Six Honest Truths of Mental Health in the Workplace

Not being able to come into the office to do your job because of some thoughts and emotions that you're finding difficult to deal with is alien to a lot of people, and often not taken seriously as a debilitating illness.

Going to work can be a bit of a drag for everybody sometimes. The Sunday night blues hit most of us that work in a high pressure job, and if you're not familiar with this all consuming dread I speak of then you're incredibly lucky and I beg you to take me under your wing as your trusty apprentice. But for some, me included, our depression exists well outside the comfort of a Sunday night in front of the television, and looms over us like a black hole, all day, everyday. And the workplace is no exception.

Cooped up in an office, studio or factory is inevitably going to spread germs, and sickness is pretty much expected. Summer brings hay fever, winter brings the flu, and in between there can be a wide range of viruses and infections, caught off loved ones or small ones and kindly shared to the wider team to enjoy. In all honesty, if I saw a pair of eyes glare at me that show obvious signs of conjunctivitis or snot streaming from ones nose uncontrollably, I'd be annoyed they were in my vicinity and would wish them well if they recovered at home. Time off to cure contagious and noncontagious physical illnesses is necessary.

But what about mental health illnesses?

It's an unknown territory for most at the best of times, but bringing it into the workplace can potentially open a can of worms. Or, if your employers have empathy, it won't be so bad. Regardless of this, mental health disorders are still taboo, and at work, sufferers can experience a myriad of emotions that don't quite feel accepted as normal behaviour.

You feel like you can't phone in sick about it


Using the reason that you're not feeling up to it can be perceived as lazy, unwilling and outright incompetent. A lot of mental health disorders have an element of self-infliction in the eyes of the outside world; alcoholics - stop drinking. Drug addicts - don't use. Depressed people - snap out of it. Anorexics - just eat. Not being able to come into the office to do your job because of some thoughts and emotions that you're finding difficult to deal with is alien to a lot of people, and often not taken seriously as a debilitating illness. Even if we haven't approached our employer about the situation, the doubts have already been planted by society and we're led to believe this reason isn't valid enough to not show up for work.

But it is. I've been there. Looking solemnly around the room as I watch everybody else natter away in their seemingly content lives, I frequently have to blink away tears as the constant gloomy din that rattles my mind gets louder and louder. Staring at the computer screen trying with all my might to have a work related thought, but nothing comes as the voices in my head have started hounding me with negativity. In dark times like this I am an apathetic shell, wondering what's the point in anything?

Although it's obvious that the person feeling this way is the victim, it's also important for employers to realise that them being at work isn't conducive for business either.

You feel expected to maintain performance

source Shutterstock

On the outside, everything seems to be ticking over. Two eyes? Check. Sufficient amount of limbs to achieve tasks? Check. Then why is performance down?! You have everything you need to perform well; the right tools, the right information, the right resources, the right skillset. What's not accounted for sometimes is a healthy balanced mind. Because 'the mind' is an abstract, complex uncertainty, using it as a reason against tangible things could put us is frosty waters with managers. They're unable to prove anything but might remain skeptical of your reasoning, causing a frictional atmosphere when really all you want to do is cry and plead insanity.

Colleagues might think you're milking it

source College Magazine

If word gets out about your mental health disorder, I'd really really like to think that you work with adults who won't callously call you out on it. Yet it might be in the back of our warped and twisted minds that secretly, behind those smiles and sympathetic looks, lies a seed of dubiety about the extent of the problem. I hear the words 'we all get stressed' as a lackadaisical attempt to make one feel not alone, but it's hard not to read the possible underlying pragmatics of their comradery. Nonetheless, this feeling of being an annoyance to co workers can easily result in a subconscious decision to retreat from social situations, fearing being too close will unearth their 'true' thoughts that actually, you've conjured in your own mind.

You don't want to admit it's debilitating you


In any job, it's important to earn respect, work hard and become a valued member of the team as a means to progress and be promoted. I personally feel that showing any signs of weakness will set me back, and therein lies anxiety, stress and depression. I'm at war with myself to keep pushing harder and harder because I expect nothing less; always more. If I admit defeat, I'll be flung to the desolate corners of the used, broken and rejected. Employers want vibrant, energetic creatives that have the stress capacity of a pressure cooker, not ones that crack at the first sign of any light steam.

You don't want to be a burden

source IOE London Blog

Many people with mental health issues prefer to be left alone, so the disorder can maintain control and manifest the mind. We don't want to cause a fuss out of fear it draws attention to our weaknesses, so when people start to worry about us - oh God! "Don't worry about me I'm fine, seriously. You don't need to worry'. If I had a nickel, ay. Feeling unworthy of love, adoration and praise is a common trait amongst mental health sufferers, so when we hear that people are investing emotional energy into concerns for our wellbeing, it's unnerving. Whether we're doubtful of their intent, or just plain bemused to be in this situation, it's unpleasant to know that our misunderstood mind is causing other people discomfort. In the workplace this is basically translated to 'they could easily just get somebody else who isn't weird or nuts, so why should they put up with me?'. Although you are cared about to an extent, if the powers above get wind that you possess this 'demonic' outlook on life that they can't comprehend or have never heard of, it raises many questions as to what you're actually going to bring to the business other than problems. It means we must prove our worth consistently, to balance out our crazy-to-stable barometer.

Refraining from outbursts is a must

source Havok Journal

How many times have you wanted to burst into tears, run through the office with your arms flailing and just wail about how none of this makes sense and you don't understand why you're here? I imagine that's been the core of many a fleeting thought for most people, but on a regular basis is different. Panic attacks must be taken outside. Tears must be flushed down the toilet. Rage must be repressed within. Stress must be squeezed out during lunch breaks. Refrainment is mandatory, and dependent upon the nature of the mental health, easier to achieve than others, but it's unhealthy - just like holding in a wee. The disorder, whatever it might be, is forced to remain swimming around our brain whilst we try and crunch numbers, design a logo, write an article, make a website, send emails, create reports, make lists, manage people, attend meetings, finish projects, make notes, prepare presentations, process orders, file admin, check payments, balance books, create strategies, present strategies, phone clients, organise documents!

It's. Just. Too. Much.

My advice is to be open and honest with employers about mental health; give them the opportunity to help before you decide that they won't. It has proven successful for me, as what we do seem to forget is that there are people who are open minded, educated, or have been in exactly the same dark places that we feel are unique to us. My employers responded positively, giving me time and space without leveraging any guilt; and that was all that I needed. Given that 60-70% of people with mental health are in work, it's imperative, and now more achievable than ever, to quell the stigma that surrounds mental health in our homes, relationships and now even where we work.