It’s certainly becoming common practice for workplaces to now have something in place to help combat mental illness issues in the workplace or have ways to increase the mental well being of the workforce. If not that, it is at least becoming easier to discuss mental illness issues with your employer. I know this is not the case for everyone and there are people who will be too afraid to open up, or at least make their employer aware of their mental illness through fear of losing their job.
This is unacceptable, which should go without saying… but unfortunately it doesn’t.
I’ve worked for several different employers and I’ve only ever had one who was ever genuinely concerned for my well-being ( I did work for my parents straight out of school, but I’m not counting that, as they were concerned for my well being in general.)
I’m just going to go through them quickly, without naming names or places…
- Hospital Kitchen – (6 years – approx) Amazing place, fantastic people and awesome supervisory staff. ( Always there if you needed anything or had any issues etc) This was actually my first proper job and I do believe I was supremely spoilt by how nice everyone was, because my bosses only, really, went downhill from there…
- Nursing Home – Terrible, awful. Absolutely the worst place I have ever worked. Another member of staff assaulted me and became extremely inappropriate towards me and I was told it was because I was ‘coming on‘ to him… Clearly I wasn’t aware that doing my job and talking to him in a general manner would be construed as a ‘come on’… Maybe that’s where we’re all going wrong…? It later came to light that this man was the son of one of the senior nurses there and that’s probably why nothing was done about it. This particular nursing home later went under investigation due to malpractice… what a surprise. Not a great place for keeping your mental health in tip-top condition!
- A children’s play centre – Aside from being driven mad daily by screaming kids and irate parents, I also had the pleasure of working for some of the must incomprehensible supervisory staff in the history of ever (Okay, probably just the history of my life but they were pretty shit.) Aside from just generally being shit there was also a monstrous case of ‘I don’t like you, and I will let all of my staff know that I don’t like you, and passive aggressively make sure they don’t like you too’. It was like being at school again. You had your
Freshmen, ROTC Guys, Preps, JV Jocks, Asian Nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity Jocks, Unfriendly Black Hotties, Girls Who Eat Their Feelings… no sorry that’s from Mean Girls. But there was definitely a sense of ‘Plastics’ in the managerial team. And if you weren’t in the clique then it wasn’t going to be great…
I understand that not everyone likes everyone, that’s just life. But in the work place you just get on with it, it’s work, you say ‘Hi’, you get on with it and you go home. Which is what I tried for the most part. But when your actual life starts taking a toll on everything then that affects your ‘work life’. I worked there for 5 years, so obviously I would have life issues every now and again. But it was always made abundantly clear to me that having personal issues or being ill was a major inconvenience to them, which only perpetuates the personal issues because you have the added stress and guilt of not being able to go to work.
Enter major anxiety on top of an already anxious and depressed mind. But in this environment, where nobody gave a shit, they’re not going to suddenly change. I had two severe anxiety episodes whilst working there and all I ever got was being made to feel like a liar and a drama queen… I eventually
got told to hand my notice in because my time there had run its coursehanded my notice in and left with severe depression and heightened anxiety. I thought after finally breaking free of being under appreciated for 5 years, I would be heading into a fabulous new chapter of my life…
- A call centre (in hell) – This one broke me. I thought the play centre was bad, this one threw me into the depths of somewhere I’ve only visited once before. On the application form it asked about illnesses, such as; asthma, diabetes etc… and also listed were mental illnesses such as, anxiety. I wrote on the form that yes, I have suffered from anxiety and I was receiving help etc etc… So they were fully aware from the beginning that I had anxiety issues. I later found out that my new boss assumed that because I was receiving treatment then clearly I was all better now and shouldn’t have anymore issues with my anxiety…(because that’s how mental illness works right…?) I stupidly assumed that because I had disclosed it then it would make it easier for me to speak to my employer about any issues going forward.
