I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember.
Even as a child I wanted to keep my family “safe” from danger and would stay up all night in case the house caught on fire (which I now recognise as part of OCD). I had my first panic attack when I was 17, and throughout my twenties my mental health continued to deteriorate. By my mid-thirties I had an official diagnosis of nine mental health conditions and I doubt there’s a medication out there that I haven’t been prescribed at some point! Despite this, I try my best to maintain a “normal” life, graduating from university and working full time, even when I really should have taken a break!
Given my own experiences, I was (and still am) passionate about supporting others who may be struggling.
As work is such a big part of life, I have always been motivated to try and help make workplaces safer, more understanding and accepting spaces for everyone.
Although there have been some moves towards better acceptance of conditions such as depression and anxiety, the stigma around other diagnoses is still as severe as ever. Despite this, I wanted to be open about my own experiences, to show to others that the message of “it’s okay to talk” is true.
Unfortunately, this openness came back to haunt me in one job. I was open from the start about my diagnoses and the reasonable adjustments I needed to enable me to perform to my best. The issues started out small; a snide comment here, a little dig there. Gradually, things escalated, always badged as being “for my own good”. Work was taken off me, I was left out of meetings, I was micromanaged and previously existing adjustments were suddenly deemed as unfair to others. If I wasn’t in the office I had to send emails detailing where I had been, and what I had been working on. After four years, the stress finally made me crack and led to a number of suicide attempts over a short period. Unfortunately, this only spurred on the discrimination, with a concerted effort launched when I returned to work to drive me from the organisation, with regular performance reviews and multiple meetings with HR.
The deep irony is that throughout this period, I was leading a drive within the organisation to improve mental health and challenge stigma!
Luckily I found a new job with a fantastic new employer before I was forced out, but the whole period deeply affected my confidence and trust in the view that being open and honest about your mental health is the best policy.
There are some things that I still don’t share, which makes me feel like I am in some way perpetuating the stigma myself.
Things still have a long way to go to make the workplace, and wider community, a safe place for people facing complex, severe or enduring mental health challenges. Yes, listening is a good first step, but truly understanding takes hard work and good dose of empathy.
People with mental illnesses are people. Our illnesses don’t define us. Listen to what we are telling you, respond appropriately and we will be as productive and functional as any other member of staff.
If everyone took just a little time to learn about mental health, we could see a real change in attitudes and end stigma and discrimination for good.