organisations need to catch up:

“It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

But not all companies are as understanding.

In an investigation published last week, Channel 5 News found that the number of police officers taking sick days for poor mental health has doubled in six years. “When I did disclose that I was unwell, I had some dreadful experiences,” one retired detective constable said in the report. “On one occasion, I was told, ‘When you’re feeling down, just think of your daughters’. My colleagues were brilliant; the force was not.”

“One day I felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen”

One twenty-something who works at a newspaper echoes this frustration at the lack of support from the top. “There is absolutely no mental health provision here,” they tell me. “HR are worse than useless. It all depends on your personal relationships with colleagues.”

“I was friends with my boss so I felt I could tell him,” they add. “I took a day off because of anxiety and explained what it was to my boss afterwards. But that wouldn’t be my blanket approach to it – I don’t think I’d tell my new boss [at the same company], for instance. I have definitely been to work feeling awful because if I didn’t, it wouldn’t get done.”

Presenteeism is a rising problem in the UK. Last year, British workers took an average of 4.3 days off work due to illness – the lowest number since records began. I hear from many interviewees that they feel guilty taking a day off for a physical illness, which makes it much harder to take a mental health day off.

“I felt a definite pressure to be always keen as a young high-flyer and there were a lot of big personalities and a lot of bitchiness about colleagues,” one woman in her twenties who works in media tells me. “We were only a small team and my colleague was always being reprimanded for being workshy and late, so I didn’t want to drag the side down.”

Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which was then changed to anxiety and depression, she didn’t tell her work about her illness. “Sometimes I struggled to go to work when I was really sick. And my performance was fine. I remember constantly sitting there sort of eyeballing everyone in mild amusement that I was hiding in plain sight. This was, at the time, vaguely funny for me. Not much else was.

“One day I just felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen so I locked myself in the bathroom for a bit then went home, telling everyone I had a stomach bug so had to miss half the day,” she tells me. “I didn’t go in the next day either and concocted some elaborate story when I came back.”

Although she has had treatment and moved jobs successfully since, she has never told her work the real reason for her time off.

“In a small company you don’t have a confidential person to turn to; everyone knows everyone.”

“We want employers to treat physical and mental health problems as equally valid reasons for time off sick,” says Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at the mental health charity Mind. “Staff who need to take time off work because of stress and depression should be treated the same as those who take days off for physical health problems, such as back or neck pain.”

She says that categorising a day off as a “mental health sick day” is unhelpful, because it could “undermine the severity and impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s day-to-day activities, and creates an artificial separation between mental and physical health.”

Instead, employers should take advice from charities like Mind on how to make the mental health of their employees an organisational priority. They can offer workplace initiatives like Employee Assistance Programmes (which help staff with personal and work-related problems affecting their wellbeing), flexible working hours, and clear and supportive line management.

“I returned to work gradually, under the guidance of my head of department, doctors and HR,” one journalist from Hertfordshire, who had to take three months off for her second anorexia inpatient admission, tells me. “I was immensely lucky in that my line manager, head of department and HR department were extremely understanding and told me to take as much time as I needed.”

“They didnt make me feel embarrassed or ashamed – such feelings came from myself”

“They knew that mental health – along with my anorexia I had severe depression – was the real reason I was off work ... I felt that my workplace handled my case in an exemplary manner. It was organised and professional and I wasn’t made to feel embarrassed or ashamed from them – such feelings came from myself.”

But she still at times felt “flaky”, “pathetic” and “inefficient”, despite her organisation’s good attitude. Indeed, many I speak to say general attitudes have to change in order for people to feel comfortable about disclosing conditions to even the closest friends and family, let alone a boss.

“There are levels of pride,” says one man in his thirties who hid his addiction while at work. “You know you’re a mess, but society dictates you should be functioning.” He says this makes it hard to have “the mental courage” to broach this with your employer. “Especially in a small company – you don’t have a confidential person to turn to. Everyone knows everyone.”

“But you can’t expect companies to deal with it properly when it’s dealt with so poorly in society as it is,” he adds. “It’s massively stigmatised, so of course it’s going to be within companies as well. I think there has to be a lot more done generally to make it not seem like it’s such a big personal failing to become mentally ill. Companies need direction; it’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

Until we live in a society where it feels as natural taking a day off for feeling mentally unwell as it does for the flu, companies will have to step up. It is, after all, in their interest to have their staff performing well. When around one in four people in Britain experience mental ill health each year, it’s not a problem they can afford to ignore.

If your manager doesn’t create the space for you to be able to talk about wellbeing, it can be more difficult to start this dialogue. It depends on the relationship you have with your manager, but if you have a good relationship and trust them, then you could meet them one-to-one to discuss what’s going on.

Having someone from HR present will make the meeting more formal, and normally wouldn’t be necessary in the first instance. But if you didn’t get anywhere with the first meeting then it might be a sensible next step.

If you still feel as though you’re not getting the support you need, contact Acas or Mind's legal line on 0300 466 6463.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Thatcher: 30 years on, the final verdict