Depression in the workplace: do I tell?
Following Conor Cusack’s incredibly powerful blog on depression, Muiris Houston looks at managing depression in work
The power of the blog published online last week by Cork hurler, Conor Cusack, “Depression is a friend, not an enemy”, is almost impossible to describe.
It has rightly gone viral on Twitter and on the web and attracted wide comment.
This is how he starts his narrative:
“I still remember the moment well. It was a wet, cold, grey Friday morning. I rose out of bed having had no sleep the night before. Panic attacks are horrific experiences by day, by night they are even worse.
“As I drove to work on my trusted Honda 50, a group of my friends passed in their car heading to college.
They all smiled and waved and looked so happy. I smiled and waved and acted happy.”
But the acting couldn’t last: “At about 11am that morning, I finally cracked. I couldn’t do it anymore, all my strength at keeping up my pretence had gone. I curled up in the corner of the building and began to cry. One of the lads working with me came over and he didn’t know what to do. I asked him to take me home.”
Depression at work
We spend a lot of our lives at work. So it’s not surprising that the workplace can sometimes be the place where the pain of depression breaks through.
Equally, getting back to work is both a useful signpost of recovery and a boost to self-esteem that quite often takes a battering during a depressive episode.
One of the challenges faced by workers with depression is: “Do I have to tell my employer about my illness?”
Research carried out at St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin in 2006 found that almost half of those surveyed gave a fictitious reason for their absence on a sick certificate.
This reluctance may be justified. While 73 per cent of those who gave the real diagnosis found their employers to be supportive, it does mean that for one in four people with depression, workplace support may not be forthcoming.
The Australian depression and anxiety advocacy group Breaking Blue (beyondblue.org.au) has some useful advice to help you make up your mind whether to disclose your illness to an employer.
It suggests the following reasons to tell:
If it’s affecting your standard of work, or placing you at health and safety risk.
It allows you and your employer to identify any reasonable adjustments to assist you in doing your job, such as time off to see your doctor or mental health practitioner.
It provides you with access to support/mentoring resources.
And it puts forward the following reasons not to tell:
Depression or anxiety may not affect how you do your job, therefore it may not be relevant for your employer to know. You have a right to privacy.
You fear negative attitudes and stereotypes may lead to discrimination such as harassment, dismissal, denial of job opportunities or promotions.
The following is Cusack’s observation on depression and work:
“I went back to serve my time as an electrician. I went to college by night and rediscovered my joy of learning.
“I work for a great company and have a good life now. I finished therapy in 2004. I have not had a panic attack in that time and have not missed a day’s work because of depression since then.”
“I came to realise that depression was not my enemy but my friend. I don’t say this lightly . . . I believe depression is a message from a part of your being to tell you something in your life isn’t right and you need to look at it.”
Cusack has enriched all of us with his heartfelt blog. If you haven’t already done so, I strongly recommend you read it.
It’s at: iti.ms/17HTBPa