Be careful who you talk to - mental health and work
By Maureen Powell

Several years ago I worked for a software company.  It was a small, privately owned company with a family atmosphere.  The pay and benefits were good and there was a feeling around the office that the owners really cared about the employees, many of whom had worked there for several years.  But I didn’t know their attitude towards mental health and work.

Mental Health and work

I have Major Depressive Disorder and after working there for a few years my mood became increasingly lower.  I didn’t want to be at work, then I didn’t want to be anywhere, then I just didn’t want to be, period.  When confiding in my manager about my illness she seemed really supportive – at first.  The human resources manager also appeared to be supportive.  Until I needed to take some time off.

I had a note from my psychiatrist saying that I needed two weeks off.  I had already used up my sick days and most of my holidays, so most of the two weeks was unpaid.

“Taking too much time off”

Shortly after I returned to work I was called into a meeting with my manager and the HR manager.  They told me I was “taking too much time off”.  They implied that if I continued to take time off I would lose my job.  I felt betrayed and hurt.  And angry.  But I needed the job, so I went to work.  I had to force myself to get ready for work, to do the commute, to go through the motions.

Some time after that I was in a car accident and was injured.  Nothing broken, but a lot of bruising and soreness.  I took pictures of the deep purple bruises, so deep that they were almost black, and emailed them to my manager and to HR so they could see that I had a “legitimate” reason for taking time off.

Physical illness is treated so differently

The pictures were pretty grisly; that was the other reason I sent them, I was pissed off.  They couldn’t see my pain when I was having a depressive episode, but they were damn well going to see my physical suffering.  Not a word was said about me taking too much time off.

Think carefully before disclosing a mental illness to an employer.  You are under no obligation to tell them and it really is none of their business.


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