October 24, 2016

Hi, my name is Mary and several years ago I was in a professional job as a psychology lecturer. Perhaps I was naive, but I thought professionalism was about acting with good values and respect for others. I found out differently when I joined this college as a staff member in a small team of psychology lecturers.

I became ill for the first time while I worked there, and was shocked to discover how this group of lecturers started treating me. From their actions, I felt that they saw my illness as a way of enhancing their own careers, and frequently manipulated situations to trap me. Of course I was afraid of reporting this, because I felt I knew that my views would be put down to my illness.

I really feel sympathy for men in situations like this – I often wonder how they cope with the stigma and the competitiveness. I would like to support men through their ordeals at work, and urge women with experience to stop the stigmatising wherever they find it. Just treat us as ordinary, there's no need to keep harping on about illness, nor to become savagely competitive just because it's assumed that mental illness is a weakness.

Clearly, behaving professionally was not something that my colleagues had in mind when they perceived an opportunity to weaken any influences I had in the college. For some reason, they did not want me to continue as a lecturer there. I feel this is a scenario that many people enact, mostly men in this case – and it’s this pressure that brings the stress which some of us are sensitive to.

All too often, British people in the workplace seem to think that any type of behaviour is acceptable towards colleagues, particularly where jealousy and competition is concerned. “All's fair in love and war,” I was told when I complained to the deputy head of department. Well, no! All is not fair in love and war in a further education college! We're not supposed to be in love and we're certainly not supposed to be at war.

However, after complaining about tricks, manipulations and downright hostility from a small group of colleagues, I eventually decided that enough was enough after a two year campaign by them. It culminated in my back gate being smashed and my dog stolen. I decided that their behaviour was criminal and was never the behaviour of professional colleagues. They scared me by this time, and I decided not to attend a meeting to discuss the problems at work – I believed my colleagues were not rational at all, and would keep on being more and more malicious.

 What strikes me is the extent to which malicious behaviour is tolerated at work – it seemed as if managers in the organisation just shrugged shoulders and decided that boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. All is fair in love and war said the deputy head – what is the Geneva Convention for then? I think that more honourable behaviour probably goes on in war zones than in some British workplaces.

It's clear to me that many mental health issues are triggered by stress, usually in workplaces. How are we supposed to manage stress when some managers give the green light to malicious behaviour? There is an imbalance in senior posts where there are more men than women. Not only should we sympathise and deplore the fact that men are stigmatised more by mental health issues, we should also ask them to campaign effectively in workplaces to stop behaviours that cause anxiety and stress to others. I really believe that men need to get on board, whether they are superhuman and can withstand stress or not. Moreover, they should tackle the terrible stigma felt by workers when they are targeted by unprofessional behaviour.

And, as a woman, I feel doubly angry with other women who behave in this way. It's tempting to succumb to the view that women are the always the gentler sex, and that men need to change – but this should not give a free pass for women to be completely insensitive. Let's be honest about malicious behaviour in the workplaces: it's not only men who suffer when they try for promotion, or show some initiative; it’s not just men who are competitive.

Surely managers should be able to work out when unprofessional behaviour causes stress and anxiety to others? Surely they can also find ways to resolve issues between factions? If they can’t then surely they should be taught to be able to deal with these issues. Managers seem content to let the situations roll on until some policy is triggered that lets them off the hook. But what is a manager? What do they do? What are they supposed to do? What do we want them to do? Well, I want them to use their initiative to stop the stigmatisation of people with mental health problems in workplace. If we’re going to stop workplace discrimination, senior leaders have to accept that the culture they allow to exist has a huge impact on people’s wellbeing.

We should not have to keep this a confidential matter – what exactly is wrong with acknowledging that nervous breakdowns occur, psychosis exists, and anxiety is virtually present in everyone? Managers often hide behind a cloud of confidentiality – fine, they should not tell others confidential information – but there's nothing stopping the individual from making it known, especially if there is no stigma. People in workplaces have a long way to go in terms of changing ignorant attitudes towards mental health problems. Let's get started – let's get men on the job and let’s not accept that women know more about these issues because of the stereotype that they are in touch with their feelings.

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