Working full time in an office environment whilst suffering from depression is difficult as I can personally testify. First of all, offices can be notoriously gossipy places where news about your personal life can be spread like wildfire. It is no wonder that so many sufferers of depression have concerns about opening up to their colleagues regarding their health issues, due to the significant stigma that still remains. I suffer from anxiety attacks and so, during my 9 to 5 office days, would often have to make a quick dash to the loo; unable to bear anyones eyes on me a minute longer. The need to put on a cheery “work self” everyday can take a strain on you when you are biting your lip and clenching your fists to hold back the tears. I have been in situations where I have had to cancel vital cognitive behavioural therapy sessions because I was too frightened to ask for time off.
I am extremely lucky in that my work is now flexible and quite often home based, which is good for controlling my anxiety attacks and for working around various medical related appointments. However, in general the modern workplace really isn’t properly catered for those with mental health problems. The relentless, faux chummy team building exercises, the pressure to meet targets, the rigidity and timekeeping can be stressful even for those who are blessed with good mental health. Markers of success are often based on factors such as confidence, leadership and a seamless corporate appearance. These are factors that can often prove to be difficult for those with depression or anxiety disorders.
However, this shouldn’t mean that a person with mental health issues can’t pursue the same career options as their friends. Indeed, many people who suffer from such problems can and do thrive in the workplace. Just as that might ensure that ramps are put in place for less mobile employees, employers need to make the effort to ensure that they are providing a supportive working environment for employees with mental health difficulties. Reasonable and really very simple adjustments can be made that can vastly improve working conditions. These can include making changes within the physical office environment, for example providing quiet spaces or increasing the amount of personal space given to an employee. Working hours or patterns could be looked at in some situations, for example, giving the option of some home working hours or temporarily reallocating certain tasks that might be causing an employee stress.
Even more importantly, it is important that you are comfortable speaking to, should you wish to, your employer and your colleagues about any difficulties that you may be experiencing. Therefore the workplace must be treated as a judgement free zone. Training should be given in order to better educate colleagues about the issues involved within mental illness in order to create better understanding and a more sensitive attitude. There should be solid mediation support within the workplace and if possible facilities such as mentors and work buddies. There should be information and resources readily available onsite for anybody looking to seek help.