Happy Friday, team! How are things? Sorry I’ve not been about much. I’ve started a new job and I’d forgotten that work is really hard work! Hope you all enjoyed your super-sunny Easter weekend! I’m sorry, what? That was only in Scotland? Oh, what a shame! I had a great time in the sunshine at dinogolf.
It just so happens that this week is Depression Awareness Week (April 26th April-3rd May), spearheaded by the excellent Depression Alliance. As one of the themes of this year’s Depression Awareness Week is depression at work, I thought this might be the perfect time to share with you a recent episode in the world of work which totally turned my way of thinking about mental illness on its head.
So…recently I had an experience in which my thoughts about depression got flipped turned upside down so I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, and I’ll tell you all the story of how I disclosed my mental health issues in an job interview. Now, I have spent a lot of time recently applying for jobs. All sorts of jobs. Lab tech jobs, Genetics jobs, education jobs, research assistant jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. In each of the application forms, I spent a great deal of care trying to explain why I had left a PhD without coming across like I was mad as a bag of cats. I stated that I had left my position as a “post-graduate researcher” for “personal reasons”, as vague a phrase as ever was written. I went to great effort to try and disguise my mental health issues in fear of the stigma that I might encounter from potential employers.
Then I came across an advert for a really exciting job with a fantastic mental health charity. The application procedure was pretty standard, pretty similar to the other jobs that I had applied for, except for one little phrase in the list of desirable criteria:
“experience of using mental health services”
Those six little words were all it took to revolutionize the way I had been thinking about my experiences of depression. Suddenly, my lived experience seemed to me to be an attribute that would help me stand out in this job application. It wasn’t something to hide anymore but something about which I could talk openly without fear of judgement. I was offered an interview and found that, once that fear was gone, it became remarkably easy to talk about my own mental health, how much I had learned from my experiences and how my lived experience would help me in this position. This experience give me a little snapshot into the way that I hope all employers will approach applicants with lived experience in mental health in the future and the sort of culture that we can help to build where mental illness is not something to be ashamed of or which will set us at a disadvantage in the world of work.
For those of you who are interested in that sort of thing, I wore this dress (French Connection…yes of course it was in the sale!) and these shoes (ummmm…TK Maxx? I think.) with red nails.
This started me on a line of thought completely foreign to me. What if we start to think of depression and other mental health issues and positive attributes? Now I am absolutely not suggesting that mental health issues are a good thing. Obviously we’d all rather not feel as grim and lonely and miserable and worthless as we often do. Mental illness is not something I would wish on anyone, not even my worst enemies, and I’m not suggesting that we all feel happy and gleeful about the frankly crappy times that we’ve all been through. What I am suggesting is that I am a different person than I would have been without depression and all sorts of doors have opened up to me as a result of my depression which would maybe never have been available to me without this experience. Without suffering from depression, I would never have started this blog, I would never have to to chat to all of you wonderful readers and I would never have got my fantastic, exciting new job.
I took to Twitter to ask “Which positive attributes have you developed as a result of your mental health issues?” and lots of you came back to me saying that you had more empathy and compassion for others as a result of your experiences. Some of you felt like you were more attuned to the needs of those around you and more aware of the warning signs of mental illness in your peers and friends. On a personal level, some of the people who replied talked about their increased resilience and their greater knowledge of themselves, the triggers for their mental health issues, and how best to care for themselves. Many of us who deal with depression and other issues on a daily basis have been forced to confront our attitudes towards stressors and develop strategies for coping with these. Actually, some of us are better at planning our workload, for anticipating times of stress and putting structures in place to held us deal with the times when stress does arise than people who have never experienced mental health issues. I would argue that some of these attributes would actually make us outstanding employees, co-workers and bosses, if only we were able to talk about them in interviews.
Well, that’s about it for just now. Keep on being your fabulous, compassionate, understanding, empathetic selves! Please do let me know in the comments how you think your experiences of mental health issues have changed you. Big love to you all!