This is one of the most important things to discuss when talking about mental health issues, in my opinion. Some people may disagree.
I have been working in my current job for over 3 and a half years. In my time here, I have suffered with my mental health more than I have in any other source of employment or at school. Sometimes, it has been good, other times it hasn’t. It’s that type of thing that swings in roundabouts.
First of all, I wanted to start with the stigma within the working environment that really diverts people suffering with mental health issues from working.
Let me begin with my story.
Getting a full time job was something that I had to do. My partner and I had just moved into our first home together, we were 19 and 20, and two part time jobs were not enough for us to live. We both decided that we had to work full time to be able to live comfortably. This was really out of my comfort zone but I decided to push myself.
We started to work in the same place because it is the only ‘well paid’ job in our town that we could both be accepted for. The first day was really terrifying for me but I had my girlfriend by my side so it was a lot easier. We weren’t going to be in the same department, for obvious reasons, but we had a long training period together and it really helped me with my confidence around the other trainees.
When we moved into our separate departments, we had to work different shifts and we rarely got lunch together. Sometimes I had to work until 8pm when she finished at 5pm and we worked opposite weekends. That was hard for me to cope with because she is the one that keeps me stable. Finally, she managed to move departments because she really hated her previous role. This meant that we could have lunch together and she was always on the same shift and off the same weekends as me therefore we could actually plan things and spend time together.
During my breakdown two years ago, my emotions took the better of me which made it really difficult to face the standard troubles that you face in a call centre. The stigma is real in places like that. Workplaces are meant to be about equality and understanding due to the laws in place to protect people like me but I haven’t always found it to be true. They do all of the paperwork and hold meetings to distinguish your issues and to help you with your working life but you can tell that deep down they do not understand you in the slightest. Not so long ago, I was outside for a break with my supervisor and she said to me ‘you’re actually okay, I used to get annoyed every time you cried and I would say to myself “for fuck sake, she is crying again”’. That put me down so much, I thought that people were caring and compassionate but it proves that the stigma is still there, you’re branded as irritating just because your mental health is hard to keep contained sometimes.
Anyway, I had to have W.R.A.P meetings at work with their support staff and my manager to ‘implement procedures’ and make sure that I didn’t do anything that would harm me or others. In this meeting, I specifically said that the one person who makes me see rationality and gives me the strength to hold myself together is my partner. They noted this and they promised me that I would be able to speak with her when I was having troubles.
~ I know that not everyone gets that opportunity because they don’t work with their partner, I get that. I was lucky to have her there and if she wasn’t there, I would have asked if someone could call her so that I could speak to her ~
On a few occasions, my girlfriends manager would get frustrated and would not let her see me (despite the fact that she knew very well what I am like). This caused a lot of stress for me because it took me a lot longer to calm myself down than necessary because I couldn’t have my normal structural support that I needed.
After constant meetings, ‘support’ and tears I realised that they really didn’t care about my wellbeing, they just wanted me to get on with it so that I could do my job without messing them around. They weren’t bothered if I was losing my shit, they just wanted figures on the board and money made. It was stressful. Constantly explaining myself, my colleagues getting frustrated that I kept crying and managers annoyed that I couldn’t cope with the stress. I was constantly thought of as a baby who couldn’t keep herself contained.
This is the stigma that people face in today’s society whilst in a working environment. The government persist with ‘equality’ but to me that’s bullshit. As long as the companies fill in the relevant documentation and are seen to be following the rules with equality, it is fine. No one cares about what happens behind the scenes. It is all covered.
I get why some people can’t work when they have mental health issues, it is a test of your strength having to keep it together all of the time. If you go into work with a broken leg, you will get all of the attention and people asking ‘oh my god, are you okay?’ and ‘what happened to you?’ but when you have mental health issues and you crack people are saying ‘why are they crying?’ or ‘they are so annoying’. Inequality at its finest. People are just too lazy to educate themselves.
– To be continued –