As a person who suffers from mental illness, I can assure you that the stigma is present in the workplace. I knew I was different from everyone else, but I never really thought of myself as a person with disability. It all changed when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder in 2013.
In school and in work, I understood why it was difficult getting certain tasks done. It had nothing to do with my intelligence, but it was the symptoms and conditions associated with my illness.
Mental illness is difficult to identify since not everyone would like to disclose their condition. Some people have yet to be diagnosed because they don’t know if they are suffering, and/or they are too afraid to seek help.
These are the likely scenarios that people with mental health conditions will face in the workplace:
Ridiculed for being different
When I was working in sales, it was a stressful environment. This caused me to behave in a way others might think is abnormal. When I am under pressure, or if I don’t understand something I think out loud because my anxiety automatically makes me respond that way. Unfortunately, it I still face eerie and dirty looks because of the way I act, but very few people know that I suffer from a mental illness. My co-workers would talk behind my back by saying “I would blow up the office”. Even though I have never acted violently at work, the perception still exists that people with mental health conditions are automatically psychopaths.
As a professional, it is wise to keep your judgments to yourself, and if you really care about your co-worker, reach out to them sympathetically
Unable to performs simple tasks
Work can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, for mental health sufferers any simple task can be a trigger to their symptoms, and it would cause them to have a psychotic episode. One of my very close friends had an issue with her manager, because the manager felt like she was under-performing. Instead of taking her mental health into consideration, the manager was about to fire her.
When dealing with under-performing employees, managers should evaluate if the person is undergoing stress due to illness. If need be, the manager and the employee need to discuss accommodation methods face-to-face. If the employee is not comfortable speaking to the manager, then it is better to contact someone in human resources.
Misunderstanding of the phrase “Mental Health Day”
Because of the stigmatization of mental health, employers often frown upon the idea of taking a “mental health day”. They see it as an excuse for someone to miss work, and think that the employee in question is lazy. Mental illness is at the end of the day an ILLNESS! For example, in my case where I have an Anxiety disorder, I have symptoms of vomiting, headaches, increased hear rate, panic attacks and difficulty breathing. Normally these are physiological illnesses on their own, but can have a direct correlation to one’s mental health as well. When an employee is absent from work do to mental health, they often need to see a doctor/counselor/psychiatrist regularly, or they experience physiological symptoms associated with their condition. It is unfair for an employer to criticize their workers for taking time off to recover from their symptoms. If the employee has a documented medical condition , and is providing evidence that they are indeed attending a psychiatrist/counselor/doctor, then they are not taking a “Mental Health Day”. They are coping with their respective conditions.
I know we as individuals have a lot of work to do to finally end the stigma on mental health. I also know organizations are developing strategies to accommodate those who are suffering. Yet, negative perceptions of mental health still exist in society. As long as people have an open dialogue and educate themselves on the subject, the stigmatization will gradually decrease.