Talking about Mental Health at Interview and in the Workplace
This morning I read a blog post by Kayleigh (@veryberrycosmo) about mental health and employment and I started to write a comment at the bottom of the post. That 'short' comment started to turn into a ramble. So I thought I would turn that....I guess frustration into a blog post of my own.
Let me start by saying this is very much based on MY experience, everyone is different and will have different thoughts and experiences of this. Additionally so much of this, for me, is about your relationship with those around you. So that will dramatically affect your decisions and experiences.
I have never revealed or discussed my mental health in any of the workplaces I have had. I have discussed it with colleagues AFTER I have left that place of work. Because at that point they are no longer colleagues, they are friends and not really related to my work.
I do feel slightly ashamed of this because part of my current job is encouraging students to come forward and feel they can talk about their own experiences while encouraging discussion of mental health across the institution. I believe I do a really good job of this. However, 'coming out' and using myself as an example could be a very useful thing in terms of empowering and awareness raising. However...
I have never felt comfortable talking about my mental health in the workplace. I think this is for a few different reasons. Firstly the fact that at the beginning I didn't know what was going on so its really hard to talk about something why you don't know its affecting you! Then either through social stigma, or the stigma that I hold within my own head I didn't / don't feel committable to talk about this at work. Towards the start of my mental health adventure I moved workplaces a lot, I had 5 jobs in 12 months. So connecting with people I was working with didn't really happen. Part of that was contractable, but it was also me probably avoiding those connections while I struggled to work out what was happening to me. That being said there are some people I worked with in that time that I am still in contact with as friends and thats been cool. That despite only knowing those people for a short time bonds can still be made. The best example of this is Kelly, who I worked with for a grand total of 2 months. She's moved from Bournemouth to Scotland now, but we regularly talk and I am very open with her about my struggles and experiences (obviously she doesn't get told everything, but then the other person that gets that is probably Sarah). For me this is a great example that those connections can be made even in a short space of time. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for Kelly and hope to see her again some time soon.
The workplace, of me has always been somewhere you take pride in yourself and your work. You act in a certain way because of your 'role' and the professional setting and expectations. While I have always had my own...approach. I have for most of my working life conformed to the social norms and perceived expectations. Yes, to some extent that has been affected by the positions and institutions I have worked for. But isn't that the same for most people? We all have or see these expectations.
Recently I would say I have started to drift from this slightly. In my last job, I was much more forthright in my views and ideas (see my podcast with Matt and Wes for a bit more on this). Then in my current workplace my appearance has continued to become less...traditional with the long hair and beard. I am yet to try jeans!
Despite this I continue to hold back about my mental health.
When I commented on Kayleigh's blog, I found myself thinking of all these things many of us do because of our mental health. We blog, podcast, talk to people, give advise, support, we listen. To do this we have build websites, set up blog or podcast feeds, we have attended events, some have organised events. Heck some have won awards! This is such a big part of our lives, even if you don't feel like you do many of these things. We have developed so many skills and experiences, that if applied to any other field we would be encouraged to talk about (in detail) because of benefit of these experiences and skills. Not to mention the other personal attributes (confidence, time management, drive, determination etc) that we have demonstrated. By not talking about these things we essentially miss out on something that would really make us stand out compared to other people, particularly in an interview / application scenario. But that stigma, whether held socially or within ourselves holds us back.
While I will likely continue, in the short term at least, to not discuss my mental health in the workplace. I would like to think I would be able to mention it in an interview in the future. Because I believe when Im asked about my personal life, my character, my 'hobbies' much of those questions would be best answered by talking about my experience in the social setting of the mental health discussion. I am not applying to anywhere at the moment so this is an easier statement for me to make I guess.
How about you, would you feel at ease talking about your blog / podcast / website in an interview or at the workplace?
Image from http://www.vminstall.com/vmware-interview-questions-and-answers/