In my role as a Chief Operating Officer for a charity, I have come across many different views and opinions on mental health issues. These have been both a lovely surprise or struck me silent with shock.
I once sat in a meeting and was told that a volunteer wasn’t able to give their time in the office because “she isn’t reliable or stable enough”. When I asked why, I was casually told; “Oh, she has mental problems, you know what these people are like, they cannot cope.” Now, as I myself have bipolar, I was very surprised to find out that I also shouldn’t be stable or reliable!
I spent half an hour explaining, as politely as I could, that the simple act of this lady offering to volunteer would have taken courage and that she should be encouraged and supported. People looked at me around that table like I was an unexploded bomb about to go off or like I had suddenly declared that I am an alien from Mars come to take over the world. People suddenly avoided eye contact and shifted away like I had something contagious.
One of the comments I get, that annoys me the most, is when people say that they “would never have guessed you had a problem” and that despite my mental health issues, I have “done well!”…NO, I have done well through hard work and determination, and by working on my issues every single day, thank you very much!
I am never ashamed of having bipolar and will not be apologetic about it. I know many intelligent, dedicated and hardworking people who have mental health issues and are fantastic at their jobs and have responsible roles. And I am proud of every single one of them.
When you have bipolar, you often have self-doubt and feel worthless - to have the courage to get out there and try your best takes a lot of inner strength. Sometimes it takes all of your energy just to go into work in the morning and get through the day - but you do it because you are determined to.
Anyone with a mental health issue has good days and bad days, copes well or struggles, but that doesn’t mean to say we aren’t responsible, or reliable, or able to do a very good job. So, let’s all support one another out there in the workplace. Every tiny bit of understanding makes a huge difference and breaks down the stigma around mental health at work.