We welcome Beth from BooksNest sharing her personal experience of having obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the stigma surrounding mental health issues within the workplace.
In 2019, we hope that we can be more open and honest about our mental health. We hope that terms like depression, anxiety and OCD hold less of a stigma around them. But is this really how mental health is being perceived or are we still experiencing prejudicial thoughts in the workplace?
I have OCD; it is linked to my phobia of vomiting. Basically I wash my hands a lot, I am super aware of germs, I don’t like to touch things I don’t need to touch. This is just part of who I am, it’s in my everyday routine and hey, I don’t get ill much, so I guess it works! I sometimes make those close to me aware of my OCD, because they are usually then more considerate when ill and understand why I touch door handles using my sleeve and not my hand. However, in general, I find it is easier to stay quiet.
OCD is a well-known term and it is something that can be associated with many different ways of thinking. My fear of germs is just one example; some people have to keep things neat and tidy, others have to turn a light switch on and off a certain amount of times. The key thing is that people with OCD, obsessively have to do these things, there is no other option; if we don’t do them, the thought of it will just become too much for us.
If a picture has been put up on the wall and it is a bit wonky, someone will declare it is ‘messing with their OCD’. I know this is unavoidable and will follow me everywhere, but I have now taken to asking people if they have OCD when they say this. If they are so willingly open to declare this condition, do they truly know what it feels to have to have their world a certain way or it will eat them up inside? I tend to find, that as soon as I say this to them, they are a lot more careful with how they bat about the term.
Of course, I find people treat me differently if I mention that I have OCD, which is why I usually only tell a handful of close friends. Suddenly people think they have to steer well away from you, or they can’t touch you or pass you things. It can become a bit much. The best sorts of people though, are those who respect the OCD and are mindful of what they sneeze and cough into.
I don’t think this should have any affect at all on your work life, but unfortunately it isn’t always that simple. When I was in the probation period of a job, I needed to attend some counselling sessions because my doctor thought I had symptoms of depression. I told my boss this and we had a chat about how I wouldn’t be able to be taken off of my probationary period until all of ‘this’ was sorted.
I was absolutely gobsmacked to be told this as never had I experienced this kind of reaction before. It’s safe to say that once HR was informed, I was off probation rather quickly and it was never mentioned again. If you are interested in my experience of talking to professionals about my mental health, I wrote Talking about Mental Health.
If you have a mental illness, it does not default to meaning it will impact your work. I think that a lot of employers need to understand mental health a lot better as it can be difficult to get a grasp of, if it’s not something you or someone close to you has experienced. I know that various places of work offer support, but employees still feel like there is a stigma around accepting it, like it will be marked on their record somehow.
This certainly isn’t the way I want to see things, but I’ve come to realise that it is a private thing and as it doesn’t affect those around me, they shouldn’t have to know about it. I have seen that there is now a compulsory option on some job applications to declare if you are on medication for your mental health; I assume so they can offer you support, but it also removes the possibility of that employee remaining anonymous.
Mental health is important, it can be private or public, but we should all have a choice. I think there is still a lot of work to do around removing the stigma of mental health issues and how it is treated in the workplace. It is good to see that leaps and bounds are being made compared to many years ago but it’s not enough to offer a scheme for help. Employers and employees need to change their attitude to dealing with the stigma of mental health and how it may affect their colleagues.