I’m just going to jump right in and say it. I struggle with a mental illness and an eating disorder – more specifically, depression, anxiety, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. I’ve also struggled with self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
For the first four or five years after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I spent a lot of time hiding my mental illness as best I could. I tried to remain upbeat and positive, wore long-sleeved shirts to cover cuts and scars, and always insisted nothing was wrong. Looking back, I think a lot of people saw past my lies, but I was determined to make it seem like I was okay even when I was falling apart.
It wasn’t until I went to college that I fully realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggles and so many people have gone through similar experiences. It was then that I started being open about my depression, anxiety and history with self-injury. It felt freeing to not hide it anymore, and it was even better to have a support system that understood how I felt.
When I started looking for jobs after college, I decided that no one could know about my mental health issues. I didn’t want people thinking that I was weak, unreliable or incapable of completing the same work as everyone else. And I certainly didn’t want people looking down on me, feeling sorry for me or judging me for it.
But the more I tried to hide my mental illness, the more obvious it became. And at some point, I made the decision that I was going to be open about my battles with mental illness and share my story.
Why Most People Keep Their Mental Illness a Secret at Work
We live in a society that tells us we should keep our struggles with mental illness a secret. We’re told that it makes us crazy, weak or broken. We’re told that if we tell anyone, we won’t get our dream job, impress the guy we met online or live a normal life. We fear losing everything just because we have a mental illness.
But if the world were free of the stigma surrounding mental illness, I’m confident that more people would be open about their struggles – especially at work. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
People keep their mental illness a secret at work for many reasons including the fear of losing their job, judgment from their boss or coworkers, or never being able to get another job. In some cases, people simply don’t feel there’s any reason for their boss to know.
In fact, as I was doing research for this post, I read through so many forums where people, including therapists, encouraged people with mental illnesses not to tell their employers.
At the end of the day, whether you choose to be open about your mental illness – both in and out of the workplace – is 100% up to you. Some people don’t feel comfortable telling others or they just want to keep it private. And that’s okay. You don’t have to tell anyone anything you don’t want them to know.
Why I Choose to Be Honest About My Struggles
Living with mental illness is a huge part of who I am. And it’s important for me to be open and honest about it. So many people suffer in silence – and I don’t want to be one of those people.
The stigma around mental illness is real, but it’s my hope that by being open about my battle with mental illness, I can help educate, spread awareness and help people better understand mental health issues.
When I’m open about mental illness in the workplace, it shows my boss and coworkers that I’m just as competent, capable and hardworking as everyone else. It shows that I am more than my depression or anxiety – and just how strong I really am. Ultimately, I believe it’s made me a better person, employee and coworker
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t just blurt it out during my interview or even within the first month of starting a new job. I bring it up when (and if) it feels right and if I know that I can trust my boss with that kind of information.
For me, being honest about my struggles with mental illness is the best decision I’ve ever made because it allows me to be my authentic self. I no longer feel like I’m hiding behind lies or being someone that I’m not. Because let’s be honest: It’s exhausting to fake a smile and put on a brave face when you’re falling apart. Speaking my truth and being open means I don’t have to hide anymore.
And that is a beautiful, wonderful feeling.