Employers failing people with mental health issues
I DON’T have all of the answers. This, if said by any “normal” person, is comforting, freeing. The weight of responsibility, of questioning one’s own judgment is lifted, and a mind that is commonly accepted as being logical, as being mentally sound may find a way to embrace this if only for selfish reasons, for their own sanity.
I am a depressive. I am also a professional, a consultant. I am one who is hired to look in control, organised, polished, almost perfect at all times and to represent a point of view unflinchingly at all times. I wish that I were writing this primarily as a consultant and secondarily as a depressive, but I have come to realise that the former is as much a part of my person as the latter.
In a world where everything must appear in black and white in order to be understood or accepted, it has taken me six years to put words to it, and thus to make it real. I do this partially for the sake of catharsis, but mostly in the hope that I will reach those who have not yet accepted this disease – those who live with depressives, those who love depressives, those who employ depressives.
Some months ago I attempted to take my own life. When I failed I was encouraged by friends to voluntarily check into a hospital – they said they no longer could take care of me. I signed a form with an unknown level of alcohol and pills in my system. For all intents and purposes, my admission was voluntary. In reality I was too mortified not to follow the wishes of my seemingly put-upon friends, not to survive for the sake of my job, and far too blinded by the smoke and mirrors of depression and self-inflicted harm to realise what I was doing.
It is important to note that I love my job, and, crucially, I love my employers like a family. When I could not get a firm answer as to when they would let me leave the hospital, I checked myself out, against medical advice, left in a taxi at midnight with my clothes packed in plastic bags. All because, I told myself and later my director, I wanted to go back to work. More than the urge not to live at all, I didn’t want to live without my work.
Mine was not a work-related illness. However, when I was released and when I returned to my office, things became different. I knew it would be difficult to explain to my employer, and I knew it would be difficult for them to understand an illness with no visible symptoms.
When I returned from my two-week stint in mental health limbo, where doctors and nurses admonished me for my apparent need for control, my definition of myself through the value of my trade, I expected to be accepted back as the hard-working employee I have always been.
I do not blame my employer. Ultimately those who have not suffered from the illness do not know how to approach it in others – even those who have suffered from it may find it difficult. When I returned I found myself pitying my manager who met the story of my misery with confusion.
However, if Ireland is ever to address the alarming rate of death by suicide – 527 in 2010, many as young as I, and who knows how many attempt or consider or plan for it – everyone must remember that they do not have all of the answers. Because we can’t afford it. Every day a company loses a valuable employee and every day a family loses one they love. At a time when small, medium and large companies rely on dedicated staff for the vision and drive to pull them through challenging times, these are not losses we can risk taking on the chin.
I have not done everything right. However, I am working to the stage where I know not having all the answers does not mean that I have failed, does not mean that I am crazy, and certainly does not take away from my ability to do my job well.
The illness that follows me every day, that keeps me awake at night, that even sometimes drives me to be better at my job and seek the appreciation of my employer and those who rely on me to succeed – I have accepted that it must be managed, but it cannot be managed without the help and encouragement of those I work for.
I write in the hope that this grabs someone, anyone, and makes them think twice about what they may lose by not asking the question. Seek guidance. Seek insight. For when you ask a question – a true question – only then can you receive an answer. And answers.
Helplines for those in need of support with the issues raised in this article include the Samaritans (samaritans.ie, 1850-609090) and the 1Life Helpline, 1800-247100.
The identity of the author of this article is known to the Editor. World Suicide Prevention Day is tomorrow
- This article was originally published on September 9th inThe Irish Times . It was re-edited on November 28th following legal advice.