EMPATHY AND KINDNESS IN our WORKPLACEs priceless: WHAT WORKING WITH STIGMA FREE LEADERSHIP LOOKS LIKE when you have undiagnosed major depression, anxiety, add and an eating disorderRead Now
We have an advocacy campaign running to eliminate stigma in the workplace and create cultures based on kindness and empathy, and have published a number of blog posts speaking directly to our team's lived experience with workplace stigma and the negative impact it has on their lives (such as being fired after CEO finds out our India Chair has bipolar disorder and a suicide attempt after our US Chair is laid off whilst in throes of major depressive episode.)
This is a different story however - one based on working in a stigma-free environment with my lived experience, mental (read physical) illness and an eating disorder.
What I was up against: undiagnosed inattentive ADD, social anxiety, major depression, and an eating disorder
I was working for a large building corporation that had umbrella companies such as telecommunications and facilities management. While I had a direct manager, I also had the Chief Operations Officer who managed me (and the entire company).
At the time I was living with undiagnosed inattentive ADD, generalised and social anxiety and major depression. I was also living with an eating disorder for which I needed intense treatment. While I was seeing a psychiatrist during this time, he diagnosed me with depression. That was all.
Little did I know the depression was slightly more than just your everyday depression. Major depression sucks but it would take another five years before I was formally diagnosed with this.
My bosses put my wellbeing first when I seek treatment for my eating disorder even thou pain in the ass for my co-workers.
After working in the Business Centre of this company I got a promotion and moved into the Telecommunications office. It was an all male office except for me. I was the only female.
At first I was my normal self - quiet because I was anxious and trying to find my feet in this different part of the company. Once I felt comfortable and opened up, the boys I worked with became more like brothers than coworkers. We had a lot of fun and laughter.
It was during this time that I needed to seek treatment for an eating disorder. This involved missing every Friday morning and having a two-hour lunch break once a week so I could go to a shopping centre and have lunch there with my therapist as my biggest phobia was eating in front of people.
This is where the stigma free workplace and management comes into things.
Not only did my boss in the telecommunications department support me during this time, but the Chief Operations Officer did too as he had to approve it all. I know it was a pain in the ass for my coworkers but I needed to do this for myself.
You have no idea how grateful I was to have the manager I had in telecommunications and the Chief Operations Officer be so supportive of what I had to do.
when you google "cats in tights" due to your inattentive add and anxiety, thing start to fall apart. Yet, I was Supported by management once again.
I was working with undiagnosed mental illnesses at the time but what really impacted me on a daily basis was my inattentive ADD and anxiety.
In a meeting with my COO, he said my performance was like a rollercoaster, that went up then went down again, then up then down. I couldn’t focus on the task at hand and know I would have been the employee they knew I could be if I had been diagnosed and medicated for ADD.
My COO took hits for me as well - my performance came into question with the Directors and upper management. I know that he guarded me and shielded me from being fired or disciplined for my work performance.
I tried so hard during my time in the telecommunications department, but when you can’t focus and end up googling cats in tights due to your inattentiveness, things start to fall apart.
I was moved to the facilities management division probably in the hope my work performance would improve.
after making alcohol my best friend, I let that friendship end and elected to resign. But through all this, they never gave up on me.
My work did not improve. I was so anxious all the time. Almost every day my friend and I went to the pub at lunchtime so I could have a beer to calm myself down.
Alcohol became my best friend during this time because it masked all my emotions and I didn’t need to think about my underlying anxieties.
While most people would be fired for this, the company knew something wasn’t right with me. Every Christmas party I would get hideously drunk and black out, not being able to remember the night before. We had an amazing team of people at this building corporation and when I drank I embarrassed every single person I worked with.
Sure, I laugh about certain things now, but the reason for my drinking was to hide my mental and emotional pain.
I ended up handing in my resignation from the company after five and a half years to pursue real estate, as my family were moving back to Perth and I wanted to stay living in Melbourne.
