04/07/2014 07:37 EDT | Updated 06/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Not Everyone With Mental Illness Needs Medication

Wherever I go, there is an overwhelming presumption that people with mental illness are on medication or should be on medication. Some people will ask me "So what medications are you on Arthur?", assuming that because I have mental illness that I am on medication.

I write this post with intense emotion after experiencing heartache, hurt, and anger last week that revolves around the issue of medication. Below is a summary of what has prompted me to speak out.

For the past two months and until last week I was a cash-supervisor for a well known pharmacy chain. I left another stable entry-level retail job to work for the pharmacy in a supervisory role. It was indeed a challenging time for me as I dealt with some hostile coworkers and others who just plain didn't like me.

I was determined to work out the kinks. There were other issues in which I requested management's involvement that are irrelevant to this post and to the overall situation. Since the beginning of my employment I made it clear I lived with mental illness. Management embraced me for my courage or so it seemed. They openly allowed me to talk about living with mental illness, we shared and debated ideas, and commended me for all the advocacy work I've done.

My job at times was no doubt stressful and it made me anxious. Once again, I believed that it was a healthy level of stress that motivated me to work even harder at my job. Last Monday I learned the amount of supervisory shifts I'd be scheduled for would be minimized in favour of somebody with more experience and that management would have a conversation with me at an undetermined date and time to discuss my performance.

This made me anxious and I emailed my store manager Monday evening asking for clarity followed by a phone call Tuesday afternoon. The contents of the email were professional and my phone call was never returned. During my next scheduled shift on Thursday I asked for a meeting with my store manager. My anxiety was through the roof.

During the meeting I was informed that management was concerned my anxiety and stress was getting in the way of me doing my job properly. I told them that with proper accommodation I could do my job in the most capable fashion. Until that point accommodation didn't need to be talked about because I didn't think my anxiety was unmanageable. However, saying things like "Arthur, I need to have a meeting with you" without giving me greater context will trigger me.

I asked my manager to respect my request and view it as a form of accommodation. Past employers told me that was the least they could do to accommodate me and they respected my request, My store manager replied "Arthur, if you can't handle me telling you I need to meet with you without telling you why then you shouldn't be working here; you'll never last. I also have 30 people working for me, I don't have time to accommodate them all."

Management acknowledged that I had previously spoken about not being on medication to help manage my anxiety; this concerned them. They asked me to provide them with documentation from a psychiatrist either showing I was on medication to help with my anxiety or to get documentation from a medical professional stating it was not in my best interest to take medication. I refused to provide such a document to my employer instead offering to provide a list of recommended accommodations from my doctor. My store manager said such a list would be unacceptable. Without providing a medical opinion as to whether or not I should be on medication, our working relationship would end since I was on my 90-day probationary period and my employment could end immediately at any time during that period without cause.

I am going through appropriate channels both within and outside of the workplace to resolve this situation in the hopes that it doesn't happen again. I want this to be a time of learning for my now former employer.

This brings up a broader issue that a lot of people with mental illness encounter on a daily basis. People automatically assume all of us are on medication or should be on medication. As soon as the signs of mental illness begin presenting themselves people think we should pop a pill.

Don't get me wrong; medication is a great treatment option for people with mental illness but it is only one component of treatment. I have taken medication in the past and likely will again in the future. At this point in time, my medical team and I agree it should not be apart of my treatment plan.

Not all of our problems can be solved with medication.


Facts About Mental Health in Canada