Monday, 15 May 2017

Mental health in the workplace

I'm a 24 year old professional who works 9-5 in an office-based job. Sounds pretty boring, right?

I actually love my job, and I know I'm one of the few lucky enough to say that. I enjoy the challenges, the mundane everyday tasks, and often not knowing a new day will bring.

As someone who usually has extreme anxiety when facing the unknown, I'm surprisingly okay with the fast pace and level of uncertainty that comes with my job. Yes, you see I am also mentally ill.

Mental illness can present challenges in any environment, but it's something that it commonly tricky in the workplace. I have both friends and acquaintances who have personally faced stigma and discrimination at work due to their mental health. Some have been bullied and harassed due to their illness.

A study published today found that almost half of all people in Ireland's capital city would not want to work with someone who has a mental illness.Half of people surveyed would not want to work with ME. And let me tell you, they're missing out because I am darn good at my job.

Today I want to talk about me experiences with mental health in the workplace, and why I'm now succumbing to stigma and keeping my mental illness under wraps.

Over the past four years, I've been in a number of unpaid or low-paid internships, and part-time jobs. Mental health was a topic that would come up naturally. My CV and past experience is littered with mental health awareness campaigns and events, and I am proud to have been Chairperson of a mental health committee in my university. As a result, I've had job interviews where I told prospective line managers about my mental health mid-interview.
"What inspired you to gt involved in mental health campaigns?" "Well, I ended up getting involved in mental health awareness after my own mental breakdown..."
The topic was on the table. And if I felt that I needed to, I knew the way for paved for me to talk to my line manager about my mental health.

That's not to say I haven't faced stigma. I've sat around the lunch table with colleagues where I've had to listen to:
"Terrorists are all mentally ill. There's no other excuse."
"I always thought depression wasn't real; it's just something in your head."
"Donald Trump has to have a mental illness. All the signs are there."

There have been times where I felt confident enough to rebuff a throwaway comment about mental illness with fact and logic. But there have been other times where I've kept my head down and my mouth shut. Or where my personal experience of mental illness has been dismissed with some pseudo-science someone has read online.

But now that I'm in a 9-5 full-time job? I've kept my mental health relatively under wraps.
As an online advocate and offline mental health ambassador, I know I'm being a hypocrite. I know that I should wear my badge with pride and start the conversations required to end stigma. But life's not that simple. And stigma is real, and sometimes fear of this barrier is too high for me to breakdown. Sometimes remembering what people I know have faced and been put through for revealing their mental health in work causes me to fear the same stigma that I may have to deal with.

Like when filling out forms on my medical history before I could start my job. I sat staring at that form for at least ten minutes trying to decide whether I would admit my own diagnoses or current medication.
Where would this files live? Would my colleagues have access to this data? Could someone in HR look up my medical history and discuss it over lunch with another colleague? Would it be passed on to my managers?

Or when faced with another form for declaring your disability. Was my illness currently debilitating enough to be classified as a disability? What if it's not today but is tomorrow?

Here I am staring at paper and inflicting stigma on myself.
I have no reason to presume my workplace would be unsupportive. But I choose to hide. I feel safer this way. This is how I protect myself any possible future hurt.

This way, I don't have to have a comeback when someone makes a stupid, inaccurate comment about mental illness.
This way, I don't have to be the one explaining why not all terrorists are mentally ill.
This way, I don't have to defend my very diagnosis.

But here's what I will do. I will put some Green Ribbon posters up in my office and stick some green ribbons in the canteen. Because maybe someday I will feel ready to tell a co-worker why I got into this line of work. And I want them to be ready.

This May is Green Ribbon month. Wear a green ribbon and show that you are willing to talk about mental health and end the stigma.
Visit www.greenribbon.ie to find out more.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

5 reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day

Like me, I'm sure you've heard the arguments about the overuse of medication in mental illness and why taking medication is bad.

Sure, big-Pharma sponsor my mental illness. Prescribing anti-depressants is an industry. Increases in diagnoses of mental illness over the past few decades also reflect the rise of the anti-depressant industry.

And if you're like me, you might also be absolutely sick of hearing these arguments. Yes, taking medication for a mental illness is incredibly common. Often, it's the 'go to' method for medical professionals treating a mental illness, which isn't right. And taking any medication comes with side effects. But that doesn't mean that I or others shouldn't be taking them.

I've been told by medical professionals that I should try to wean myself off antidepressants as soon as possible, that they're addictive, and I've even been advised to stone-cold quit taking them without any support. If even the medical profession have mixed opinions regarding medication and mental illness, how are we, the patients and service users, meant to know what to do?

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to medication and mental health. And often, the voices saying don't take them are loudest and increase the stigma for those of us who rely on them.

For six years I have been taking medication daily for my depression. It took time to find a combination and dosage that works. Medication is not a quick fix for your illness. There is no 'one cure for all'. You won't wake up happy. You won't be cured. But for many people, like me, it's a start.


So despite the stigma, I keep taking my pills. Here are five reasons why I take medication for my mental health every day:

  1. They help me to sleep
  2. They clear the fog
  3. They have allowed me to feel again
  4. They have given me back hope that things can and do get better, and hope for the future
  5. They make recovery possible

They say you're not recovered if you still take medication. To me, recovery is about being brave enough to help yourself. And medication helps me.

It is naive and dangerous to ignore the many people who have had successful results with anti-depressants. So please don’t judge those on medication, those on medication for a long time, or those who will always be on medication. It is nothing to be ashamed about. We don't do it to support the multinational corporations that manufacture medication, we do it to survive. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Why I'm Wearing a Green Ribbon this month

This month, you may spot people wearing a simple green ribbon.

The idea is simple, by wearing the green ribbon, thousands of people are showing their support for ending the silence around mental health.

This year is the fifth year of the Green Ribbon campaign organised by See Change, national programme to change minds about mental health problems in Ireland and end stigma. Half a million green ribbons are being given out for free throughout the country for the whole month of May.

See Change say: "You don’t need to be an expert to start talking about mental health or have all the answers. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to let someone know that you are there for them and simply listen."

Here's why I am choosing to wear my green ribbon again this May.

I am an ambassador for ending the silence around mental health.
It's a symbol of support for a worthy campaign.
It helps create awareness.

I want people to see the ribbon and ask me why I'm wearing it.
I want people to see the ribbon and know that they can talk to me about mental health.
I want people to see the ribbon and without having to say anything, they know that they are not alone.
I want to end the silence and stigma around mental health for me, for those closest to me, for my friends with mental health issues, and for the people I haven't had the privilege of meeting yet.
I want everyone and anyone who is struggling with their mental health to know that they are not alone, and that talking about mental health is a sign of strength.
Whatever your reason for wearing it, you can pick up green ribbons at train stations, all Boots stores and at events in your local areas.

You can find out more about the Green Ribbon project and the events taking place in your community at www.greenribbon.ie.