Creating a stigma-free workplace isn't rocket science. If i didn't get the support I did from leadership, I don't know where I would be today.
Creating a stigma free workplace isn’t rocket science or hard. This company did it for me so willingly and never ever questioned what I needed to do. They were there to support me and they went above and beyond to do this. There were no questions asked. It was just what I told them I needed to do and they were amazingly understanding.
I think on the day I resigned everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t continue working there the way I was. They perhaps knew it before I did. But I realized I needed to pause and seek more intensive treatment.
I still have relationships with a lot of people from the company today, 15 years later, including my boss in telecommunications and the COO. They now all know about my mental illnesses as I have been very vocal about it, and they are just as they were at work - totally understanding and supportive. They are just all around great people.
To rid your workplace of stigma, you just need acceptance. That is all anyone wants.
If the shy, anxiety riddled kid starts working below their capacity, ask them if they are okay.
If the severely depressed person takes more days off than allowed, ask them how you can help.
When people go to management and advise them of their mental illnesses ask how you can make it so that it won’t impact their job. Keep things on a level playing field.
I will forever be grateful to my company I worked for and the way they handled me, my mental illnesses (albeit undiagnosed), and my work ethic and behaviour. They could so easily have wiped the slate clean, said this is too much and have somebody else replace me. But they didn’t.
They kept their belief in me. I don’t know how or why, but they did.
But what I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is, if they didn’t help me through those hard times with my eating disorder, I don’t know where I would be today.
Empathy and kindness go a long way. And, they both cost nothing. My bosses and colleagues giving me the feeling that I was worthy and that I belonged despite my issues was invaluable to me and my mental wellbeing.
Really, when you give it a think, aren't we all worthy? Worthy of empathy and kindness?
Erin Macauley, Chief Hope Officer, Accelerating Social Good, and Australia Chair, We Are All Worthy, a cause-advocacy campaign to co-create stigma free workplaces on foundation of empathy with needed mental health programs and supports for all.
a call for social justice and STigma-Free Workplaces: WE get fired because of our mental illnesses BUT only we deal with STIGMA'S POISONous WRATH AND true depths of ENSUING SUFFERINGRead Now
resilience built up in childhood. check. higher education underway. check. then, a series of weird events started happening.
I had a very good childhood with loving parents and friends. I was bullied a little at school. But that gave me some resilience and taught me self dependence at a very early age.
I was a straight A student and excelled at my studies. I got my Bachelors and then pursued a Masters in Computer Science from the best college in India.
Being an INFJ, I was always a self-starter and figured out solutions to problems myself.
Then, a series of weird events started to happen to me.
In my last semester of graduate school, other students started noticing a change in my behavior. A calm, introverted kid was now fighting with everyone, verbally, not physically. I was much more irritable and got angry at the slightest of things.
I was unaware at that time of exactly what was happening.
i soldiered on, landing my first professional job. But, quickly burnout after being expected to work long hours, becoming nonfunctional for months.
I started my internship at a game development company in 2014 where I was expected to work long hours. I was not performing at optimal levels and after 6 months, I experienced my first severe burnout.
I came home severely depressed.
My parents supported me. I was nonfunctional for months.
My neighbors started noticing I was not getting out of the house. They did their best to try and talk to me.
With that said, being in episodes spoiled my relationships with almost everyone. Yet, still I couldn't really figure out what exactly was happening to me until I had a lightbulb moment.
My Lightbulb Moment. I realized I needed treatment to survive. And, I got THAT AND MORE: a bipolar 2 diagnosis and A LITHUM Prescription. check.
I was lost in the darkness, struggling to figure out what was wrong with me.
Grasping at straws, I went online and started reading and joined online forums. I read the DSM. I did research. I read blogs.
That all led me to finally going to see a psychiatrist. After asking me questions during a one-hour consultation, he diagnosed me with Bipolar 2 and put me on Lithium.
After three months of Lithium, I got a little stability and decided to give work another go.
back to work ONLY TO HAVE my hard-fought stability snatched away. CEO discovers MY bipolar disorder. I'm fired.
