In a previous entry, I proposed what an ideal workplace would look like in regards to how it should treat employees with mental health issues. It would be somewhere where employers would be adequately trained in how to broach the subject of mental health with their workers. Employees would be no more hesitant to ask for help and/or understanding than if they were in some way physically incapacitated. It would be a hive of productivity and amiability, where mental health problems were given the same level of seriousness that physical injury is attributed with.
However, it would be foolish to deny that this is nothing but a pipe dream for many of you out there. And the fact that 95% of people who struggle with mental illness call in sick to work gave a different reason for their absence is all too telling. Despite many wonderful peoples best efforts, it is futile to deny that the stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace is well and truly alive.
Consequently there comes a point where it must be acknowledged that some workplaces out there are not going to change their prejudiced practices any time soon. So in light of that fact, you may very well be asking yourself that all important question:
Should I stay or should I go?
Here are just some of the reasons you may want to consider before making the big leap of faith however…
After working in a job for a certain amount of time, you should ideally be able to gauge some information on where your work colleagues and employer(s) stand on mental health issues. Have they discriminated against you, whether directly or indirectly? If so can you deduct whether this was intentional victimisation or the result of ignorance? How exactly did they do this? Has it been straight out bullying? Or have you found yourself being slowly marginalised over a period of time? In short there are a lot of questions you need to ask before you take any drastic action and even then the answer is far from clear cut.
Is your workload being slowly diminished? Have you been demoted? Do you feel as though your colleagues are exhibiting bullying behaviour towards you in any way? Take a look at Jason’s story on the Time to Change website.While it is the sole experience of one man, a lot of what he says may resonate with you. Here is an excerpt of the article that is particularly relevant to the topic at hand:
‘my workload was gradually diminished, my confidence systematically undermined, unfounded accusations made and at my annual appraisal I was told that I was no longer trusted […] questions were asked about my mental stability’
Does any of this ring true for you? Keep in mind that this is an extreme example of direct discrimination. The term can cover anything from malicious gossip circulating around about you to exclusion from work organised social events. Not every form of discrimination is as overt and intimidating as it is in Jason’s story – it can sometimes be as subtle as a change in language or voice tone used by colleagues when addressing you, but its effect is no less humiliating.
Your field of work
Many jobs require many different expectations of their employees. The unfortunate reality is that a lot of these positions are extroverted focused. We live in a world that values extroverts over introverts, and while this is undoubtedly unfair, this does not mean that there is not a job out there that can play to your strengths, or even help to push your boundaries.
For instance, by working as a teaching assistant, I have faced many challenges in regards to my job. It can be a very fast paced environment where you must be aware of what is happening around you at all times. This usually means that by the end of the day I am drained on both a mental and physical level. Yet, along with frequent bouts of meditation, it’s enabled me handle stress in a more constructive way and improve my ability to communicate in a clear and calm manner.
However, there is a difference between pushing your boundaries and trying to frog leap over them. The former holds the potential for self improvement while the latter is a major risk that could leave you in a worst place than when you started. Only you know of your capability to carry out what is being asked of you.
It should also be noted that, according to a recent study, for people looking for work or in situations involving the legal system, banking or insurance, discrimination was more common. This suggests that some workplaces are more prone to discriminatory behaviour than others. Whether that is because the nature of the work itself or the kind of people these kind of jobs attract.
Something I put emphasis on in my previous entry on this subject was the importance in distinguishing between ignorance and prejudice. While my views on this matter have not changed, there is undoubtedly a collateral fallout of dealing with any kind of discrimination, whether it is intended or otherwise.
Mind, the mental health charity, defines indirect discrimination as a person/organisation that has practices which ‘seem to treat everyone in an equal, non-discriminatory way’ yet under closer surveillance, these practices ‘put you and others with your disability at a disadvantage compared with those who do not have your disability’.
So for instance, you (along with the rest of your work colleagues) could be asked to give a public presentation to a large audience. This situation is a common fear for many anxiety sufferers – myself included. So to be asked to do something that you are disadvantaged in could come under the term ‘indirect discrimination’. Though it is also worth noting that you may be able to gain some leeway with this kind of issue under the terms of ‘reasonable adjustments’ set out by the 2010 Equality Act. Read more about that here.
Mental well being training programmes
Sometimes your work colleagues can be the some of the most kind and gracious people you know, yet their knowledge about mental illness is, lets say, limited at best. Here is where mental health training comes in. It is something that helps not only raise awareness but reduces the chances of an employees mental welfare deteriorating because of ignorance in their respective workplace. This is something that Mind offers to organisations around the country. According to its website it provides ‘a cost-effective way to promote mental wellbeing in your organisation and at home’.
Below is a useful guide from this particular article as to how employers can approach their workers in a more sensitive manner. The next time you engage with your employer and/or work colleagues, take note of the way in which they address you. You might find that their attitude towards your illness is not as understanding as it should or could be:
Don’t say: You’re all over the place at the moment, what’s up?
Do say: I’m concerned that you appear to be under some pressure. Can we talk about it?
Don’t say: You’re letting the team down.
Do say: One of your colleagues has told me in confidence that she is worried about you.
Don’t say: I hope you’re not going to end up a nutcase!
Do say: Have you mentioned this to your GP? I will send you some information about the organisation’s counselling service in case this is something that you might find helpful.
Don’t say: Pull yourself together and get on with it.
Do say: What else do you think we could do to improve things for you?
If you have/are being discriminated against because of your mental illness, then it is fully possible (or likely) that such behaviour could be aggravating your problems. While it is a risky move to up it all and leave a place of employment( especially if you suffer with an anxiety disorder) you need to ask yourself if it is worth holding onto a job that is having such a detrimental effect on your welfare. The authors of a recent study on the subject concluded that someone’s negative reaction to a fellow employee’s mental health issues threatened ‘not only their professional confidence but their sense of worthwhileness as a person as well’ -this is a statement that is as unsurprising as it is saddening.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you ever had to leave a job because of discriminatory behaviour aimed towards you? If so, how would you advise other people to deal with this issue? Or perhaps you’re on the verge of quitting a job because of the reasons highlighted. Either way, I would be interested to know when exactly do you, as an individual, draw the line when it comes to discrimination in the work environment.