People with mental illness are not unemployable

Employers need to give those who suffer from mental illnesses a chance. I get angry because as someone who struggles with mental illness, I find that in the workplace, in job interviews, I am seen as someone who is not up to the job because I am and have been ill. People at work know. They’ve seen my articles. They’ve read my blog. They know I’ve been in hospital.

But just because I struggle, don’t I deserve a chance to get ahead? Crippling anxiety can ruin job interviews for me because of extreme nerves and intrusive thoughts. The fact that I get interviews means they see something in me. I admit, I am so much better at writing than talking.

Maybe my anxiety, my mind blank, has ruined the interview. Maybe someone else showed that they’re so much more confident and assertive in the interview. They showed that they’re the “stronger” candidate? I’m not those things in interviews but I know I am those things in the job itself.

Why not give me a chance? Why not give someone who has struggled so much, has fought so many demons, has persevered through rejections after rejections in the workplace, why not give them a chance? Why not take a risk on them? Why not make them see that they’re not worthless? Why not make them see that they are valued? Why not make them see that they are good enough despite their illness? Because right now, I feel undervalued. I feel useless. I feel like I’m not good enough to take on a more higher role. I feel worthless. It’s driving me to hate myself more and more.

I’m not just talking about me. I want this discrimination towards people with mental health at work to end. We can do the job, we may need a bit of help, we may require a bit of time, but we can do the job. This needs to change.

I went to an International Women’s Day event at work today about careers and getting ahead in the workplace as a woman. The speaker said something about a ‘sponsor’ at work. I didn’t know that even existed. A sponsor is someone senior in the workplace who knows your struggles but also knows your strengths and achievements and will go out of his/her way to persuade someone to hire you and take a chance on you. That person is someone who sees potential in you but gives others a push to take a risk on you.

I wish I had a sponsor at work who would do that for me. I would love for someone to champion me. I am not my illness. I am not my anxiety. Dealing with various mental illnesses in general is tough let alone having to worry about it holding you back in the workplace.

I want to be given a chance. I want to be challenged. I want to show them that I can do the job, on the job.

Why It’s Important To Talk To ‘Quiet’ Colleagues

Today is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is mental health in the workplace.

As a sufferer myself, working in a demanding and stressful job can make the job itself ten times harder than most people around me. But, recently I have been getting rather annoyed at how colleagues with physical disabilities are treated with extra care and everyone in the team are made aware of their difficulties. Why can’t it be the same with mental health? Why are we still ashamed of being open about it?

I always envy my colleagues who seem so confident because I wish I was like them. The ones who are so loud and talkative. They’re the ones who get noticed. I am someone who is known to be very quiet, mainly because every single day, I battle with anxiety and intrusive thoughts led by my eating disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Sure, it has gotten better with putting myself out there and my medication definitely helps. But, there are those days where my anxiety gets very bad at work and I end up getting angry at myself. I tend to isolate myself because that’s where I feel most safe. Being alone.

On bad days, I have to pluck up the courage to ask someone for help on something. It can take a while. I might not even do it because I am that scared. Actually physically talking to someone can makes me very nervous some days. So on those days, I avoid it. I just stay in my comfort zone. Afterwards, I regret it.

I used to do that at school. If I needed help, I would stay silent. Years of treatment taught me that by avoiding things you fear, it will only get even more bigger and scarier. So just do it. But that is easier said than done. Sometimes, you need a bit more support and encouragement from those around you.

On those days when I’m struggling at work, what I would like is more support from colleagues. But because I have isolated myself so much due to my mental health problems, I have failed to build close friendships with colleagues and so it is incredibly hard to know who to go to and who to trust. It gets me down a lot because I always see colleagues laughing and talking to each other, and I’m just there fading into the background. As a child, I felt invisible and sometimes at work, that invisibility feeling comes back. I feel worthless a and useless.

If there’s someone in the office who is quiet, why not approach them? What’s the worst that could happen? Talk to them. Build them up. Help them. Praise them on their work. It’s those little things that can help them in such a huge way.

We can get so preoccupied with work itself and forget about some of the colleagues around us and how they could be feeling. Work will always be there but your colleagues might not. So, why not start a conversation today?

Battling an Eating Disorder in the Workplace

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I am sitting at my desk in the newsroom, watching my colleagues working, preparing for their next report. They seem to be full of energy and not a care in the world about whether they should eat or not or how they look like. Why can’t I be like them? I ask myself. I am sat twiddling my thumbs with tears streaming down my face, trying to work but keep thinking about food, if I look fat and debating in my head how much exercise I will need to do if I eat today. Taking regular toilet breaks to check myself in the mirror – if my hair and make-up is perfect and if my outfit makes me look big. I cannot look normal or average. I must look amazing outside because I do not feel amazing inside.

I have my dream job; I am good at what I do, people praise me for coming this far and tell me to be proud of myself. But how can I be proud when my eating disorder is stopping me from achieving my full potential in the workplace? I realised that not eating does not help me as much as I thought it did. Yes, I can complete a task and make it perfect, but it is only done in punishment and in the end, I am still left miserable.

I am 22 years old and at the age of 21, I landed my dream job as a news journalist, working for the BBC. I suffer from anorexia nervosa and have done so for many years. I thought it was isolating enough in school and university but suffering in the workplace, or rather the shame of admitting it to bosses and colleagues, is tougher and scarier than I had ever imagined. Why? Because I don’t want to be seen as not capable of working. I worked so hard to get to where I am and I do not want my eating disorder to take it away from me.

