Whenever filling out job applications, you are asked "Do you consider yourself to have a disability?". I've always said no. It turns out I did not of realised what a disability is. Perhaps it is a stigma or just the more obvious public image but when I say disability, my mind immediately goes to the logo on the disabled parking bays or people with special educational needs. I have never considered that my health condition does in fact disable my ability to lead a normal life.
For those of you that haven't met me before, I am Matt. I am 26 and I live in my own flat with my cat Punch. Aside from laziness, I am physically active and fit enough to swim ashore in a emergency. Without making you read my blog or articles here on The Huffington Post, I'll quickly explain that I am on long-term sick leave due to discrimination and my mental health; to the extent where I tried to end my own life in June 2015 after an incident in the workplace.
Whenever I write for The Huffington Post, I always try to plan what message I want to communicate with you. This time, I think there is three. Firstly, the ongoing campaign that mental health is normal and something we all have different levels of at different times. Point two is that mental health along with some other health issues can be disabilities as covered by the Equality Act 2010. Finally, three, that discovering that I do have a disability dramatically changed how I feel about myself and my place in our world.
I had never considered what does or does not qualify as disability. Despite rationale, I felt that my mental health was my fault. Being diagnosed with a Borderline Personality Disorder immediately made me feel that it was my soul, my mind or my programming at fault; something I've covered at length in my blog. Hearing a solicitor say that I have a disability and I am covered by the Equality Act changed my view. Suddenly it felt OK to be what I am, rather than feeling damaged or a burden. To be covered by the Equality Act 2010 and considered to have a disability you must be able to demonstrate that your condition affects you so that you cannot live what we all would call a normal life rather than the law having an extensive yes or no list. For example, if you are an professional singer and cannot sing to your previous a high standard due to a health issue but can still sing and talk as well as most people, that would not be considered a disability. Whereas, having suicidal thoughts, self-harming or even depression would be; because it stops you from living a normal life. I've never worked in HR or health and employment law so I've never had the ground to read anything about the Equality Act 2010 but I am so glad that solicitor pointed me in that direction.
The UK Government website has a really useful guidance sheet which I have linked here.
When you take this as the measure for disability suddenly the option open up. Disabilities include those with breathing problems stopping them from walking too far and anxiety issues like panic attacks. My eyes suddenly opened to what having a disability meant and the diversity in it. Even conditions which don't continuously affect you, like my mental health, is covered. The law even goes onto explain what is long-term and what is significant. To be considered long-term, the symptoms must present themselves, at least on and off, more than a few times in a 12 months period or be expected likely to last for the rest of your life. A significant disability affects you and your ability to work or do daily tasks. If you have followed my story though my blog, I tick alot of boxes!
So why does this matter? Why did it make a difference to be told this by solicitor?
I am no expert and I am always learning about mental health as I try to speak so openly and honestly about my experiences.I've never worked in HR or management so I've never had training on the Equality Act and whilst it seems obvious that conditions like mine are disabilities - I had never made the connection.
If you meet someone with a birth defect, you would not blame them for their condition. Yet with mental health, some people including myself do blame themselves for their condition. The stigma in our culture is not just in the things we say. Perhaps it is my illness, but I'm always worried that my actions or emotions are over the top or an underreaction. Perhaps, this is what is meant by "its all in your head" because sometimes the battle is literally in my head with my psyche. To be told that I have a disability and I'm covered by the act takes a weight off of me. Society accepts me. I'm sure you did before, very few have been nasty, but it feels like the world has said "It's OK, we understand".
From a legal perspective, being covered by the Equality Act 2010 means you have special coverage to prevent discrimination and force employers to make reasonable adjustments to help you and maximise your potential. If you have questions of that sort I would suggest you read the guidance on HM Government's website and contact your local Law Centre or Citizen's Advice Bureau.
This feels like a milestone. It feels OK. It doesn't mean I can give up (I still have bills to pay and I'm broke!), but perhaps I can be gentler on myself and that can only help my health. After all, your health is what is most important... Especially with my appearance in pantomime next month!
Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans free on 116 123. Alternatively, further information plus legal support lines are available from MIND, the mental health charity, at www.mind.org.uk
Matt Streuli is a blogger, actor and YouTuber who is passionate about mental health and his local community. He has made a career in customer service, entertainment and customer care. He is the Chairman and dame of the Iver Heath Drama Club in South Bucks.
In his spare time, he hosts The Matt Streuli Show on Southwaves Radio (Thursday 8pm) and lives near Pinewood Studios on the edge of London. His website is www.MattStreuli.uk