Personal Business: Working with mental illness

There’s a romantic notion that a bit of mental illness is a prerequisite for a writer. But when I was first coming to terms with having a mood disorder and thought about how this would affect my work life, I instinctively decided to keep it secret at all costs. I carried this secret as if it were a criminal conviction I was hiding from prospective employers.

Don’t ask, don’t tell
A lot of people suffer from mental illnesses – at least 27 percent of adults in the EU, according to the WHO. But many, like me, are inclined to keep it quiet. There is a stigma about mental illness that for physical illness just isn’t there.

One of the problems about any stigma is that you end up seeing the label instead of the person. This may be especially true when the label applies to the person’s mind. It’s not inconceivable that being labelled as mentally ill could cost you a job.

Open to change
But I’ve always admired people who are open about their mental health. Many people have successful careers, despite openly suffering from a mental illness.
Two of my role models are Stephen Fry, one of my all-time favourite humorists, and Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist and author who has written extensively about her own condition, both academically and as compelling literature.

But as well as inspiring fellow sufferers, these people increase the understanding of their conditions among everyone else. I think that more understanding can go a long way towards removing a stigma that keeps some otherwise able people out of the workforce.

In my own case
Most of the time it would be difficult to know that I have a disorder, even for myself. Then there are times when it is all-consuming.

My changes in mood have affected my work life, but not to the extent I feared they might when I was starting out. I have occasionally missed exams or work because of depression, but I am proud of my contributions to the workforce and pursue a satisfying career.

I sometimes imagine what it would have been like if people such as Fry and Jamison were prevented from doing their jobs because of stigma.
If ignorance wins over understanding, then society loses.