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I Was Told To Never Admit To My Depression On Any Form, Here’s Why You Should

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 28 Oct 2021 17:52
I Was Told To Never Admit To My Depression On Any Form, Here’s Why You ShouldAlamy

Variations of the word ‘depression’ are still so often thrown about – ‘What a depressing day’, ‘I’m feeling a bit depressed’, ‘What depressing weather’ – often by people who don’t have diagnosed depression.

Despite its colloquiality, and the fact mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are more readily accepted by society, why are so many still reluctant to acknowledge it or to admit to it on a form or application? Why is it still shrouded in such stigma and shame?

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Moreover, if people are still so hesitant to admit to their depression on a form, what hope is there for lesser-known mental illnesses more clouded in stigma, like borderline personality disorder (BPD), schizophrenia and eating disorders? The list really does go on.

To mark National Depression Education and Awareness Month in the US, UNILAD spoke to Chris Holden, who works for mental health support organisation 42nd Street in Manchester, about why so many people diagnosed with depression still don’t admit to it on formal applications.

Before applying for university, I was warned by someone to not mention my depression or anxiety on the form. Perhaps they feared I would be judged, stereotyped or even not given an offer.

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Later, upon filling in a form for a new job, I was in a better place and didn’t view myself as necessarily suffering as badly from depression. I chose to write down that I had anxiety – however, alongside my admittance, I ferociously typed a panicked three lines about how it was ‘under control’ and ‘nothing to worry’ about.

I still have days where I can’t get out of bed, feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and hibernate for four days straight, too scared to step foot outside my flat. So why didn’t I admit to my depression on the form?

‘I think there’s still a fear isn’t there that it would stop you from getting the job or getting a place on a course, maybe due to someone making an assumption about what you can and can’t do. I think that’s one thing which is there a little bit in certain roles people go for,’ Chris said.

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While Chris noted that in ‘an ideal world’ you’d hope someone’s mental health and experiences would never be a factor when getting a job, he can understand why there is such a concern.

‘If you’re applying for a job, you might think that I have exactly the same attributes as another candidate, but if I’m the person who has depression or anxiety then the other candidate might get it over me, because the employer might assume that I might not be able to cope with certain things or I’ll take a load of sick leave,’ he said.

The Equality Act of 2010 states that ‘as an employer you are under a positive duty to make any reasonable adjustments in the workplace to alleviate or remove any disadvantage suffered by a disabled worker when compared to a non-disabled worker. This includes anyone suffering from a long-term mental impairment,’ according to Davidson Morris. However, Chris believes the fear of being open about one’s mental health on an application is ‘born out of some reality’. ‘Some employers still aren’t great are they?’ he said.

Despite ‘approximately 280 million people in the world’ experiencing depression, as per a report by the World Health Organization, and conversations around mental health growing more open, many organisations still haven’t fully adjusted.

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While Chris acknowledged there’s been ‘a lot of progress’ and ‘welcomed conversations’ within companies – such as those in the mental health field viewing mental health and experiences as ‘attributes’ – he admitted there’s still a long way to go.

Chris said:

I guess it’s in what they do. I wonder if there’s something about schools and workplaces, how they react and respond to people’s mental health. I think there can sometimes be a lack of understanding.

For example, you can get a lot of schools and workplaces who might do a lot around wellbeing for their pupils, such as things like encouraging mindfulness, yoga or tell people it’s good to talk.

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However, ‘on the flip side of that’, Chris said companies might ‘not recognise the impact of their role on someone’s mental health’. ‘They might do all that, but then overlay someone with work, or demand they work longer hours, or not take into account someone’s needs like their family life or social needs or health needs or general wellbeing needs. I think it’s massively about respect,’ he said.

In England, eight in 100 people during ‘any given week’ experience ‘mixed anxiety and depression’, mental health charity Mind reports. So would it not help for those in higher authority positions at organisations to be honest about their own mental health to, in turn, inspire and support others with theirs?

Chris noted that while there is ‘definitely something in having people at the top of organisations being able to model talking about mental health issues’ and it being something he would encourage for a healthier workplace culture, it can be ‘difficult’.

‘I guess, it’s being careful. I think it’s good to talk and okay to talk, but making sure that there’s not a pressure to talk. Because then it can go dangerously the other way, making people feel like it’s their duty to talk about their own mental health,’ he said.

Just because someone has depression, it may not impact all aspects of their life or work, Chris said. ‘Your job may be the part of your life which you’re fine with and alright in that area of your life with, so it’s not making assumptions as well.’

