Mental Illness at Work – ‘Time to Talk’ Day

As I’m writing this I’m sat at home on a Monday, having felt unable to face an office full of people this morning, and I’m painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t uploaded any blogs or videos for the last two weeks. In fact, I’ve had this title ready for weeks, all I needed to do was sit my butt down and write it, I just haven’t. It feels like I’ve only really been at 20% the last couple of weeks and this is more of a 40% task.

But putting aside how crappy that makes me feel about myself (perhaps a topic for the next post) I know that not posting on a Sunday every now and then won’t really result in anything bad happening. The trouble comes in when I’m at 20% and I’m expected to go to work and give 100%. Impossible. One of the reasons that this can still be such an issue in the workplace is because a lot of people still view mental illness as something that isn’t totally crippling. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard someone say that what’s-her-face just needs to get over it, or that what’s-his-name needs to suck it up and be a man.

I’m lucky – I’ve worked at my company for over a year, and I’m now in a position that I can honestly say is the best possible situation for everyone involved, but it took a long time to get here.

For a while I simply suffered in silence. I was adamant that all of my personal struggles were not going to interfere with my work, which was silly. Of course they interfered with my work, no matter how hard I tried. My performance wasn’t particularly suffering, but my presence in the workplace was – I was like a ghost in the office. I was once pulled into a room and asked why I always looked so miserable. I was told that I was bringing the entire team down and, given that feeling guilt is a big part of depression, I did not take it well. I went to the toilets and cried down the phone to Sara; I didn’t know what to do, I was panicking.

A short while after that, she managed to talk me into coming forward with my illness so that my company could work with me on it rather than against me. Mental illness does fall under the Equality Act so this was something I could take to HR to be dealt with officially. I MASSIVELY regret it. I know that my HR partner had the best of intentions, and I have to say she was lovely throughout the entire process, but the months that followed almost took me back to a place that I swore I’d never get to again. It started with an appointment with an occupational health specialist, which was fine. The two girls on my team were also made aware of the situation, which was fine. However, one of those girls (who has since had to leave, how sad) who had been known to cause problems, well…she caused a problem.

I was already being pulled in for meetings with HR at a minute’s notice which was stressful in itself, but I reached my absolute tipping point when I was pulled into one of these meetings and told that Trouble-Maker had informed HR that I had been making suicidal comments to her in the office. This was not true, but it caused a shit-storm. Of course my word couldn’t be trusted, because I’m mentally ill! (SARCASM!) I lost any control I had on the situation right then, so I told them that I was out. I told them that I didn’t care about the workplace adjustments anymore, and my work life was actually easier before any of this anyway! Some more upsetting stuff happened after that but cut a long story short, I now have an awesome manager who actually understands mental illness and how it affects people, and my work life has never been easier.

A great example of this came recently. It was ‘Time to Talk’ Day at work, which is supposed to aid in removing the stigma of mental illness, get people talking about it and distribute useful and educational information. While I appreciate the company’s effort here to make the workplace more inclusive, I really couldn’t stand the idea of going into the office and having to discuss this topic with my close colleagues. When I told my manager this, he told me to work from home and pointed out the irony that those with real mental health issues actually tend to avoid these kinds of things in the office. Perhaps we have to do enough ‘talking about it’ as it is?

If you’ve ever dealt with mental health in the workplace, leave a comment below – I’d love to hear your experiences!


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