If anything, it made it worse. Because she then turned it back on me, saying that how I worded it in my application sounded as though I was ‘over it’ and had she known I was still likely to suffer from anxiety issues she wouldn’t have employed me… fairly sure that’s illegal… She also told me she used to work in occupational therapy and I showed no signs of suffering from anxiety because I was able to do my job…(What?! A person with a mental illness able to perform in public like a normal person?! Unheard of! They should all be in a crazy house, surely…)*be sure to use your over the top Victorian voice when reading that sentence*
I managed to stick this one out for a month.
- As I had left that last place pretty sharpish and without a job to go to (something I have NEVER done before and would not ever recommend to anyone. Luckily I had the support of my family at the time but please don’t ever do this unless you have something else lined up) I just went for the first thing I could find… a cleaning job. You don’t need qualifications, you just need to show up and work hard. And I did. The first two cleaning companies I worked for were okay, my employers there weren’t heartless ‘mean girls’, they could have been a little more sympathetic and helpful but maybe that’s me being stubborn… The less said about third cleaning company I worked for the better. What a giant bitch.
I think sometimes the problems I’ve had are because work has never been my life, and I’ve always had, a jam-packed schedule outside of work, because I never wanted my life to be about ‘work’. And I shouldn’t feel guilty about that. But getting to that realisation caused me years of guilt and frustration which only added to the anxiety and depression.
I am a hard worker, I am reliable, consistent and I genuinely have worked my arse off for my places of employment but my life and my mental well being comes first before anything else. Unfortunately, some people think that when you work for them, they own you.
Aside from the problems I have encountered during employment, I have also found mental illness to be a problem before I’ve even applied for a job. Application forms can be a nightmare, the long extensive questions, the information that you need to re-write that you’ve already painstakingly added to your CV! They’re a pain in the arse. But then when you get to medical questions and they start to ask if you’ve ever suffered with mental illness, it can be a daunting prospect to tick that box. I suffer with migraines too and even admitting that has been problematic because then you wonder if they will either; not employ you because you may need more time off sick, or employ you without fully understanding your ailment. Which is potentially the problem when it comes to mental illness. It’s not fully understood by many, still.
I have had projects in the past which I have missed out on applying for due to certain questions on the application forms. One that sticks in my mind is Camp America. Their application form asked about any mental health disorders and I stupidly assumed this would mean if I said I suffer with depression they’d instantly dismiss me. There were many other factors that contributed to me not sending that application form, some of which you can read more about here.
But it’s these little black and white questions on bits of paper that seem insignificant to some but for others they bring the world crashing down around you.
In general, potential employers cannot ask you about your history of mental illness. There are specific reasons as to why they may ask you though. This link can answer a few questions and give you some further information.
Having some form of mental illness should never be a reason to not apply for a job and although there are still people out there who can’t understand that mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t continue with your regular life, for all of those ignorant people there will be many compassionate, understanding and considerate human beings who will help you when and if you need it.
My experiences in the workplace shouldn’t put you off disclosing your mental illness issues, when necessary, but I wanted to share how some things have been dealt with (or not) for me. I think I’ve just been unlucky in my employments. In fact the last person I worked for was the final straw for me, she was so abhorrent that I left that job and set up on my own.
It was the best decision I have ever made! It made me realise that I am just not the type of person who can work for someone else, whether that has always been the case, or something that has developed over time due to my bad luck with bosses, I’ll never know! Clearly the Universe has been sending me messages for a while but it took me a while to reply!
I’m not sure this has been helpful in any way for you but all I really want people to understand is that your mental illness does not define you. It shouldn’t hinder you from living a decent life or from getting the job you want. If you’re receiving the correct treatment for your illness then that’s the best place to start.
The only reasons you’d have to disclose your illness to a potential employer is if certain measures need to be taken to accommodate you at interview or at your workspace, otherwise you just carry on as you are.
If you’re struggling at work due to your poor mental health then you shouldn’t be afraid to speak to your employer, you can find more information about your rights, etc on the Acas website.
And if you’re miserable working in your job, then find something you love and do that instead ❤
Do more of what you love…
‘Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand’ – Mother Teresa