I got a job as a Junior System Admin two blocks from my house and worked there for almost 2 years. It was a mid-sized company with 150 employees. I had very good relationships with everyone and helped everyone with their computer issues.
Then, the CEO finds out about my bipolar disorder and fires me two weeks later.
Even to this day, I still get calls from the IT department asking for help with IT problems. I still offer give solutions.
I Enter a stigma-free workplace at last. My stability, balance and SENSE OF worthiness RETURN.
Then, I got a job at a chain of salons as an IT Manager. It had 3 branches for which I was managing the entire IT and digital marketing.
This time, however, my boss was very supportive and helped me in every way to become productive. But due to COVID, he had to shut down two of the branches and laid off people.
But he has always stayed in touch, even to this day.
"To me stigma-free workplaces are built on foundations of people understanding the need for inclusivity and empathy.
My third and current job was found via LinkedIn. I applied to a Denver-based company and the Founder interviewed me for an IT Manager position but gave me the Project Manager position.
I got a few episodes during this job but my company supported me when they knew I had bipolar disorder.
Medications Taken to date to see me through this journey. Did I have to go through all this?
I had seen a severe form of illness but I could manage it and most people couldn't tell (or were not telling me) that I have such a severe condition. I had taken almost every medication over the years, which is generally prescribed for bipolar.
I can't help but wonder if my journey would have not been as arduous if not been for stigma in the workplace; and if perhaps I would have found the perfect cocktail for treating my bipolar sooner. You see it is not easy or particularly fun to have to try all these different medications as you cycle up and down and as society pushes us up and down with stigma.
My most irritable symptoms were hand tremors and throbbing headaches. I still have these.
How do I COPE? BY FIGHTING BACK. AND BY GIVING BACK TO OUR COMMUNITY.
Cancer doesn't just go away, nor does bipolar disorder. You have to find methods in order to survive. I learnt coping mechanisms for my illness at a very early stage. I could tell when my moods were swinging and took immediate action. Other coping mechanisms included:
But, the best coping mechanism for me has been and still is helping people. That naturally lifts your depression. I have been helping people for many many years with their IT stuff and with my mental health advocacy work.
LIKE AIR POLLUTION, STIGMA IN OUR WORKPLACES IS POISONING US CAUSING BOTH PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL SUFFERING. LIKE A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT, WE ARE FILING A SOCIAL ACTION LAWSUIT. WE ARE TIRED OF BEING FIRED.
Most recently, I have become the Chair in India for Accelerating Social Good's social-justice campaign, Accelerating Mental Wellness, to co-create stigma free workplaces built on a foundation of empathy with needed mental health programs and supports in place.
Why? Because it is unjust for people like me to get fired simply because I have bipolar disorder.
I see this as analogous to a class action lawsuit in America. Like a social action lawsuit in a way.
People are poisoned by stigma. In a class action lawsuit, I understand people are literally poisoned by pollution so they come together and file a lawsuit to get reimbursed for medical bills and for their suffering, the punitive damages.
But we are not filing a class action lawsuit. We are not taking this to court.
We are taking it to the people. We are taking it to to you. We are asking you to lean in and listen to the human case, our stories.
How is this any different for those of us with bipolar or other mental illnesses (read serious brain disorders) who are being fired?
Is stigma in the workplace not poisoning us to?
Are we not also feeling physical pain? Trust me, having to go on med and after med to try to regain your footing after being fired does cause much physical as well as emotional pain.
We too are suffering. Where is our justice? Who is standing up for what is right? Who is advocating for change?
I am. Accelerating Social Good is: Founder and CEO and Founder, Kerry Martin, supported by Meagan Copelin, chairing in the United States, COO Erin Macauley chairing in Australia, and Natasha Tracy chairing in Canada. They are leading mental health advocates and they all have lived experience too. They also have their own stigma stories, some harder to read than mine.
