“To anyone feeling ashamed of being depressed: there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an illness. Like asthma or measles.”
In fairness, I have never had asthma or measles. Do they cause you to lash out at friends? Undergo a sudden, terrifying shift in politics and personality? Lead to time slipping away like a Dali clock?
Do they make you doubt what you see in the mirror? Make you high enough to mistake car bonnets for stepping stones and a thousand other things?
Mental illness is nothing like asthma or measles.
In recent years, the discussion around mental health has hit the mainstream. It isn’t a bad thing that we are all talking more about mental health; it would be silly to argue otherwise. But this does not mean it is not infuriating to come home, suicidal, to a bunch of celebrity awareness-raising selfies and thousands of people saying that all you need to do is ask for help – when you’ve been asking for help and not getting it.
There was a poster I recently saw in an ad that exclaims, “Mental health can be complex – getting help doesn’t have to be!” Each time I see it, I want to scream.
When I am well, sometimes think I will be fine for life and want to abandon all my medication. And when I am not well, I think maybe I really am just a f**k-up, and should not be dealt with sympathetically. We don’t talk about self-stigma, as part of the empowering new conversation. I will admit that I am not well. That writing this, right now, I am not well. This will colour the writing.
But it is part of why I want to write, because another part of the problem is that we write about it when we are on the other side, better. And I understand: it’s ugly up close; you can see right into the burst vessels of the thing. (Also, on a practical level, it is difficult to write when one is unwell.) But then what we end up with has the substance of secondary sources. When we do see it in its rawness – who among us does not wince?
I want it gone, so that I am not dealing with it all the time, or worrying about others having to deal with it all the time. I am done with words. I need your words to count for more.
Then action. Some more action.
This is me. Here I am.
I hope this anonymous first person account of an individual struggling with a mental health issue strikes a chord with each one of you reading this.
If you suffer from anxiety or a panic disorder, it doesn’t mean you can’t also be strong, fun or capable. This is just another part of us – a very human part. There is a fear in us not to disclose problems because we will be perceived as weak. We are not weak. We are all a work in progress.
One in five adults experience mental illness in any given year. Everybody struggles and challenges like mental health issues eventually spill over into the workplace. In this context, not only do employers not understand the full range of mental health issues or what they entail, but also, the idea that someone with an MHI can be productive and good at their job is almost entirely absent from the conversation. So, as a leader/manager/colleague, you can’t pretend it isn’t happening.
The conversation around mental illness tends to focus on depression and anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is less comfortable with the mental illnesses deemed more unpalatable – people who act erratically, hallucinate, and have violent episodes or interpersonal instability. Let’s not pretend that this stigma is merely a hurdle to be overcome. Stigma exists from a place of real fear, and a lack of understanding about mental illness.
The key isn’t to deny this, but to educate.
The average person spends 90,000 hours of their life working. Poor employee mental health can be due to factors internal or external to the workplace and, without effective management, can seriously impact employees’ productivity, career prospects and wider health.
While there is increasing awareness of the impact of poor employee mental health, there remains a disconnect between employers’ intentions and perceptions and what is actually happening in the workplace. This means that employees often do not get the help they need to maintain a fulfilling and productive working life, and some line managers are frustrated by the lack of support to do what they know is right.
Moving towards a corporate culture of proactive, preventative management of workplace wellbeing requires organisations to recognise the value of parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the workplace and to manage internal as well as external conversations and communications accordingly.
We need to do more as organisations. The conversation needs to be more inclusive for those with lesser degrees of privilege like LGBT+ individuals, people with disability, workers in the unorganised sector and other marginalised communities.
Team Diversity Dialogues presents a video to help organisations end the stigma, break the culture of silence, and take practical steps for building better mental health at the workplace.
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