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 to find out more.

No comments:

Post a Comment