I have spent the last decade of my working life trying to prove that I am not a failure and trying not to admit that I might be, by forcing myself to keep quiet about my depression. The Time to Change project has made me think about this a lot, raised questions within me and forced me to confront my own contribution to stigma. I am talking primarily about the stigma towards mental health in the workplace. I have suffered massively from this in my career and yet I wonder now if I have also contributed to it by staying quiet?
It’s not easy to portray yourself as a success every day. And while most people have setbacks, miss deadlines ormeetings that don’t go so well, when they go home after a less than perfect day at work they don’t beat themselves up as hard as I do. I convince myself that I have not performed well enough, that I have failed. And I add that to my bag of ‘failings’ that seems to get fuller and fuller the more depressed I get.
Would most people really judge me if I was open about my depression?
Sometimes I can last months like this, trying all the time to achieve perfection at work. What I’m really doing is trying to not let my colleagues see that a) sometimes I’m not perfect and b) sometimes I don’t like myself and c) I suffer from depression. So I pretend depression doesn’t exist and I protect it to a point where I can’t cope. Would most people really judge me if I was open about my depression? I don’t know the honest answer to that. In a perfect world I would like to think they wouldn’t but in my world, they have.
The times when I have discussed this with my employers I have been met with an attitude which makes me sick to my stomach. Not once have I been offered help without really having to humiliate myself and beg for it. In all instances this has lead to my entire workplace knowing I ‘can’t cope’ and has resulted in a deep shame that has further taught me to keep quiet.
I resigned from my position. I was so angry at the way I was treated
We take it for granted that a manager can assess an employee with a bout of flu and respond accordingly but responding accordingly to an employee that has stress or an illness related to stress is far from the capability of most managers in most businesses. ‘This is a business at the end of the day and we need you to be there giving 100%, if you can’t give that then we will have to look elsewhere’. This was the comment passed to me by my last employer following a about of glandular fever I had which sparked a period of depression for me.
After it was pointed out that my absences due to sickness were being tracked and ‘appeared to be following a pattern’ (which I assume is some sort of threat) I resigned from my position. I was so angry at the way I was treated because as proved later by a glowing reference, I had been over performing and doing a brilliant job.
In my particular case I requested help several times via phone and email and in person, I even suggested solutions (reduced work load etc.) but this was ignored and I was described to other employees as being ‘frantic and out of control’. Did I contact disability rights and agencies there to assist with this type of discrimination? Yes and to no avail, the ground work in calling, writing, researching my rights and carefully putting them across to my employer was too much for me in my depressive state.
So I gave up, especially after they contacted a lawyer and sent me a document to sign which made me waive all my rights in order to be paid the money owed to me for my notice period. Yes, this happens in this day and age and it’s wrong.
So where do I find myself now? Unemployed, yes. Burnt for having spoken up in the workplace? Yes. But I find myself changed in greater ways.
So where do I find myself now? Unemployed, yes. Burnt for having spoken up in the workplace? Yes. But I find myself changed in greater ways. I find myself admitting that I have contributed to the stigma by keeping quiet and challenging myself to confront that in the future. I think the biggest difference I can make now is to speak up and to search for a job in a company that understands mental illness and workplace discrimination.
In a time of high unemployment I can’t promise this will happen but I have to believe it is possible. The reality is that there are thousands of people like me who can do an excellent job at work and who go above and beyond to prove that they are not useless because they are fighting against their feelings of depression.
What they need is a safe space to say they are not coping and a rational response which is ‘how can we help?’ because with a little bit of help and less judgement they can help. They can tell you that you’re doing a great job, that not everything has to be brilliant and that you are meeting their expectations. Re-structuring workload and work hours can seriously help to get a person back on track.
I have assisted dozens of employees through mental health burn outs and got them back on track
How do I know this? Because throughout the last decade of my working life, ironically, I have also been the manager at the coal face and this is exactly what I have said to numerous employees that have spoken up to me. I have assisted dozens of employees through mental health burn outs and got them back on track. It was when this response was not given to me that I became frustrated and angry. I take my hat off to those that speak up and I treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve.
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