Although there should be no need to keep one’s mental health condition a secret, I can totally understand why many people decide to keep it so as I have firsthand knowledge of the stigma that results from work colleagues finding out about it.
Depression and stress caused me to have a breakdown at work
Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury of hiding my condition as I was spectacularly and publically ‘outed’ as psychologically damaged when 19 years of undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, depression and stress caused me to have a breakdown at work.
It is hard to hide a mental illness when you have been surrounded by your work colleagues whilst you are huddled in the foetal position under your desk, sobbing your heart out and unable to respond to the people around you but still totally aware of everything that is going on around you. I was taken to hospital and had the rest of the week off sick, hardly time to properly convalesce but a decision made because I did not want to lose my job; however, when I returned, I came back to a very different collegial relationship with the people I shared a workplace with.
I was seen as less than the man I once was
I had suddenly been given the nickname ‘psycho’ and people were reluctant to approach me. The little respect I once had amongst my fellow workers diminished visibly and I was seen as less than the man I once was. Oh, there was sympathy shown towards me by some but there was also a distance that I had to fight against and some took liberties with my personal belongings that they would never taken before. I had to fight twice as hard to gain half the respect that seemed to be lavished on the others.
Every cautious approach made me feel damaged, alone, isolated
Every time the nickname ‘psycho’ was used it felt like a rapier (sword) being thrust deep into my heart and it simply added to the self-hatred I had been feeling on the 19-year journey along the dark path of depression I had endured alone. Every fearful glance in my direction and every cautious approach made me feel damaged, alone, isolated. Every disrespectful use of my personal belongings made me feel less human than the people I was surrounded by on a daily basis because it did not seem to matter to them that the belongings were mine; they seemed to be of the opinion that I no longer deserved the respect of being asked because I was somehow broken. My intelligence was called into question, subtly to be true but it was there, and any suggestions I made to improve the work environment had to be repeatedly made before any real notice was taken.
Stigmatisation has made me an outspoken advocate of mental health awareness
The incalculable damage my work colleagues caused me with their stigmatisation during that period never really healed but it has made me the outspoken advocate of mental health awareness I am today. I now use my experiences to inform people of the damage they cause with their negative attitudes towards mental ill health in the sincere hope that it changes their attitudes just a little.