Not long ago with true ‘leading by example’ courage, in the House of Commons, 4 MPs stood up to talk about the problems that they had had with mental health issues. This was the lead in to a Private Member’s Bill to remove laws currently in place that place restrictions on any ‘mentally disordered persons’ being selected for jury service, taking up a company directorship or becoming an MP.
Sarah Wollaston MP spoke about the severe depression, anxiety attacks and suicidal thoughts she had long struggled with while 3 of her colleagues spoke of their experiences with postnatal depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The words they spoke struck a chord far more than any simple highlighting of prejudice and a bill to stop it would have done. The move earned the respect of the nation. One person who was heartened to hear of what the MP’s had done was an accountant, Lesley, who had a couple of years earlier, ‘come out’ and spoken openly about her own mental health issues.
Lesley’s employers sent her to a seminar that was supposed to deal with the retention of talented women in the industry. As the women discussed the various aspects of being a woman in a male dominated working environment and the challenges of childcare Lesley could only think one thing. None of the points they were making applied to her – her biggest battle was and always had been with her depression. But like a lot of people in the work place Lesley did not feel she could share her experience. How would people react? What would they think of her? Would they think she was unreliable, unpredictable, even unemployable? She finally plucked up the courage and sent an email to the people who had been at the seminar with her as well as several of her colleagues. She shared with them the fact that it had been 20 years since she was diagnosed with clinical/reactive depression and she told of how her condition had often disrupted her life both in and out of work and how she coped with that. She held her breath and waited to see how the people she had contacted would react. She need not have worried; the messages she got were full of support and encouragement. Lesley realised that the only way to beat the stigma and the taboo that surrounds mental health when it applies to the workplace is to confront it head on and be open about the way that a mental health issue has impacted on and affected her. She was right.
There will be many people in the position that Lesley was in. There will also be many companies that will have a similar forward looking approach to employees with mental health issues like Lesley’s’ company who ended up giving her a place on their workers’ disability committee. Unfortunately there will also be employers and organisations who have a different narrower and more backward view of employing people with mental health issues. It may be worth doing your homework if you have any mental health issue, before you apply for your next job.