There are several things that you’re urged against posting online to ensure that you don’t damage your employment opportunities. In our fast-paced digital world, your future employer can find out anything about you within a few quick clicks. These things include, but are not limited to:
1. Revealing photos
2. Photos involving alcohol
3. Posts that are negative about your current employer/workplace
4. Profound profanities
5. Anything involving mental illness
But let’s take a look at that list again, as something seems a bit off about it. I could go into an entire post about revealing photos and how showing your body in no way diminishes your potential in the workplace. But then I’d have to explain how women’s bodies are more than just objects for desire, and I don’t even know where to start. But aside from that, let’s question why mental illness is on this list in the first place? In a list of negative behaviours, why do we include a disease that is out of your control? I can choose not to post a photo with a giant margarita half-spilt down my top. I could even decide to write my rant about work to a private with friends instead of public space. But I don’t get to decide if I have a mental illness, so why do I not even get the decision to be open about it?
I really hate this term, as very little is actually oversharing. Talking about the highs and lows of life is not oversharing; it’s just sharing. Those words shouldn’t be swapped as if they were interchangeable. It’s a part of your life, and people are allowed to know that. Life is wonderful, and life is difficult, and it’s okay to share both those parts of it because other people are also experiencing things. The new mother who struggles to breastfeed, the friend who lost their parent, the person struggling with their mental health. It is all happening behind closed doors, so why is it wrong for people to actually know? Why can’t we open those doors? No one would feel worse for it, only better.
It’s easy for them to pretend that you would be a worse employee for having a mental illness. That you’d take unnecessary days off. But would you take more off than someone with a physical illness? I doubt that. You get people who pretend to be sick for a day out or make up an excuse. Having a mental illness isn’t the only way someone could need a day off, and they’d usually be too afraid to ask for a day off for it. That you’d be challenging to work with? A lot of people are difficult to work with, and it usually isn’t about mental illness. It’s about ego, personal space, personal hygiene, a lack of manners and more. The fact that so many people have a mental illness and no one realises says enough. You can still do your job. You can do it very well. Why is knowing that suddenly make it an issue?
“More than a third of persons with serious mental illness also work, and many hold high-status positions… Our analyses indicate considerable diversity of jobs among persons with various mental disorders. Most persons with mental illness want to work, and some with even the most serious mental disorders hold jobs requiring high levels of functioning.” (Mechanic, Builder and Alpine, 2002)
Below or contrary to the standards expected in a particular profession. That’s the definition of unprofessional.
Would it be unprofessional to talk about a bodily illness in the public sphere? If I shared my struggle with diabetes, dystonia or high-cholesterol, would I be considered unhireable? Unprofessional is a word associated with doing things that are commonly considered to be shameful. It is only wrong to discuss mental illness because we have decided it to be. We have added the dose of shame to this, and so we need to work together to remove it now. The maturity and bravery to openly discuss your mental health struggles is not unprofessional; it doesn’t hinder you from doing your job or question your character.
Some candidates didn’t mention their mental health or mental illness online, and maybe the employer will go for them. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a mental illness. According to WHO, over 264 million people suffer from depression, and that’s just the ones we know about. One in thirteen people suffers from anxiety. I could list the rates for personality disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders and more… but I think you get my point. So that candidate they hired could just as likely have a mental illness. They haven’t ruled it out by hiring someone silent on the matter. In fact, one could argue that person is struggling with it more if they’re silent on the subject, as they’re not vocal about their recovery… But the point remains that this doesn’t differentiate you as the one of the few. If they want to do that, they’ll need to ask it directly, and then get a nice discrimination lawsuit slapped on their desk.
Candidates can be better for various ways, but being better for not having a mental illness doesn’t exist. Everything is subjective; there are so many skills and experiences to take into consideration. What if our mental illness has actually made us a better candidate? I have years of anxiety in my pocket, so I won’t be shocked or shy at the sight of a stressful situation. I have depression, I know how to work when I don’t want to, unlike many who will just stop when it gets tough. I don’t want to turn this into having a mental illness makes you the better candidate, but for sure it does not make you any worse than any other candidate. It should not even be included in the equation.
Where? On a private chat with one friend? That’s great; let’s just continue to show the youth of today an absence of mental illness being correctly discussed. Allow them to think they’re alone in this, that no one else feels that way. Instead of showing them actual stories of people struggling and carrying on, even getting better, let’s only use mental illness in media to be dramatic and fetishise it? When I was fifteen and struggling incredibly with my depression, I thought I was the only one to feel like this. I didn’t even know it was depression or self-harm until I accidentally stumbled upon a leaflet about the subject. I want another fifteen year old to be able to find my articles, and realise what is going on with them, to hear from a real person that there is hope and they can get through this.
I don’t want to talk about it elsewhere because then nothing changes. I don’t want to talk about it elsewhere because then it is a shameful secret. Can someone discuss their successful brain surgery on Facebook? They should; it’s fantastic! And what is also awesome is me overcoming my years of mental health struggles. People can mention their weight loss on Instagram, why can’t I talk about my weight gain as I recovered from my eating disorder? If they were this focused on censoring triggering and damaging material on social networks, we could be struggling less with our mental health.
Maybe we do live in a world where I won’t get a job for talking about my mental illness. I have that thought sometimes, and I know it’s possible. But that world will never change unless we start talking about it. When we finally normalise mental illness, stop acknowledging it and start accepting it, then it doesn’t make you unhireable. It doesn’t play a role in it, because it shouldn’t. Yeah, there are exceptions. There are cases where severe mental illness limits someone’s ability in the workplace. The same can be said for personality traits; someone could have issues with authority or be too lazy. The same can be said for physical illnesses, such as increased tiredness from anaemia or the possibility of a migraine in someone who frequently has them. I am not tearing these down or saying those people shouldn’t be hired. I am merely highlighting the fact that we all have something that makes us unhireable, and that we shouldn’t shame those things, as if we are all unhireable than no one really is.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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