As someone with a mental illness, I know how hard it is to go to work and try to function day-to-day; It is easy to become overwhelmed and to feel imprisoned.
I’ve had a few jobs, from waitressing to being a receptionist, all have ended essentially because of poor mental health.
I would always try to talk to my employer and work past the hurdles, but it was all in vain, there is still a lack of awareness in the workplace for mental health. Luckily, this seems to be changing every day.
I cannot work currently although I am trying to get treatment so I can in the future.
I am not recovered from my last job as there was trauma, however, I do believe that a person with a mental illness can work and succeed in a career; but support from the employer and fellow staff is necessary.
These are the things that I wish my employer knew:
- If I tell you about my struggles with mental health, I do not need to be checked on all the time. I understand that it comes from concern but it can feel patronising and make me feel suffocated.
- I can do my job fine, I know what I am doing, so please do not assume that I am less able or less efficient because of my struggles.
- If I ask a question or check before doing a job, it is because I do not want to mess it up or you said it in a manner that has confused me. Please do not treat me like I am unintelligent, I just like to be careful and certain of what I am doing.
- Please do not ever talk about my mental health with another without my permission. It breaches boundaries and damages my dignity. I only want certain people to know about my mental health, usually ones who I know can help, I do not, however, want the whole workplace to know.
- If I come to you for support or help, or with a request, I want to be listened to. I am not whining or complaining, I just want to be able to do my job in the good conditions.
- I want to be treated like everyone else, I am not made of glass.
- I may occasionally break down on the job. I need you to give me five to ten minutes so that I can compose myself before carrying on. I need to let the tears out and cannot control them.
- I need structure, If I don’t know my shifts or they are being changed often, it causes me to get stressed as I like security. I need the time in advance to mentally prepare myself for each shift.
- There is a good chance that at the beginning or end of my shift I may be in a ‘bad’ mood. I can find it hard to adjust to early mornings and by the end of a long shift, I can feel mentally and physically exhausted.
- Please never use “Remember to smile” on me.
- I am a perfectionist, I like to make sure I get everything perfect. I may be slow because of this but if I do not do it this way, I will end up going home and doubting myself, I may even believe I made a serious mistake.
- I want to be able to call in sick to work and be honest about having a bad mental health day. I hate lying about a stomach bug or D & V but I feel like I won’t be taken seriously if I tell the truth.
- I cannot work in really busy environments without tempting a panic attack. Please consider assigning my shifts in quieter hours or put me in quieter roles within the workplace.
- Please do not use words like “you’ll be fine” or “stop over reacting”. It makes me want to get up and leave and never come back, it comes across like you do not care.
- I need privacy to talk about my problems. I do not want to talk about this is the hallway, I need a room with a lockable door so I can feel safe in what I am about to say.
- One thing at a time please, nagging overwhelms me. If you need lots of things done, write me a list or email, please don’t just verbally throw commands at me.
- Please remember to tell me to go on break or lunch. I will not be able to ask as I do not want to sound like I am rude but I do need to rest or I may overwhelm myself.
- Understand I like peace and quiet, I don’t always like to be approached and forced into idle conversation. I do not want to be rude but sometimes being alone with my thoughts is the only way I can keep calm.
- If I look uncomfortable, I probably am but I may be too nervous to tell you about my problem. If you give me time I will come clean.
There are so many more things that I wish an employer would understand and I am sure that you, the readers, have more ideas as well, please comment them below.
If there is any advice that I can give to an employer, it is to make sure that you at least try to understand mental health.
Take a first aid course and encourage employees to talk about their mental health.
An idea is maybe on appraisals to encourage employees to talk about what they need to better their mental health, so you can improve the workplace and raise morale.
A bonus tip is emails, they are great for communicating when someone is feeling anxious.
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