Last week was Mental Health Week, and somehow that seemed pretty fitting.  You see, it's been a tough week.  Tougher than usual.  The universe seemed to be turning the stress levels up to 11.  And in all honesty, I don't think I'm coping very well.

Peter is having a really hard time at his workplace.  So much so, we think they are trying to push him out.  He has said things to me in recent days that have upset me so much.  You see, I do a volunteer role at my workplace (on top of my regular job).  I'm a Discrimination Advisor.  This role has taught me so much and enabled me to assist people with information and help to support them through the difficulty they are having at work.  Complaints don't always fit into the category of discrimination.  Sometimes, actually a lot of the time, it's just really shit behaviour by someone that ends up having people in tears and on the verge of quitting their job.

I've written about Peter's depression and anxiety before.  There are moments when it's not easy for either of us.  But Peter told me this week things managers in his workplace have said to him.  That 'his absenteeism makes things difficult operationally'.  I wish they could see him while he's sick.  Looking wild eyed and with hands shaking.  I wonder if they think he's sitting in beer gardens or reading books under trees.  He's not skiving off; he's trying very hard just to feel ok.  He has run out of sick leave so no longer gets paid if he's sick.  Imagine that stress on top of everything else.

He has asked many times if there can be small accommodations made when he returns from sick leave.  Just a little space to ease him back into the workplace.  Some time to catch up quietly before jumping back into dealing with the public.  Just a day or two.  He was told this 'wouldn't be fair on his colleagues'.  It was this that made my head explode.  I have realised that many people probably don't know or understand their rights within the workplace or place of study.

Most of us think of discrimination in a pretty clear cut way.  But there are two types, direct and indirect.  Direct is quite self explanatory, but indirect is somewhat harder for people to get their heads around.  It's treating everyone equally within a workplace, but this idea of 'treating everyone the same' that disadvantages someone.  eg. making meetings at 5pm would make it difficult for someone with carers responsibilities.  People can ask for 'reasonable accommodations' to be made in their workplace - whether temporary or ongoing.

Some people see this as special treatment.  But I think they should take a step back for one second and think.  Anyone who watched 'Changing Minds' on the ABC would see people with really quite severe mental health issues.  These people are dealing with so much.  It also threw some very interesting statistics at us about mental health in Australia.  45% of all Australians will suffer from a mental health issue during their lifetime.  That's staggering when you think about it.  And anxiety is the most common class of mental disorders.  I do think that mental health is not understood very well, unless you've been one of the 45%.  Most people won't be hospitalised, like in Changing Minds.  Most people just keep battling on every day.  Sometimes struggling, sometimes losing the struggle.

There was a group of us chatting at the pub the other night.  People were commenting on what a great initiative the week of mental health programming was on the ABC.  It's good if people feel less ashamed or stigmatised.  This is a step forward.  But what people really need is support and understanding.  Making small accommodations for people as students or workers can mean the world of difference.  It's not special treatment, it's actually creating a level playing field.  Perhaps this is easier to grasp if your disability is physical.  You can see that someone in a wheelchair needs a ramp or adjustable desk, or people with vision impairments require different software on computers.  But when the disability is invisible it makes it all the more harder.

My role has taught me the power of acknowledgement.  Listening, understanding and seeing if there are things that can be done to help.  Whether small or large, any support is good.  And it can be this that makes all the difference to someone.  A few people have suggested that I need support too.  That in difficult and stressful times we all need someone to help us.  Thinking about how much I've cried this weekend perhaps they are right.  Life is hard.  Some days harder than others.  And right now I'm looking ahead down the road and stressed by what I fear is coming.  So here I am at the end of mental health week thinking about the best way to look after myself.  Watch this space.


ALJ said…
Great piece Andy - keep up the good work! ALJ
Andy said…
Thanks so much ALJ. I thought of you so much in the last week while all this was happening. Thanks for the kind words :)

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