I now use my experiences to inform people of the damage caused by negative attitudes towards mental health problems

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.

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Comments

Thank you for sharing.

Thank you for sharing. I suffer from Depression too and I went to the Job Centre recently and was patronized and was told I didn't look depressed... Take good care of yourself. xx

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Sign of the times

Sylvie – Thank you so much for your comment. I think that the attitude you so ably described goes further and deeper in the public’s consciousness than anyone realizes…unless, of course, you’re on the receiving end of it. Job Centre staff, prospective employers, the ill-educated general public and, I’m sorry to say, even some mental health professionals have similar attitudes to people with depression but that is the subject of another blog I think.

Discrimination in the workplace

I had a breakdown brought on by work place conditions. My employer failed to respond to the report they commissioned. When ill health coupled with deep depression and anxiety came along, another report, still no action, and I ended up forced in to early retirement on the grounds if total incapacity.

Employers just don't seem to care about their staff

Prof Mike Gibbs – Thank you so much for your comment. It is appalling that the situation you describe is still happening in these supposedly enlightened times. I think that companies ignore the mental health of their staff, even when they have reports indicating that their environment is causing mental ill-health, because all they see is a potential weak link in their company, one they need to get rid of. Perhaps it’s because they think that it will cost them too much to support the staff affected or perhaps it’s because they just don’t care enough to take responsibility for the adverse effect their workplace has on people. The funny thing is that people with mental health issues are actually more reliable because they’re afraid of losing their job and tend to stick it out regardless of the cost to their own physical and mental well-being. I had to voluntarily leave my last job back in 2005 because my mental health had gotten so bad that I had become very anti-social. If I had been given help, I could still be at that job or at least have held onto it for longer.

I admire your strength and

I admire your strength and courage to go back into the workplace despite the negativity you have faced. I had 6 months off a few years back due to anxiety an depression. Work is not going so well, cuts in hours and pay, really feeling undervalued and undermined, it s affecting my mental health but apart from a very few close colleagues, I don't feel I can speak out as not everyone is as understanding and I worry about being labelled as I have had time off before. Luckily I have a very supportive family, but when you spend most of your time at work it is difficult to shake off those feelings. It is hard trying to cover your feelings, I always try to be supportive to other colleagues with mental health issues, so they don't feel on their own. Keep strong.

Not strength or courage, just total desperation

Judy Tomkinson – Thank you so much for your comment. I can assure you that it wasn’t strength or courage that made me go back but total desperation. I couldn’t afford to lose the job I had at the time because I was afraid I would never get another. Looking back, perhaps I should have just left then because within two years (and six months into my new marriage) I was made redundant. I think employers never really appreciate their workers as much as they should, especially in the current economic climate. They cut people’s hours and pay to protect their profit margin which, without trying to get too political, is much larger than anyone needs it to be. They undervalue employees until they come up with something that really helps the company (or department thereof) and then someone higher up the company hierarchy takes the credit for the idea, leaving the person who came up with the idea feeling undermined. It is difficult to find work colleagues who will understand so, as I intimated in my blog, I can understand why people don’t talk about their mental health in the workplace. I’m glad that you have a few colleagues who you can confide in and that your family support you and that you, in turn, try to support others with mental health problems. Take care.

Valen, thank you so much for

Valen, thank you so much for writing this. Your experiences are heartbreaking and it's so wonderful that you're using such negative experiences in a positive way to educate others and speak about mental health xx

It's better to turn a negative experience into a positive one

Lizzie – Thank you so much for your comment. The experience I detailed in this blog was back in 1997 so I have the luxury of a bit of emotional distance from those events although that’s not to say that my later jobs didn’t have their own damaging effects on me. I left my last job in 2005 because my mental health suffered and I had become very anti-social as a result. Part of my efforts to recover included becoming a governor at my local adult college and, in 2009 and 2010, as part of my efforts to banish stigma and create awareness of mental health issues, I organised two awareness events. The first, a depression awareness event, was filmed by a local online newspaper called “Your Thurrock” and I have been forever haunted by my inability to hide my depression so I just continue to do what I can to create awareness by opening my life up to public ridicule on my personal blog on Blogger called “Meditations From The Abyss”. I post, as I do here, under my pseudonym because I don’t like my real name. My readers know my real name as well though because I post poetry and need to copyright under my given name. I work with anyone who’ll work with me to get the message out about mental ill-health because I’ve got nothing left to lose.

I had to leave my job after I

I had to leave my job after I had a mini breakdown at work. I went off sick and was accused of many things, from a simple as not following the correct sickness procedure to as awful as accusing me of self harming at work (which never happened). I tried to get union help but they took the side of my employer. They tried to suggest it was all in my head and that they had been nothing but helpful. It all became too strained for me to continue working there, and I gave in my resignation. I have never truly trusted anyone at work again with my mental health issues, and I don't know when I will be able to trust again. I was utterly destroyed by what happened.

Don't let them destroy you. There is help available out there.

Em – Thank you so much for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear of you having such a bad experience. Although not all employers are so unsympathetic to people with mental health issues, it does seem to be a rather common story. Prejudice and stigma surrounding mental ill-health does seem to persist despite the best efforts of campaigners but, those of us who can, should continue to fight the good fight against such things so that they may eventually be eradicated. I totally understand how the situation you have been through has left you unable to trust fellow work colleagues in the future but try not to let it destroy you or they will win. If you have a Facebook account, there are a number of very supportive groups for people with mental health issues – some for specific conditions, others for general mental health issues. Why not give them a go so that you at least have someone to support you after a bad day at work?

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