January 18, 2012

When I saw the story about Roy (find him on Twitter @badlydrawnroy) and his experience of work place discrimination, I couldn’t help but be shocked and awed.

I was shocked that when he disclosed his mental illness (depression) to his boss, her reply was:

We're a small company, there's no room for passengers.

However, I was in awe of the fact that so many people on Twitter sent Roy messages of support and kindness. It is great to know that even in the world of social media, prejudice is unacceptable.

The stigma that surrounds mental illness is everywhere, and can often be worse than the condition itself. However, there is a way to live with a mental illness and have a career – I am living proof. I am a full time marketing executive, and have been since graduating in 2004. I have won awards, been published, spoken at events all over Europe and have been consulted on large scale media campaigns. Oh yes, and I also have a diagnosis of bipolar and borderline personality disorder.

Living with these conditions should not stop me from being a productive member of society and, luckily for me, they don’t. My employer is a great example of how, with the right support and work place understanding, organisations large and small can employ people with mental heath problems.

How? It really is simple: flexibility. If I am experiencing depression, they support me working from home. If I am having panic attacks, I am excused from high pressure meetings. Even though I have a pre-existing condition, I am allowed to be part of the company health insurance scheme.

My workload is mine to decide. So if I cannot concentrate for long periods of time I can divide my work up into manageable chunks.

The only other ingredients I think a company needs to support people with disabilities, whether physical or mental, is the willingness to listen, the gift of looking at things from a different perspective and the determination to make it work. Organisations may not get it right first time, but they need to be willing to try.

So, to Roy I say good luck, and keep searching for a supportive company who will embrace your differences – they are out there, I promise.


Find out more about depression:

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.


The coin

I have been a 'boss' now for many years and have suffered from depression for over fifteen of them. One of the problems I find is that as mental illness is now being more readily accepted, people who are just having a bad day or are just fed up are saying they are depressed as it’s a simple way to get time off work. It’s the new 'bad back'. I know that seems harsh, but as a sufferer, I really do have problems connecting with some of them. The ones that I have managed to help and relate to have been people who turn up for work but they aren’t right. I am so conscious this may sound brutal, but as someone who pays wages, I feel it must be addressed. However, I always err on the side of people being genuine until I am proved wrong. From the experiences above, I guess I am in the minority.

And of course the cost of replacement....

I'm glad to hear you have the "Innocent until proven guilty attitude". Nobody seems to look at the costs of replacement. In my sector there is the "10% ers" you pay to find suitable canditates. Then the interruption to delivery that interviewing takes. Then there are two delays 1. Notice period, 2. Training. Following that the person that has been hired may not be suitable for the post. (I have observed this in 75% of the companies I have worked for.) As you have stated. Most of the genuinely ill staff want to carry on despite their problems. I may be lucky that my depression is "situational" and some times I hadn't even been aware that I was suffering from it. Of course when I have become aware of it, it is because I have reached that "event" associated with extreme depression. There is an unusual side effect however. Each time one recovers from a bout, I find one gains an inner strength, or at least a greater ability to see what is real and not perceived ti be such.

In reply to the boss

I hear you loud and clear boss people are to readily ready to say they are depressed when really they feel naturally low or sad they do not know what depression entails at all. Depression is negative though permanently in front of your mind the inability to see the end of the tunnel the low mood which actually make you physically sick and enable to come out of your bed and the suicidal thought and isolation. That is quite sadden me when people use it as a mean to get time off work they are not depress they may feel stress or want a day off so they claim depression. That it wrong. I praised all day long someone which suffer from genuine mental health make it to work and is part of the community with the right support they can achieve this and perform and achieve greatness.

Not a penny

So how much does this cost the company. ^^^ Exactly. Time and time again I feel oppressed by my employer, when the simplest thing for them to do is to just listen.

Surprised? Not!

<p>This is exactly the reason why most people do not want their boss to know and they just bottle it up. </p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Champagne Depressives?

