I suffer from depression and anxiety.
In our constantly-moving world, this is not uncommon.
However, it is rarely acceptable to discuss.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was a young working 20 year old in college. TheÂ depressive episode had hit me pretty hard and – being in a retail business where customerÂ service was of the utmost importance – it was increasingly difficult to appear â€śhappyâ€ť at my job.
Smiling was difficult, staying motivated was difficult, and interacting with customers was almostÂ impossible. I was also commonly late to work, as getting ready and motivated was anÂ increasingly unobtainable outcome.
After a few weeks of a noticeably sullen mood shift, my manager called me into her office.Â Instead of doing the right thing and asking me if I needed a vacation or a moment away fromÂ customers, she told me to â€śsmileâ€ť and just keep working.
â€śMy husband suffered from mild depression once,â€ť she informed me, â€śso I know how difficultÂ depression can be. Still, you need to smile at customers. I never see you smile anymore. If youÂ donâ€™t improve we will have to re-evaluate your performance here.â€ť
Later, this same manager threatened to fire me when my other chronic health issues caused meÂ to be hospitalized for a couple of days. If I had been aware of the laws surrounding theÂ Americans with Disability Act, thereâ€™s no doubt I would have filed a complaint. Sadly, I was tooÂ young to be aware of them, and I ended up quitting a month later to focus on my schooling.
I did eventually get pills to help with my depression, but they were only a temporary fix. To thisÂ day I donâ€™t medicate for the illness, as it is situational. It does rear its ugly head from time toÂ time, but I have decided to treat it without mentally altering medications. It is a condition I amÂ aware of and can prepare for, but I still struggle bringing it up at work.
Stigma around mental health seems to be a constant presence in my life. From peopleÂ commonly describing the weather as â€śbi-polar,â€ť to news stories focused around another massÂ shooting and the role that mental health plays in gun rights; I can never seem to escape theÂ reminder that our society finds mental illness unacceptable.
These stigmas – plus the way I was treated at my job when I was 20 – has caused me to bottleÂ up my condition in the workplace. â€śIf they donâ€™t see it and if I donâ€™t mention it; then my job will beÂ secure,â€ť I think to myself. However, bottling up my condition can lead to more anxiety andÂ distrust with my employer. I shouldnâ€™t feel like I need to hide something that can affect my life soÂ heavily.
According to the National Alliance on Mental IllnessÂ (NAMI), about one in five Americans sufferÂ from mental illnesses every year. The most common ailment to affect the brain is anxiety (aboutÂ 18.1% of Americans suffer from it), closely followed by depression and other mood disorders.Â Considering mental illness is so prominent in our society, one would assume that our level ofÂ acceptance and understanding was much higher than the reality. Sadly, it wasnâ€™t until recentlyÂ (with the addition of the Affordable Care Act) that mental illness treatment was even seen as aÂ necessity.
According to Bradley Universityâ€™s Counseling Program, mental illness can have serious physicalÂ effects on the body as well. Depression alone can increase a personâ€™s chances of contractingÂ heart disease or cancer by over 50%, and over-exposure to chronic stress is directly correlatedÂ to increased risks of heart attacks.
What does this mean for mental health in the workplace?
We, the employees and those in management, need to break the stigma and talk about ourÂ mental state comfortably with our superiors. Our superiors, in turn, should be able to understandÂ the best ways to mitigate stress and anxiety, and not discriminate against employees thatÂ struggle with mental health conditions. As Wake Forest University explains, stigma can originateÂ inside ourselves, and the first step to conquering the problem is talking openly about ourÂ condition with others.
According to theÂ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), mental health issues can qualify asÂ â€śpsychiatric disabilitiesâ€ť that may hamper â€śone or more major life activity.â€ť NAMI has alsoÂ provided a helpful handout for any employees that struggle with mental illness and want to knowÂ their rights. Legally, most mental illness sufferers fall under the protection of the ADA.
Learn your rights, and do your part to end the stigmas surrounding mental illness. HopefullyÂ over time, we can reverse discriminatory practices in the workplace and bring about a moreÂ mentally-healthy future.
Katie McBethÂ is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for smallÂ businesses and management. When sheâ€™s not writing about millennials or small businesses,Â she spends her free time training her dog Toby to herd her three annoying (but adorable) catsÂ around her house. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter:Â @ktmcbeth.