April 5, 2013

Terri, a Time to Change bloggerDiscrimination towards mental health was something I had heard about but nothing I ever understood. Despite growing up with a mother with bipolar, knowledge and education surrounding the condition was scarce.

I will be the first to admit that I used to question my mum about why she just couldn't be 'normal' or why she had such difficulty with the smallest actions like getting out of bed. As much as I tried to understand and love her, my role changed from being a child to taking care of my siblings and a woman in her late 40s.

I wasn't the only person to question or cast judgment over her thoughts and actions but looking back now it was simply a lack of education and communication. My mum suffered discrimination that no one should experience. I am now 24 and wondered and, this month, I was a victim, like my mum, of mental health discrimination.

I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and OCD

In November 2012 I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). All these years I had struggled with many thoughts and feelings and, like many people, I didn't like the idea of bearing my soul to some doctor who didn't know me. It took months to get the courage to go and talk to someone.

I hadn't slept in days. I was up thinking all night of the possible outcomes. A part of me worried in case the doctor thought i was 'crazy' or wanted to pack me off the closest mental institution. With a diagnoses of GAD and OCD, I got my 'label' and started on a course of medication, which really has improved my life.

It was difficult to open up

If anyone sufferers with the conditions I have, it’s incredibly difficult to open up for fear of losing control of a situation. I was terrified of telling people my condition for fear they may judge me or treat me differently. The doctor asked me a question: 'What is your plan when it comes to telling your managers at work?'. My response was 'Do I have to?' I was advised to do so and assured by my doctor and my partner that it was nothing to be ashamed of.

The weekend before work I didn't sleep because I was so anxious about what would happen on Monday morning when I told my boss about my diagnosis. 10am came and I sat down with my boss and gave her my written doctor’s report which explained my diagnosis. She looked and wasn't entirely sure what to say. At this point I was shaking, sweating and in tears with the overwhelming stress of the situation. She thanked me for my honestly and she said if I needed anything, then all I had to do was ask.

My boss took my note to HR

So I thought, 'This is great!, what was I worried about?'. My boss then took the note to HR and the managing director of the company and things changed quickly. They asked if I wanted to work in a room alone so I could have a quiet environment. In a busy office the idea of a quiet place to work was fantastic. Soon people stopped talking to me though, people didn't email me or include me in outings or meetings. My work load had been reduced significantly and comments were made in front of other work mates regarding my situation.

All eyes were on me. I would walk in to a room and people would start whispering and starting at me. I had hoped that the information that I shared with my boss would stay confidential when in fact the whole office found out. No one wanted to talk to me, pass me work or be around me. This was the most isolating situation I had ever been in. After building up the confidence to talk with my boss, it was heartbreaking to have what I’d said used as something to gossip about.

I'm now unsure whether to tell my next employer

It was a very dark couple of months and three days ago I was actually made redundant. My job was 100% safe up until I told my employer about my mental health. My office actually shut down for Christmas so it was around 6 weeks after I told them about my mental health that they made me redundant. What didn't occur to them was that I had been in the job 12 months prior to my diagnosis and did my job better than most. Of course this has ruined my confidence and has left me unsure whether to tell my next employer. I know I should but I wish there was that confidence that I will be treated as a human with feelings and not someone with a contagious disease.

While job hunting I am more focused than ever to get the word out there about mental health in the work place.

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