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  • Writer's pictureLauren Gordon

Mental Illness in the Workplace

With figures as high, if not higher, of 1 in every 4 people will at some time throughout their lives experience mental illness, there is a high chance that we are sharing a work environment with someone who has experienced this or is continuing to experiencing this.

Depression and anxiety are fairly common illnesses and can be accepted by workmates. What if someone we worked with experienced episodes of psychosis or was a voice hearer?

I guess there are a lot of other factors you would consider before you could answer how you would act toward this person such as are they medicated, are they seeing someone for help, how long have they had it for? Many questions.. We would all like to say that we would help someone and support them but sadly this is not always true.

There still remains so much social stigma around mental health, especially psychosis. The media and film industry have done so much to portray people with psychosis as evil and wanting to hunt down and kill people at random. This could not be further from the truth. The rate of homicides throughout Australia by someone with psychosis is lower than homicide by someone with depression. People experiencing psychosis in reality are actually very overwhelmed, frightened and confused and the worst part about all of this, is that they don’t want to talk to anyone about it because they are afraid of the response they will get.

If they do tell someone they trust, have a support team and a plan in place with emergency phone contacts, there is no reason why a person should not be supported to be a valued member of the workplace. They should be supported just as much as someone who has a chronic illness which could flare up.

We encourage people to embrace inclusion but I’ve often seen when it comes down to it that people simply want someone else to ‘deal with the situation’ as it is too difficult for them to manage. To assist in maintaining routine and stability in a person’s life with psychosis, it is important that they have routine, feel like they are doing something purposeful, feel valued and have support around them. People with psychosis have so much shame and feel so worthless but when they are working they are something. They are doing what everyone else is doing and they are, in a way accepted. If they lose this position, they can perceive this to mean that they are less than everyone else.

We need to come together and support each other rather than treat people as if they are different. We are all different in our own ways, with our own faults and personal battles. In the case of having episodes of psychosis, people can still be a very valuable member of the team in which they work and can still contribute widely to their employer. They are no different to when they were first hired except they might require some time off if their illness flares up.

We need to end this stigma. People are afraid of psychosis because they don’t understand it. Become educated and educate others. People who experience psychosis are still people, just like you and me. People with psychosis just want to feel safe.

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