I came clean at work today to a colleague about the reason I had scaled back my involvement with a work-related choir. I told her that I was so grateful that she had been able to pick up my slack this spring.
"Well, you were sick for a while, right?"
"Yes. I had bronchitis in March. But this past month I've really been struggling with my clinical depression."
It felt good. And she had a very supportive reaction, based on viewing a television commercial on depression where there was a tagline like "what you say really matters" or something like that.
Here was my favorite thing that she said: do you want to share any more about how things are going with your depression? And she mentioned how glad she was that I felt free to share this with her since there is still so much stigma around the area of mental illness.
I realize there is risk associated with being open about mental health issues at work. But there is also a risk in not being open about them. It further stigmatizes mental health issues as a character flaw or as something shameful to be hidden.
I didn't hide my bronchitis. Why should I have to hide my depression? They both have a negative impact on my ability to work. They are both conditions that can be treated or overcome. Why does the stigma remain?
I think it confuses things further that depression can mean either being a little sad or being cripplingly crushingly unable to do anything or something in between. There should be a separate word without the emotional baggage to denote the clinical condition.
But there is so much fluidity between clinical and situational depression-- that being regular sad for a long time can cause your brain chemistry to go wrong. And having brain chemistry being off can make you feel sad.
At our end of the year meeting today some teachers were expressing disappointment in the work of one of our volunteers. I later found out that she had been hospitalized with depression. Had she broken a leg or been out with the measles this would have been widely known. Cards, flowers and sympathy. Instead she was further isolated by the silence.
I don't want to use depression as a crutch. I don't want people to think that mental illness is an excuse to do shoddy work. But I do think there needs to be more openness around the realities of mental wellness and the workplace.
Quaker, teacher, parent,