If you are debating whether or not to acknowledge your depression on a form or to an organisation, Chris advises to ‘check in with how you feel about it and how you feel about being open about it’.

‘It might be that at that moment you don’t feel like you’re in a place where you’re ready to be open about your mental health with an organisation you don’t know yet. And that’s alright as well. It’s okay to let an organisation know once some trust has been established,’ he said.

However, another thing to bear in mind if you don’t feel able to disclose the information, is that it can be more difficult to get the right support and help for it. ‘Sometimes it’s about finding someone within the organisation that you feel comfortable sharing that with. It might not be that you feel comfortable sharing it with the whole organisation, but there might be one person you feel okay to open up to,’ Chris said.

He added: 

 In an ideal world, I’d be encouraging everyone to open up about their mental health to their employers, but it’s that recognition that we’re not in an ideal world. It’s really tricky, isn’t it?

That’s the thing about the conversation to do with mental health, is that we’re having it in a context of living in a world which isn’t ideal and where bad practices happen. I think it probably does sometimes stop people from getting jobs. It shouldn’t happen, but I suspect it does.

Despite depression being the most ‘predominant mental health problem worldwide’, according to the Mental Health Foundation, people do still discriminate against mental health issues.

Moreover, the ‘harsh reality of the situation and system we’re under’ is that people can’t always be picky when it comes to choosing companies who do adequate work to support those with mental health illnesses.

Chris noted the important role unions can subsequently play in aiding relationships between employees and their employers, acting as intermediaries and advocates.

‘It would be nice if there was an understanding really that there is this dilemma and that it’s really hard for people. We know to a certain extent that there’s a real benefit to talking to people who we trust about our emotional difficulties or mental health problems. But there’s this huge dilemma caused by certain people that it can still be seen as a weakness, with assumptions also made,’ he said.

When making an application for an organisation, it’s hard to know exactly what that company is like, ‘unless you get organisations, where sometimes you get little worded statements, which might say they openly welcome applications from people who might be struggling with their mental health, or that they might label as disabilities’.

This can show an organisation has ‘gone out of their way to really invite the conversation’, but they aren’t as common as one would hope.

Chris said: 

Job person specs are often written in quite ableist language. It’s very much like, we want you to be able to do this, this and this and talking about how they want you to be able to work under large workloads and timescale pressures. Even now, even within good mental health organisations, they can be written in a way in which doesn’t exactly sound conducive to good mental health.

Why should we all have to adapt ourselves to work with really high workloads, and tight timescales? That’s not something I’d advise someone to do in a therapy session.

In his view, Chris thinks no job should ‘push us to that extent’ and that it can be damaging and put off potential applicants who do struggle with their mental health, seeing them discounting themselves almost immediately.

Chris even admitted himself to having been ‘slipping’ into an easy assumption that those applicants would be considered as not being able to do the job as well. Whereas, ‘someone with depression and anxiety might be no less inclined to be able to deal with that, than someone who hasn’t gone through that’. If anything, those with mental health issues could do the job even better, as they could show they can fulfil certain requirements while also dealing with immense personal pressures and battling their own internal battles.

Chris also urged everyone, whether employer or employee, to remember ‘the vast majority of us go through periods in our life where we might experience what we’d call depression or anxiety’.

Depression was the ‘second leading cause of years lived with a disability worldwide’, yet it still comes with the heavy weight of stigma when having to admit to it to organisations, universities or on any type of form.

So where does that leave other mental health illnesses? Ones even lesser-known, more stigmatised and which subsequently hold even more fear to admit?

‘Yeah, I do worry about that. And I imagine stats would bear out that it was a real worry too, especially for those with the other diagnoses. And some of that might be about people not feeling ready to enter the workplace, but some of it might be to do with presumptions and stigma around those diagnoses as well,’ Chris said.

He noted:

There might be parallels for those with physical disabilities as well, and just not being able to access certain types of employment. And I do think that it’s on employers to be flexible.

Chris concluded that employers need to be adaptable, ‘not just because it’s the right thing to do, but to get the best workforce possible really. Otherwise, you’re missing out on talented people who happen to have certain things that are difficult in their life.’

42nd Street is an inclusive, accessible mental health and wellbeing support network which offers confidential and free services to young people. You can contact them via their website or email, and you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone

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Topics: Featured, depression, Mental Health, US

Credits

Mental Health Foundation and 2 others
  1. Mental Health Foundation

    Mental health statistics: depression

  2. Mind

    Mental health facts and statistics

  3. World Health Organization

    Depression