For centuries humans have negatively judged people with mental and emotional disorders as “crazy.”
Now, in 2015, we’re more aware of how a mental health diagnosis can be managed. Enormous progress in treatment options, coupled with openness inside and outside the medical profession, has helped melt away old misconceptions. And it’s about time, considering one in four people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.
When sharing is scary
Clearly, eradicating the stigma of mental illness is an ongoing process. So we talk. We carry the torch. Being open and public about a mental health diagnosis, as I’ve been about my bipolar disorder, can be both scary and rewarding. And it carries certain professional risks.
This is where support within the mental health community becomes paramount. Much of this blog germinated from a wonderfully collaborative and helpful conversation with friend and fellow mental health advocate Adrienne Gurman. Too often reality and stigmatized impressions don’t jive. Handling this rift can feel overwhelming. Talking with those in similar shoes helps us pinpoint best avenues for at least ebbing and best managing our fear.
So please know I’ve spent my career in events management and public relations. I’ve helped organizations host hundreds of celebrities, intellectuals, world leaders and famous activists. And all along, while working alongside a strong and trusted staff, I have shared my diagnosis and its management with a few of my closest colleagues. That’s worked well so far.
Now, however, I am seeking career opportunities. As I pursue my next job, I am very aware that the story of my personal mental-health journey, written under my full name, is on the Web. You can find me easily using most search engines.
I put it all out there
My decision to go public about my bipolar disorder and its management was conscious – I wanted to be part of the growing movement to raise awareness for people with mental-health diagnoses. I wanted to help everyone realize we are, literally, the neighbor next door or the co-worker in the next office cubicle.
Further, I had decided I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who would negatively judge me for successfully managing my bipolar disorder. Yet I worry my well-publicized story may limit my professional prospects.
When you review my application
Prospective employers, when you do a Web search after receiving my resume, I hope you remember that a relative, good friend or current colleague may be in the same situation as me. I hope you agree that today’s workplace needs to be open and considerate of all talented candidates – regardless of a health diagnosis.
Here’s my wish: That you will acknowledge my professional assets – strong verbal and written skills, a proven track record of creating teams that can successfully execute an event, publicity campaign or stewardship initiative. I hope you will judge me on these professional qualities and my community service – without letting my diagnosis cloud your vision.
Because, believe me, I’m on it. I know managing my illness is a personal obligation to myself, my family and my employers. I’ve proven that with vigilance, I can continue to live a useful, vibrant and rewarding life.
Please keep in mind that my experience with bipolar disorder has only enhanced my empathy and humanity, which make me an even better colleague and communicator. In truth, my journey to mental health sustainability is a gift I can use to make valuable contributions to our society – and, not least, to your organization.
You are an inspiration
Thank you for writing this! I too am in the midst of navigating a similar terrain. I blog about my bipolar diagnosis for both my personal website and the Huffington Post. I hope my writing is seen as an asset and not a liability as I look for work and head back to graduate school. Good luck to you!
Hurrah for Kate. All of the above is true…professional assets – strong verbal and written skills, a proven track record of creating teams that can successfully execute an event, publicity campaign or stewardship initiative. Love and luck. Amabel
Thank you for putting it out there!
I wish you the best.
My diagnosis is major depressive disorder. By profession, I am an attorney. I have dealt with this depression, formally diagnosed, for 40 years. Recently I underwent ECT treatments which, at long last, have brought me what I call a “profound stability.” A friend has described me as now being “Finally right and happy in my heart.” I have adopted an active commitment to openly tell someone, often those I deal with in the medical profession (e.g. nurses, IV techs) that I have undergone this treatment and how well it has worked for me. It’s often a “shock” (get it) to those I talk to. It’s also good. Hopefully, it will give someone else another option to think about, when trying to manage their depression.
Excellent statement. I agree whole heartily. Thank you for your honesty, integrity and courage. I, too, am very upfront about my bi polar disorder and have found most people to be empathetic, non-judgmental and accepting.
Well said – and so important Kate. How much better our world would be if all employers were comfortable with and understood the value of a diversity of abilities, expertise, perspectives and yes, even diagnoses in their work force.
Well said, Kate. Beautifully expressed.
It has been a long road, this personal obligation to myself. At 62, still working on it through marriage,family and jobs. Much of it silently. There needs to be some kind of preparation for the journey. You have made a brave and powerful step for the public and workplace. Thank you.