I've been a Time to Change Champion for a number of years now but it's only very recently I have joined with the movement. I would be lying if I told you this involvement has been easy. But I hope, my struggles make things better for others like me who are living with a mental illness.
I'd like to talk about my experiences with work, good and bad. The reaction of a manager to your disclosure of mental health difficulties can really make a difference to the way you feel and how open you’ll be with future employers.
I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder. Over the years my anxiety has had peaks and troughs and I’ve needed to tell my managers about it.
When it comes to the need to talk about our mental health, we seem to put all of the responsibility in the court of the person who is already struggling. Sure, nobody can read minds, and people can’t expect specific help without asking for it. But mental health problems can make it harder to talk and ask for help in the first place. The responsibility of reaching out for help has to be matched with our shared responsibility to look out for each other - to provide safe spaces to talk, to listen, and to offer caring responses.
For years I didn’t speak about my mental health issues. They began to aﬀect me seriously when I was about 14 years old. School became challenging, I experienced bouts of paralysing depression, I developed a panic disorder and had real trouble with pretty much everything from work and relationships to food, sleep and self worth. I didn’t think I’d make it to 30. It just didn’t seem feasible.
Having a mood disorder doesn’t make you a bad person, or someone incapable of living a full and meaningful life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder at the age of 25, after a long and painful process of navigating the mental health system. Since then I have had people ask me if I am violent, if I might ‘lose the plot’ and attack them, and if I am too vulnerable to do my job. I have always been open and honest about my illness, it doesn’t define me as a person and I don’t feel the need to apologise for it.