I have always, no matter the job, been good at what I do, exercised with professionalism, efficiency, and attention to detail. I am committed, dedicated, passionate, and willing to give anything a go. I have a desire for success, and strive for it. But despite this work ethic, this is not what has shaped my career, neither has my academic record, or my ability to complete complex projects. What has shaped my career for many years has been my severe depression!
In this day and age when organisations, such as BeyondBlue, are promoting the need for awareness of depression, are working tirelessly to break down the stigma attached to depression, to provide education to workplaces in how to manage employees with depression, and promote R U OK?, as an important mechanism of getting the conversation started to make sure those around us, including managers and work colleagues, are ok and don’t require help and support in coping with their mental illness. Despite this work and considerable awareness, workplaces remain toxic environments for employees who suffer depression.
It is these environments that are contributing to depression, bullying, discrimination, and effectively driving employees onto sick leave, and forced resignation. I hear people ask did you go to HR to discuss how the workplace is anti-mental illness, how depression isn’t seen as an illness but an annoyance getting in the way of performance, relationships, and creating an awkwardness that instead of learning its easier to torment stuff that are suffering depression.
I don’t define my experiences of working in these toxic work environments to one employer, I can unfortunately say my experience with a few different workplaces, and sectors. I can honestly say that this discrimination, bullying, and aims to drive depressed out of the workforce and further into depression is ripe in most workplaces, it’s beyond a specific culture that shapes organisations, it is certainly a issue within society itself.
My experiences of working with depression include continuous lectures about using sick leaving or annual leave because I have been so depressed that to live is so much effort that I can’t work, being asked if after time off “did I try to top myself”, criticism when my doctor wrote to my manager asking that I be allowed to work from home once a week to reduce how much travelling I was doing each week, which was adding to my exhaustion and depression, lectures because I was subdued, or moody despite them knowing of my illness, being ignored, left out of meetings, conversations and events because I wasn’t someone they wanted to be around, accused of not performing despite evidence to the contrary, and ultimately being driven out by work colleagues or should I say ‘enemies’ because that treatment is easier than showing support, to be negative is easier than helping, to be nasty is easier than asking R U Ok?, to deny is easier than knowing someone is sick and not ok!
It is all this and more, that has left me with severe anxiety, fear, and isolation in the workplace. It has left me too scared to tell my work colleagues that I have a severe illness that is officially classified as a disability for me. My mask not only hides my past scares, and pain but is now my protective shield stopping me from getting to know people, preventing me from providing personal details that might start a discussion about who I am, and probably restricting my ability to do my job. Once again, depression shaping my career!
Yes there are policies, workplace programs, and legislation that prevents this behaviour from occurring against employees who have severe depression or any other illness or disability, but like anyone who suffers in silence why you would stand up to people who have gone out of their way to destroy your reputation.
Once you have experienced a toxic workplace, like many with depression have, you don’t go back to trusting, you don’t go back to being confident, you don’t go back to a time when you were healthy, when you could be yourself or go back to being social and letting people back into your work life. Instead you continue to build your mask, you build the walls to shelter you, you work on isolation so nobody knows you, and you hide behind your computer in the hope that your there but forgotten, so your just a number and not ‘that person with that illness!’