Identity, disclosure and mental illness

Tweetster @Joe0Tuesday writes about telling people about your mental illness

“Hi, my name is Joe and I have schizophrenia!”

Is that how you’d expect to start a conversation with someone you don’t know? Would it shock you? Whether you are from within the mental health community or not it is quite a lot to comprehend on first meeting. It’s like telling someone you’re an alcoholic or recovering drug addict on first meeting. Though fighting stigma is an excellent, just cause, is making mental illness the defining part of our identity really doing ourselves justice. As I disclosed at the beginning of the article, I have schizophrenia. I like to think I’m a pretty good person with lots of strengths. I have held jobs at four large corporate companies and hold a bachelors and masters in science from a good university, but I am by no means exceptional. When you work with a mental illness the ownness is on the applicant to disclose their condition and this can mean all kinds of dealings with HR and occupational health. If not disclosing, the employer can sack you. With a disability, under equal opportunities I may be entitled to an interview and can also ask for reasonable adjustments (for example flexibility with working hours) to help with my condition. Communication with HR can be stressful. I remember one colleague I had said to me jokingly, that HR as well as standing for Human Resources stands for Human Remains, as that is all that is left of you by the time they’ve finished with you. It can feel a bit like that with so much scrutiny on your mental illness. Along with disclosure to your line manager comes disclosure to other colleagues, and this is where I would be very careful. I have disclosed to other colleagues in all my major roles and certainly at one of my more recent companies, despite long loyal service, a wide variety of challenging job responsibilities over the years I was not given a promotion. I feel this was due to disclosure of my mental illness to colleagues who subsequently blamed me for mistakes they made themselves and threw me under the bus when a discussion was being had. Of-course this type of workplace bullying happens all the time, but I felt it all more acutely because of my association with mental illness. Going back to the start where I discussed social media, can you see how discussion of mental illness in your personal life, upfront on social media can creep into your professional life? Also, how although it is an important facet of my personality to understand, it should not be at the forefront of what I disclose to people? Imagine if I put at the top of my CV, my name and brackets followed by “comes with schizophrenia.” That would not be a good look, and I would probably never land a job again, despite the discrimination laws being in place in the UK! It also helps to think of the reputation of some of these companies. I have worked for service companies in the past and some of their clients are notoriously difficult to work with. If word gets out to the client I have mental illness, I could be for the chop! Discrimination is not treated the same internationally and after all it is their product. Why would they want a schizophrenic working on it? It’s a liability, right? So, my company would have to do the added job of selling it to them that I could perform, and in my experience they are completely unprepared, ill-equipped and even unwilling to do so. So, you see, disclosure in a work setting is not always simple, can play a role in your downfall and is really important to get right. I am a social media user and I see people who complain and say they struggle attaining employment and managing their jobs because of their mental illness. I’m not going to judge how it affects them, we are a broad church, some of us more afflicted than others. I just feel that fighting stigma as a one-man army and trying to hold down a career in what is very often a very scrutinised workplace is too much for most people and it is this mess with disclosure that is a big part of the problem. This too can go for the dating world in our personal lives. I think it is the elephant in the room for a lot of people.

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