When I was nineteen, six years ago, I had to take a year out of university because I was suffering from depression. I had had bouts before and have had bouts since, but nothing has quite matched that one. This depression was an all-encompassing hopelessness, an abyss of “nothing matters”, “what is the point”, and “I don’t deserve to feel happy”. The full shebang, basically.
During my time off, I worked in a pub in the middle of nowhere. The stress of being the only bartender sometimes got to me. Every couple of weeks, I would randomly burst into tears. But this wasn’t the solitary single tear down the cheek kind of crying. This was the-world-has-ended kind of crying, the everything-is-lost kind of crying, the-my-life-has-gone-tits-up kind of crying. The type where I started crying about screwing up an order and ended up crying about crying and then crying about crying about crying. I felt pathetic.
The second time it happened, the assistant manager found me curled up in the staff room upstairs, and asked me what was going on.
“I have depression,” I said.
I can’t remember what she said in response exactly, only that she was going to tell the other managers, which she apparently did, because the next week, my boss said to me, “Why are you depressed? Do you have kids? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have bills?”
He didn’t talk to me with empathy. He didn’t talk to me with sympathy. He sure as hell didn’t talk to me about reasonable adjustments. He just told me I didn’t deserve the unhappiness I felt, kept on saying things like “it’s all in your head,” and in turn, I felt even worse.
The experience taught me to keep schtum about my mental health, or lack thereof, in the workplace.
It wasn’t until about a month ago that I had to disclose my mental health problems to my bosses again. Fortunately, I wasn’t still stuck in that pub. Unfortunately, the diagnoses had since amassed and I now had an overabundance of psychiatric and neurological acronyms.
The reason I had to disclose my mental health issues was the same: I couldn’t stop crying.
This time, though, things were different. I was booked a taxi home and told to take as much time off as I needed. I would still get paid. I would still have a job to go back to. I wouldn’t need to provide a sick note or anything. I just told them my mental health was throwing a wobbly and they didn’t pry any further.
I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.
But in some ways, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. Treating someone with a mental illness at work shouldn’t be any different from treating someone with a physical illness at work.
I was unlucky to have an unsupportive employer when I was so young, but lucky to have such a supportive employer so recently. However, my hope is that one day luck won’t play into it. One day, mental health issues will be taken as seriously as they should be, and no one will ever have to be told they don’t deserve the illness they never asked for in the first place.