I was just about to start my new job and I was really excited, but at the same time terrified. A few weeks prior to this I had been given a diagnosis of EUPD (Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder). I had done this job before for different companies but I always had a wobbly moment or two whilst I did it and it would usually end up with me having a moment of bursting out into to tears in front of my manager. At the time I didn’t realise, but these moments were actually symptoms of my disorder.
Each time this happened, however, my manager would be great. I was a few days into the job (it was a residential job) and decided that it would probably be best to tell my manager about my diagnosis, so I did. He was really supportive to start with. But when he realised I was struggling with eating he became impatient with me and told me that if I didn’t start he would have to send me home. I was devastated that I let myself be this way so I tried my hardest to eat.
I managed to get through this job but wasn’t really given any practical support to help me, and no adjustments were made. I reapplied to work for this company the following year, and I just presumed I would get offered the job like everyone else who had previously worked for them - and I also had the most experience.
However in the interview I was drilled into and criticised for the way I acted the previous year. I was told that I was irresponsible and setting a bad example by not eating and that I should have been able to control myself at their celebration event. I was also told that if I wanted this job I would have to prove that I was better. I burst out into tears in this interview as I was being blamed for something I had no control over, I was really ill. This made me feel like I couldn’t be open about my mental health anymore, so I began to keep things quiet again. It took me a while to feel comfortable enough to be open again.
Second time round - a positive experience
A couple of years later I applied for the same job again but with the company who took over the last company’s contract. When I went to the group interview, I decided to wear a top that showed my scars, as it was hot.
A few days later I had a phone call from manager. She brought up the fact that someone had seen my scars - I panicked and thought I wasn’t going to get the job. But she just wanted to ask how I was doing now and if there was anything they could do to support me whilst I worked for them. She also accidentally revealed to me that I had got the job (a week early). I was so happy and felt so supported. I even got promoted to a managerial role.
When we were away on programme my manager visited me one day and noticed I was wearing a long-sleeved top, and she said that I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to and told me that if anyone said anything they’d have her to answer to. However, it wasn’t actually that I wanted to hide my arm, I was just trying to stop myself getting sunburnt! But it was such a different reaction than the job before.
I also had the young people telling me that I inspired them by being so open and a member of my staff saying they felt comfortable to wear shorts and show their scars too. This experience of working made me feel so much better than the year before.
What you should know if your colleague has a mental health problem
If you have an employee or colleague with a mental health problem, please react like my second employer and not my first. Make sure to listen and try not to judge them if they open up about their mental health problems. If you’re an employer try and make it obvious that you are open about this topic, try incorporating it into your policies. Find organisations, such as Time to Change, who can help you with this.
If you’re a colleague, just be there for them if they want to talk or even if they don’t. If they take time off support them like you would support a colleague with a physical illness.
However, always try and protect yourself if you are supporting a colleague or employee by making sure you have support also.
At the end of the day just remember you can’t really go wrong as long as you listen.