Mental Health: Speaking Openly

I’m in the process of applying for jobs (yippee!) and lately I’ve been finding some helpful sounding people asking me if I want to be so open about certain aspects of myself where a future employer could see it. Particularly whether I want to talk about my mental health status on a blog which is easily found through both my facebook and my twitter accounts. And as much as I hate to admit it, they may be right: being open about my depression, anxiety, self-harm, and eating disorder could harm my job prospects. There is stigma against these conditions. They can make doing a job well difficult. However I also know that they have never made me incapable of completing the work I need to do, and that I am qualified for the jobs I’m applying for.

So why do I continue to write openly about my mental health when I know that it could harm my chances of getting the jobs I really want? Well first and foremost, this is my small way of fighting against the stigmas against mental illness. I would really like to be a mental health advocate in the future. I would like to do things with my life that help others understand their mental health and that make it easier for everyone in our country to have easy access to good mental healthcare. Right now I can’t do those things. I’m not qualified, I’m trying to take care of my own mental health, and I just don’t know if I’d even enjoy them. And so I’m doing the one thing I AM capable of, the one thing I DO enjoy, and the one thing that I LIKE doing: writing.

The best way to decrease stigma against mental illness is to illustrate its normality. Most people view me as a fairly regular person. Some people even think I’m intelligent or successful for someone my age. I’m not violent, I’m not out of control, I’m not angry. I’ve got some problems but I’m basically a regular joe. And by telling my friends and family and acquaintances that I struggle with mental illness, I see therapists on a regular basis, and that’s ok, I can let them know that it’s NORMAL and ACCEPTABLE to have a mental illness, and that going to a therapist is no different from going to a doctor: you’re keeping tabs on your health and making sure you’re taking care of yourself. For me at this moment, that is the best form of  activism I can do.

Beyond that, I feel that because I like to write (and am good at it???) I can give people a window into what mental illness is like. I want to provide a voice for myself and others, because we’re often spoken over: rarely do you hear those WITH mental illness speaking about mental health and mental health treatment. We need to be part of the conversation. I hope that by speaking up I can illustrate to others that they can as well.

But perhaps more than anything, I don’t have fear about speaking up about my mental health because I don’t want to work somewhere that would discriminate against me based on my mental health status. Eventually I hope to work somewhere where I can be completely open about my mental illness. As it is, it’s difficult for me to work in my appointments and groups without going to some of them during the day. It would greatly decrease my stress if I could simply tell my bosses openly where I was going, if I had some understanding from my colleagues and supervisors that sometimes I will need to take my PTO for a mental health day, or that sometimes I might ask for minimal human contact during the day. If I want to take care of my mental health in the long run, it would be SO much easier to ask for what I need if I could be OPEN about why I need it. And if I feel that people have a stigma against mental illness or wouldn’t want me around if they knew, I will not be happy and I will not be mentally healthy. I don’t want to work in an environment like that. And I will not be the one losing out. The company will.

I want the freedom to say NO to places that will discriminate against me, and so I am open. If individuals with mental illness are forced to keep their conditions in the closet so that they can get employment and schooling and so on, we will not move forward. I would prefer to limit my choices in work to those places that want me. And so I’m not afraid of openly admitting that I struggle. This may lead to some unpleasant emails and phone calls denying me jobs in the near future. But I’ll find something. And I will be happier there than I would have been in a situation that denied me because of mental illness.

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