But it's not just us. There are many others who agree stigma in our workplaces is discriminatory, unjust. And, not just for those with a serious brain disorder such as bipolar but unjust for every single human regardless of your physical or mental health condition, visible or invisible, and regardless of the color of your skin or your sexual preference. It's unjust period.
Please visit our Wall of Solidarity, made up of everyday people like you and me. People who have stepped up to join us in our campaign. We call them our stigma-fighter superheroes as by uploading their selfies to our wall they are helping us take another brick out of the wall of stigma and sending a clear message that we want the wall taken down. Finally.
These are not just concerned citizens, but global diversity, inclusion and equity leaders, best-selling authors, mental health advocates, podcasters, nonprofit leaders, and those that suffer from mental health conditions.
I hope that others will join us in our grassroots campaign to eradicate stigma in our workplaces and put an end to the discrimination. And, to finally provide urgently needed mental health programs and supports in our workplaces for all who are suffering.
We are all humans worthy of support, not worthy of being poisoned by stigma. No one should get fired because they have a mental illness. This discriminatory practice must be stopped.
Hitesh Gupta, India Chair, Accelerating Mental Wellness, A Global Workplace Cause-Advocacy Initiative Sponsored by Accelerating Social Good with contributions by Kerry Martin, Chief Purpose Officer and US Chair.
WE aRE here to build a world where all children flourish but first we need STIGMA-FREE workplaces: FOUR simple ways you can helpRead Now
why i am doing this accelerating mental wellness campaign FOR WORKPLACES. what is your why?
Please allow me to introduce my why, the inspiration that drives me to work so hard on this campaign: Sara. We have hashtags for one another, #saraslight and #kerryshope.
Accelerating Social Good collaborates with causes to build a world where the mental healthcare system doesn't let anyone down. A world where all our children can flourish.
To enable all lights to shine, we simply must have work settings that support and empower people, environments wherein my precious Sara's light is allowed to illuminate as bright as possible.
It is for Sara, who is now 24, and her beautiful friends, that I dedicate much of my time to ensure this cause-advocacy campaign exceeds our expectations.
What about you? Is creating stigma-free workplaces built on a foundation of empathy, caring, compassion important to you too? Should workplaces be providing mental health programs and supports? What is your why?
Please consider joining us. Stand with others and share your selfie, and/or share your story. We are simply stronger as advocates and concerned citizens when we stand together. If we are here to affect social change, this is how we can do it. Together.
help write stigma-free story with an empathy plot. a story of hope. let's co-create workplaces we all can flourish.
If mental health advocates collaborate, we can interweave a more inclusive story both persuasive enough to change society and powerful enough to shine a light on what the future should look like. A future of no stigma. A future with where we lose fewer precious souls far too soon. A future of mental wellness. A future of hope. A future where we all can flourish.
Let's work together to create stigma-free workplaces, rebuilt on a foundation of empathy and caring, by sharing our lived experiences. A key to ending mental health stigma (read systemic discrimination) is to humanize it with storytelling.
BUT WE CAN'T DO THIS ALONE. WE NEED YOUR HELP.
This is a rallying cry to advocates and concerned citizens to come together. To share our selfies and our stories in a collaborative and coordinated campaign to accelerate social change on behalf of those who are suffering in silence and shame. With must step up and speak out, a calling more salient in light of the Great Resignation.
Whilst it is easy to build a business case for workplaces to integrate mental health access and programming as a benefit (and we intend to do so), let's also come together to do the hard work. Let's build a human case for rebuilding our workplaces on a foundation of empathy and caring.
If you are a mental health advocate, please consider joining us and raising your voice. Let's all stand up and be heard. And together, be so loud that eventually they must not only listen but TAKE A PLEDGE to either acknowledge the importance of this initiative or take concrete steps to create a stigma-free workplace with appropriate mental health programming and supports for employees. More on this to come in 2022.
FOUR ways you can help
Kerry Martin, Sara's Number 1 Fan, CEO & Founder, Accelerating Social Good; US Lead Chair, Accelerating Mental Wellness Social Change Campaign.