I am here because a friend basically told me to pull myself together in as many words, just days after I had candidly and honestly expressed how my illness affects me, and why I didn't make a particular social event. I tried to talk, and explain, and it seemed accepted at the time, but a few days later they come out with that, and I feel talking failed. I now view this as their real attitude and the former short-lived apparent acceptance as a façade. They really do secretly believe I should (and can) just get over it. What do I mean by Champagne Depressives? This friend of mine has said in the past they have suffered depression before so know exactly what it is like. I know that pretty much anyone who has genuinely experienced depression and anxiety would never have told me to pull myself together in a million years, because they truly do know it is the worst thing you can say to someone. So now I'm wondering if my friend is what we might call a Champagne Depressive similar to those described by richope. Based on my experience with my friend, perhaps there are two kinds of us! Or, even worse perhaps, my friend has genuinely experienced depression but still has little sympathy for me. Unlikely but possible I suppose. So the effect of my friend's comment? I cancelled my working day (in which I had a lot to do, but had to reschedule appointments) to avoid facing her, and here I am still avoiding because I feel so upset and unsure what to say, that it's best I stay away. Prior to that I was ok and functioning fine. This is the irony - she probably thought she was helping me, but in reality it caused me to stop functioning. Angry? Yes I guess I am, because here I am hiding away during what should be one of the most productive, positive times of my entire life, because I don't know how to handle comments like that, and feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion have been racing in my head for days. I hope I can work through this and get out there again; I've lived with this condition for a long time, and I know she is wrong. I just have to overcome that tiny part of me from first diagnosis as a teen that believes she is right; you know that part of us that insists we are lazy, unmotivated, manipulative and self-centred when in truth we have an illness, which is not a character flaw and much of the time we are the opposite of lazy and selfish etc. Thanks for letting me raise my voice here, kinda hard to raise it anywhere else at the moment ;)

talking at work

I find it disheartening that someone can still be dismissed for having a mental illness. I am a manager in a very large company and nearly half of my current team of 14 people are either suffering with a mental illness now or have in the past. They all talk to me openly about it, though not as openly with colleagues and we have a good support network at work to help. My 17 year old son, who is currently awaiting diagnosis works for a very small, family run company and they are brilliant at letting him take days off when he needs them and changing the type of work he does depending on his needs on the day. Brilliant employers and brilliant managers are out there, we just need to spread the word that people with mental illness just need the chance to show how great they can be in the workplace.

Re: prejudice

People I have known for a while have recently started to treat me differently. Six years ago I left my job with a wildlife charity as they were not helping me with my problems, although they were receiving funding for mental health and nature related project from the PCT. The doctor offered to put something other than depression on my sick notes, but I did not see a problem with this, now in hindsight I wish that they had put something else on the sick note. My ex-employer also kindly put that I left because of depression and anxiety in the reference for the 50+ jobs I applied for after leaving - I had a mortgage to pay. I only found out that they had put this in my reference when one potential employer alerted me to this fact. I got the job but was subsequently sacked after helping set up the project, and told there was a shortage of money - I was the first to go. I have been struggling to make a living ever since - having to sell my house, and live with my sister at one point when I did not have enough money to support myself. I have been struggling with this illness since a child although it was not diagnosed until I was in my 20s. I have only been reminded of this period in my life when I attended a talk at a local group I belong to, there was someone there who I liaised with when working for the wildlife charity aforementioned. A few years ago after leaving the wildlife charity, I had gone up to him at a talk he was giving and he could not remember my name but said 'Oh yes, someone with terrible health problems' . I was taken back by this comment as I only wanted to say hello. I warned him about spreading rumours or gossip about me, he said 'oh it isn't rumours', and then went onto give his talk. He did not work at the charity, and so someone must have been spreading unkind gossip about me. He is the chair of a major wildlife charity in the UK. Just recently seeing this man in the audience as I walked in I just ignored him, but I noticed that members of the local group did not speak to me. I only put two and two together when I got home feeling very isolated. So you see, you can never really get away from the prejudice about mental health. I will keep on trying to enjoy my life and my work, which I am passionate about, despite these ignorant and rather sad people. I hope that they never experience a mental illness in their lifetime; their attitude would change. If I had been ill with cancer everyone would have treated me differently.

What did you think of this blog? Tell us in the comments