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.