"I told my manager and everything changed"
Posted Friday 24 June 2011
Guest post from Judith, on mental health discrimination in the workplace
I've had a history of depression since I was a teenager. I had to spend several months as an inpatient in my teens. However, with support and medication I learnt to manage my problems. I moved away from home, got my A-levels and went to University.
After graduating I was offered a job working with a small charity housing homeless people. I was thrilled to be working for an organisation that reflected my values. Although the job was challenging, I found it very rewarding and despite being severely short-staffed, we worked hard to make an impact.
After a while I was offered a promotion working at our central office. Things were going really well until I injured my back and had to take sick leave. At first my employer was very supportive, but on top of the physical pain, the loss of independence and isolation triggered my depression. I became quite ill, and had to take more time off work.
When I disclosed to my manger about my mental health issues it felt as if everything changed. People in the office no longer spoke to me and stopped inviting me for lunch. Two months prior to this I had sailed through my appraisal; suddenly now I was being told there were unspecific problems with my work.
I was called to a mangers meeting where the five project managers took turns to criticise the impact of my work- yet I wasn’t told specifically what I had done wrong, what I could do better, or offered any advice on how I could improve. I tried not to take it personally and tried to prove myself by holding an event which was under budget, well attended, with 100% positive feedback.
Despite this, the day after the event I was called in to speak to my manager and the director, and told they thought it would be best if left. I said I didn’t understand and wanted to improve, but they said this was not an option. I was asked to sign a compromise agreement, agreeing not to take out a tribunal or go to the press in return for a month’s wages and a reference. I had no choice.
Obviously I took this very hard. I was not even able to say goodbye to my colleagues, leaving in a cloud of shame as if I had done something wrong. I had to explain why I was not working to friends and family and my confidence plummeted with my mood. However I was very lucky as I had enough support around me to get through.
I started a new job but I found myself over-working to the extreme to try and prove myself, frequently working seven days a week to try and over-deliver. Thankfully my new employer recognised this, and while praising my work and giving me a pay-rise, also encouraged a healthy work/life balance. Their focus on the person as well as the job has made all the difference.
If you are experiencing problems in your workplace because of your mental health, have a look at our support materials from Time to Change.
The online resources include details of discrimination law, and tips on how and when to talk to an employer about your mental health.
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