Going to college was always a dream of mine while I was growing up. I dreamt of being a dentist, a music teacher, a music therapist, a neurologist, and a mental health counselor; all wonderful and interesting fields that require education and training. I never thought that it would be my mental health that would get in the way of achieving my dream.
I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout high school, but it wasn’t until college that it became severe and started to interrupt my daily activities.
My first year and a half of college went well, and I made some great friends and had some great experiences, but things took a turn for the worse when my mental and physical health began to deteriorate. I ultimately took a year and a half off to recuperate.
During this year and a half off from school, I was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts for the first time. This experience was completely foreign to me. Not only had I never heard of being hospitalized for depression, but I had no idea a police officer could come to your home and take you to the hospital for talking to your friend about your suicidal thoughts. I was introduced to the world of psychiatric hospitalization. The story is far too long to tell, but the process was grueling, and I learned things I never knew existed that inspired me to advocate for others.
I eventually went back to school, but it wasn’t easy once I started again. From 2014-2017, I took every-other semester off to re-balance myself mentally, and I still haven’t finished my degree.
Work is another story. I have had part-time jobs since the age of 14, and I have always been motivated to work, but when my mental health deteriorated, it became very hard to maintain a job. While I was in college, I needed a part-time job to pay for my rent, food and other necessities. However, that became increasingly burdensome on top of all of my other school responsibilities, my social life, and attempting to maintain my mental wellbeing.
I began making up excuses to get out of work. It’s hard to tell an employer that you are having an anxiety attack or a particularly bad depressive episode and cannot come into work. Sadly, there is such a stigma surrounding mental illness, especially when it comes to things like this, that I was too afraid to take a chance. I often opted to lie and tell my boss that I had a cold, the flu, or some other physical illness and could not make it into work.
If I was at work and disaster struck, I would lie and say that I was too sick to stay. For some employers, the excuses became too much, and I had to confess. Most were willing to work with me, but others told me I was using my depression as an excuse.
Why should we be allowed to call in sick for the flu or a fever, but not for a panic attack? Why should a broken bone or a physical symptom be treated any differently than something like anxiety or depression? I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of my mental illness. I should be encouraged to be open with my employers and professors about why I can’t make it to work or to class.
The conversation is slowly changing regarding mental health in the workplace. In a recent story covered by Buzzfeed, a woman shared a work email, where she notified her co-workers that she would be out of the office to take care of her mental health. The CEO responded thanking her, and encouraging more people to use sick days for mental health, stating that it should be “standard practice.”
There is still a long way to go in ending the stigma that surrounds mental illness, but stories like this, as well as continuing to share our own stories, can help to break the mold.
Photo by kevin dooley