Stigma of Mental Illness in Small Town USA Results in Firing Due to Unfounded Community Fabrications and FearsRead Now
Note to our readers: This blog post was originally posted by Hope Xchange, a nonprofit dedicated to saving and improving lives in the bipolar community founded and run by Kerry Martin, our Chief Purpose Officer. We are reposting to raise awareness about mental health stigma which sadly has not changed or been eradicated some five years later. The post by authored by Tosha Marks, who was for some time in charge of Hope for Bipolars, a peer-to-peer virtual support program; and, she was a mentor as well.
the depression was back and hitting hard core
It was cold out. That’s all I really remember. I had on a stocking cap and I was wearing a sweatshirt. This was my common attire for my then-position as a bus monitor for the school district I live in. The depression was back and it was hitting hard core. I had lost faith in my current psychiatrist and getting in to see a new one proved to be a challenge. I had an appointment, but it was a month away. I was going to see a doctor who was newly out of school, young, and hopefully wouldn’t, as I called it, “cookie cut” me when it came to medications.
I had just found the webcam feature on my new mac, hit record, and “Ramblings of a Bipolar Mom” started to flow from my mouth. After I was done speaking I thought, I am going to use this for good. Maybe someone else needs to hear it. I posted it on Facebook without a second thought. I did a video about every other day, talking about having bipolar illness and how it made me feel and some of the things that it did to me. I got some positive and supportive feedback from friends: “Good for you Tosh, maybe this can help someone else,” one friend said. I felt good about the video blogs.
the post i thought was helping but started it all
I was very depressed, but I was getting into the doctor and hoped I would be OK soon. I remember getting one message that didn’t make any sense to me until later. It said, “I don’t care what people are saying, I have depression and I am behind you 100%.” It was from a neighbor. I live in a very small town, small enough that it is actually called a village. I just took that comment as a compliment, and it didn’t dawn on me to pay attention to the part that said “what people are saying”.
I would, however, find out very soon.
I was at the bus barn in between runs when my boss asked me to follow him into the offices of the administration building. My chest tightened and my heart sped up as I walked through the hallway leading to the HR manager's office. On the screen of his computer was my face. My blog was pulled up as if I was doing something deceitful on the job.
The whole school district was in an uproar over my videos. Some of my children’s friends were on my Facebook page and some of their parents were as well. News of my illness traveled quickly among administrative staff, principals at the schools, and all the way up to the superintendent of the district. They were flooded with calls demanding my immediate dismissal.
I sat there blank faced. I explained I was trying to help others who have bipolar, asking why there was a problem. They told me I yelled at the students. I said I have never yelled at the students, I talked loudly. There were 70 students on the bus. If I didn’t speak loudly, how would they hear the instructions? I was dumbfounded. I was advised strongly to take the videos down immediately and not do anymore. I was hurt, and ashamed, and worse than that, I worried about my boys and how would this affect them at school. Would the other kids make fun of them for having a crazy mom?
the shaming had just begun
Without thinking I took the videos down and sank even deeper into depression; however, the shaming had just begun. Day after day I was told of phone call after phone call to the school and the administrative offices. The parents were relentless.
The principal, with whom I previously had a good relationship since my sons were in preschool (now my oldest was in high school) asked me rudely, “Is it worth it for this stupid job?” When I tried to apologize to him for all the phone calls he was having to deal with, I told him yes it was since the school board paid my insurance.
I was crushed that he hadn’t assured the parents I was fine to be around their children because he knew me personally and knew I would never harm them.
the unimaginable happened
We stopped in town where the majority of the children and I got off the bus. Seventeen kids got off, starting with the youngest. I was the last one off the bus after the fifth graders exited. The snow had melted, the air was fresh and my children decided to walk the two blocks home instead of riding in the car home with me.
I remembered that my oldest son had lost his key to our van in the snow a few weeks earlier, so I started looking for it along the side of my car. I noticed another van parked across from mine but didn’t see who was in it, just figuring it was another parent picking up their child at the bus stop. My twins called to me, asking what I was looking for. I called back, “The van key that Colton lost a few weeks ago”.
After a few more moments, I gave up the search got in my car and drove home. The next day my boss asked me to come to his office. He had received a call from a man who said I had pushed his son, a kindergartner, off the bus and then went up to his son and wife sitting inside their van and started growling at them, trying to get into their van. This was a complete fabrication. I asked my boss, “Why do they want me gone so badly? I have done this job for four years without a problem. I don’t understand.”
i had never dealt with bipolar stigma before that moment
I had never dealt with the stigma of bipolar before that moment. Why would someone go out of their way to fabricate a complete lie to try and get me fired from a job that I had done for years with no complaints from anyone?
I couldn’t understand how people, already knowing I was already depressed, would try to take something from me that could send me further into depression. I still don’t talk to many people in the town we live in. Fewer than 700 people live there and most know my diagnosis. They choose to think I am different because of having a mental illness.
appendum: WHY WE'RE LAUNCHING OUR GLOBAL ACCELERATING MENTAL WELLNESS INITIATIVE TO CREATE STIGMA-FREE WORKPLACES
Tosha like anyone else with a serious brain disorder or, anyone else who is in need of mental health support (clinical diagnosis or not), deserves empathy, grace, caring and kindness at the workplace.
We also all deserve to work in stigma-free environments that enable us to flourish and do our best work for our employers and for ourselves so we may feel of the utmost value. So we feel we belong. So we feel worthy. Not a total lack of empathy and caring friends. Because we as human beings always deserve that. Always.
Today, our workplaces, more often than not, are not safe places. They are not empathetic, kind or caring. And they are chock-a-block full of stigma. Case in point, the Great Resignation where droves are leaving as they don't feel they are getting the deserved mental health support. Whilst it's easy to build a business case for why companies should bring in proper mental health programs and supports, still far too many have failed to do so.
But here, we are presenting the human case (or cost). In light of far too many human cases brought forth by not only mental health advocates but ordinary people trying to survive, we have launched an Accelerating Mental Wellness Initiative that demands workplaces that to do not meet our criteria for stigma-free environments take immediate action to do so.
We are paying attention and watching on behalf of simply too many who are being treated with a total lack of empathy, grace, caring and kindness. And, on behalf of some who have attempted to take their own lives as a result; and on perhaps behalf of some who have died by suicide. We simply will never know how many as their precious souls are no longer here.
For more on our global initiative to put an end to workplaces discriminating against those who are simply suffering and in need of empathy not a lack of support or, in the worst case, who fired for bravely coming forth with their struggles or for not performing due to depression, please see our Accelerating Mental Wellness global workplace cause-advocacy initiative.
We do hope friends that you will join us, stand up and speak out. This simply has to stop.