Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the thoroughly bizarre attitude the vast majority of employers seem to have towards mental health disorders. This doesn’t mean that they are lacking in empathy or willingness to help afflicted employees, but I have found that a kind of panic appears to set in when the phrase “suicidally depressed” is mentioned.
It’s not that I don’t understand why; it’s the fact that, truthfully, knowing that this will be the default reaction makes it even harder to pluck up the courage to be honest. It makes it easier to say, “I’m just a bit down at the moment”, even if you were thinking of killing yourself a few hours ago. It’s not the fear that anyone will recoil in horror; it’s the knowledge that because there is still such a stigma and a taboo surrounding mental health, and because many employers are putting a lot of effort into tackling that in the workplace, as soon as you own up to the fact that you’re struggling, it becomes A Big Deal.
I’m very in tune with my mental health. I’ve been ill on and off for almost half my life. I accepted that I needed to ask for help. I’ve been in therapy for nine months. I knew when it was time to start medication and I am confident that I will know when it’s time to stop. I know that saying, “I have depression” is not the same as saying, “I have a cold”, but I don’t want to be treated differently. I just want the fact of my illness to be out there so it’s not stuck in here with me.
And then there’s this:
Why do we have this culture whereby we treat mental health issues like they’re something that needs to be kept quiet? If you call into work and say, “I can’t make it in today because I’ve broken my leg” that’s something that it’s okay for everyone to know about. But if you make the same call and say, “I can’t make it in today because I’m basically catatonic with depression”, suddenly the whole dynamic changes. This is something that needs to be hushed up. Enquiring colleagues will be told, “She’s just not feeling very well” or something similarly vague.
Why? Is it because my body and my brain have nothing to do with each other? I’m pretty sure they do.
Is it because falling down the stairs and breaking my leg would be an accident, whereas depression is what? It’s not exactly something anyone gets bogged down in on purpose.
It just is.
Like a broken leg.
Admittedly, the healing will probably take longer than a fracture. But the fact that I have depression does not fundamentally change who I am, because it’s not something I am; it’s something I have. I’m not ashamed of it and I’m not afraid of people finding out about it.
Why would I be?
I am not broken, although I may sometimes feel that I am. I am not fragile, but perhaps I am a little less robust than usual. And I am not a grenade; I do not need to be handled with care. I don’t require my responsibilities to be stripped away, leaving me feeling useless and incapable. I don’t need praise for getting out of bed in the morning and going on with my life.
I am still me. I have not changed.
We need to stop this. We need to stop separating mental health and physical health from one another. We need to stop making depression, anxiety and the plethora of other mental health disorders feel like dirty little secrets. They are not; they are just illnesses like any other. They are complex and nuanced and vary wildly from person to person, but they are not a source of shame. Or, at least, they wouldn’t be if we threw open the doors and allowed them to become as readily acceptable – both in the workplace and the wider world – as a broken leg.
So where do we start? Well, I’m going to start with talking about the anti-depressants I take daily as though they were antibiotics. Yes, I need them for my brain rather than my body, but aside from that they are no different. I am going to approach this illness as I would any other; with the attitude that I am not well at the moment, but I am going to get better. And, most importantly, I am not going to make this into A Thing by keeping it a jealously guarded secret.
My name is Davina and I have depression.
It’s really not all that hard, is it?