It is a topic I have blogged and spoken publicly about extensively; how do we make our workplaces friendlier to those with mental illness? It is a loaded question and while I've offered up my share of suggestions I have never pretended to have all the answers. I've worked in workplaces and have heard horror stories of working for employers whose attitude towards those with mental illness is detrimental.
In making good on my promise of talking about success stories of people doing well with mental illness, I'd like to share my own.
About 6 months ago I suddenly changed employers after being offered a new opportunity, with a new company, that paid better and in which my commute to work was cut in half. The job change was not something I was actively seeking but something I kept an open mind about. While I was confident in my decision I was still nervous and was asking myself lots of questions. How would they eventually react to me telling them I had mental illness? Would they support my need for time off for mental health initiatives? Would I be allowed to talk about mental illness in the workplace without the fear of not being promoted?
Over the past few months I've been given previews of just how supportive my employer is. When I announced I was appointed to the Mental Health Commission of Canada Youth Council, my co-workers cheered and management shook my hand in addition to congratulating me. In addition, whenever I tell my employer I'm going out of town for a mental health function they're always the first to ask me how things went upon my return.
Early last month I sat down with my store manager and told him there was something going on in my life that had required me to return briefly to therapy and it had been suggested by my mental health and wellness team that I take a few days off of work. To be brutally honest, my manager witnessed me while I was vulnerable and emotional. With no questions asked, I was given time off. When I came back to work my manager sat down with me, asked me how me I was feeling, and inquired as to whether or not there was anything he could do to accommodate me.
Then last week I was informed that I am being seriously considered for an opportunity in the mental health world that would require a bit more of my time. While I'm only under consideration at this point I still thought it was only fair to alert my manager that I would need some additional time off here and there if I get it.
He told me he is proud of all I've accomplished in the short time I've worked for him, my job will always be there for me but sometimes these opportunities come up that may be rare and I can't give them up. All he asks of me is to give him enough time to amend my schedule.
I don't know what my manager's motive is, and even if he has one. If anything it feels wrong questioning as to if he has a motive. All I know is what he is doing is right but it is simple too. My manager's acceptance of knowing I live with mental illness and his support for the work I do outside of the store is good for my mental health. I'm willing to go as far as saying his acceptance is keeping me in the workplace because it fosters a health environment not just for me; but for all my co-workers too. Yet I also know I can also take time off to deal with my mental illness without fear of coming back to any sort of retribution.
I encourage all employers reading my blog to ask themselves whether they're also doing enough to foster an environment for those with mental illness.