Work equals success, success equals perfection and perfection equals “good enough”. At work, being perfect is what I strive to be. Everything I do has to be immaculate and one bit of criticism I get, I turn to anorexia. I cannot and will not be a failure. My eating disorder has got me this far. I achieved so much with it. I went to university, graduated and I got my dream job, all with my eating disorder. What makes work any different?

But anorexia destroys my confidence. It makes me isolate myself. The more I isolate myself, the less noticeable I become. Sometimes, it is scary to even do the simplest things. Anorexia wants me to be perfect and says I don’t deserve to eat until I complete a certain task and make it as perfect as I can. I tend to take on a lot of work, despite burning out in the end. Why can’t I say no? Because I want to be seen as someone who is perfect and strong. Working a 10-hour shift on an empty stomach is no fun. It leads me to isolate myself even more.

I have to be pure and empty at work. Or at least that’s what anorexia tells me. People think of me as an inspiration and I cannot ruin that by feeding myself or get seen eating by colleagues. I’ll get fat and then what will happen? No one will praise me. No one will think of me as capable. People will think I don’t deserve to be where I am just because I eat. I have to be different and special.

At first, I did not tell anyone about my eating disorder. Transitioning from education into employment seemed like a fresh start for me and I wanted my anorexia to be kept a secret. Pretty soon, I realised this was impossible. Working as a journalist includes shift work. The times are irregular, so my eating will be irregular too. For someone with anorexia, this is quite dangerous. I tend to starve myself throughout my long shifts, mainly because I cannot bare to eat in public and inevitably it does takes a toll on my health. I often feel dizzy, weak, lose concentration and faint.

I know I need to eat so I do make myself go to the canteen to get something small to eat. I stand there, staring at all the options but fail to get anything. I cannot get myself to eat at work, especially on my own. Too many calories, too much fat and I then I realise, I don’t deserve to eat at all. Sometimes it gets too much that I break down in tears and hide away. Anorexia is very controlling and the pressure to be perfect at work is all too consuming that my health is put at risk.

This is why I could not struggle alone anymore so I slowly started opening up. Luckily, I have understanding colleagues who go out of their way to help me eat and make sure I am okay. Even just a chat about my struggles makes all the difference and I feel less alone. I did not expect the level of support my colleagues gave me. I feared rejection and discrimination but the colleagues I have told understood the illness and the impact it could have on my work and knowing this was a relief for me.

I am receiving psychiatric care at a specialist eating disorders unit and have regular appointments there. Getting time off from work has not been a problem as of yet due to the flexibility of my job. My treatment team have also been very helpful, providing a written letter to my employers explaining why I may need time off.

Having an eating disorder at work can be very isolating; this is why talking about it is very important. Even telling one colleague who you can trust can be helpful. If they don’t understand, educate them about it. It will make a difference. Some organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), where you can seek counselling for any issues you are facing in or outside of work and it is 100% confidential. My work provides this and it is comforting to know they are there whenever I need to use the service.

If you are worried about a colleague who you may suspect has an eating disorder, I would suggest speaking to them privately but do not jump to conclusions. Let them tell you in their own time but do let them know that you are there for them if they ever need to talk. Sometimes, it is nice to know someone is there, willing to listen.

It is useful for employers to find ways they can best help staff struggling with an eating disorder, allowing time off for therapy and medical appointments. Holding staff events and talks about eating disorders and mental health to let them know what support there is available at work, will be so beneficial for individuals struggling. Even taking some time to privately talk to them once in a while to see how they are coping can make a huge difference. Having an eating disorder does not mean the individual is not capable of holding down a full time job. We are still humans and an illness does not have to stop us from living a normal life.

This post was published on The Huffington Post and Beat for Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2016.

Anti-Bullying Week 2013 (18th – 22nd November)

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It is Anti-Bullying Week this week and I have been wearing my BeatBullying wristband all week to show my support as I always say that trying to tackle bullying is something very close to my heart and something that I have been an advocate of in hopes to tackle this issue, especially in schools, making sure that young people do not go through school feeling sad and victimised like I did.

School should be a memorable time, full of happy memories. To me, it is often like “I did not enjoy school because those group of people were mean to me.” Sadly, I am sure many of you can relate to that.

I wrote a blog post a few months ago on how to deal with bullying and you can check that out right here.

Some of you have asked for a ‘My Bullying Experience’ blog post however, I am too hesitant for that at the moment but I will definitely do it sometime in the future so do look out for that.

I always stress to anyone out there who is being bullied, to speak out. Tell someone. It makes a big difference. Do not suffer in silence because if you do, it gets worse. You are not a ‘snitch’ if you tell someone. I always tell children in Primary school, be it my brothers, cousins or any child for that matter that if someone bullies you in school, tell a teacher straight away. Many of you reading may not be in school anymore but that does not mean you should not tell someone regardless.

You may think you can deal with it. You are an adult. You should be able to handle this on your own, right? It will go away. No. If you do not face up to it, it will not go away. Bullying can also take place in your workplace and I know a lot of people who say their boss or colleague is so mean to them yet they are afraid of standing up to them or telling someone in a higher role about that person because they think they will lose their job. What is the worst that could happen? If you lose your job, at least you got away from feeling miserable but it may be the other way round too. The person who is bullying you may lose their job. So, do not second guess what will happen. Always do what feels right.

If you know someone who is being bullied, help them out. Talk to them. Show them that you want to help them. Show them that you care. Stick up for them. Whenever someone stuck up for me, I felt like I was not alone. It made the situation more easier to deal with knowing someone knows what is going on and is there for you. You feel safer.

You are never alone. Always speak out.

Useful links

Bulling at school
Workplace bullying and harassment 
Nightline  
Beatbullying
Childline