How I was labelled unfit for work
Posted Thursday 12 May 2011
Imagine that 4 years ago you were off work for a number of weeks with a heart condition. Since that time you have been on medication to keep any further problems under control but you have not had a day off through illness. There have been no issues with your work or interactions with colleagues and everything is going well.
Then, in the office one day you show symptoms which could be a sign of a reoccurrence of your condition and are asked to see you specialist to confirm there is no risk to your health by you remaining at work. Your specialist is confident that you are okay and sees no reason why you should not continue to work.
Now imagine that all of the above remains the same but rather than a heart condition you suffer from depression.
Why should a depressive episode in the past be treated any differently to other health conditions? I accept that there is still a lack of understanding by many as to what impact a mental health condition has and it is better to be safe than sorry with regards to your long-term health. However, if a Consultant Psychiatrist who has treated you for 4 years is satisfied that you are fit to work there seems no logical reason for your employer to go against that advice.
However, this is just what has happened to me. External pressures had made me stressed at work and in anyone else it would have been seen as just that (stress) and could probably have been sorted out by an informal chat over a coffee. In my case I was asked to leave the office pending a full report from my consultant and in the mean time I was required to visit an ‘independent’ psychologist to assess my suitability for my role. That was 6 months ago. Since then 2 additional reports have been requested from my consultant (who each time has confirmed I am fit to work) but a decision as to my future seems no closer.
Anyone who has suffered from depression knows that whilst avoiding social contact is the easy option at times, such interactions help to lift your mood as you don’t spend hours dwelling on negative thoughts. Not working but remaining employed has meant I can’t go away and instead I sit around on my own for hours on end. Added to that is the feeling of hopelessness having been taken out of a role I enjoyed simply because a mental illness is seen as a weakness and in some way lessens my effectiveness within the team.
I have no doubt that campaigns such as Time to Change will eventually remove some of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Until that time I feel forced to avoid disclosing my full medical history to future employers for fear of another over-reaction based on a lack of understanding.
Emma C. (Not her real name)
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