I am deeply concerned about the working world. Already the statistics of people with long term and serious mental health conditions obtaining and/or maintaining long-term work are very poor and speaking as someone in work with such conditions it is very easy to see why.  I will concede that the discussion around Mental Health has improved to an extent over the last 20 years from what I have witnessed.  What was once very specifically taboo can now be discussed more openly, people are able to declare and people are coming forward to seek professional help.  But in my experience and that of many I see that structure to cope with people needing help just isn’t there, it isn’t there at a clinical level and then you leave someone in a heightened state of vulnerability more alone to face the world, at which point they may be more aware of the help they need at a time no one is willing to provide it.  It goes the same way at work.  I have long since declared my Mental Health conditions in the workplace formally, I have my reservations about doing so and I understand those that do not but the nature of the job I know means I do not feel I could counsel others to do it in their workplace if I had not done so in mine. I am aware though that when speaking to others about it I am cautious to try to assess into what environment they would be placing themselves if they do.

We are still in a world where if you are in many jobs and off work for a reason that is a disability your absence remains recorded just as if you had a cold. Whilst this is direct discrimination if you were to suffer any detriment such as hitting trigger points for review meetings etc. the law has no real recourse unless you were to lose your job and most people are aware enough of the difficulty of getting a job that to risk it on the basis of the law helping out seems foolish and indeed most certainly would be.  The law is not there for the little person, its protections are scant and difficult to enact, there are many loopholes for employers to avoid falling foul of it that only really the most naive or the most dogmatically nasty should do so.

Of course employers know how to play the game and will talk about the importance of mental health and wellbeing as if it is at the forefront of their agenda, they may even cite the very sort of research that suggests it indeed should be.  ‘Thriving At Work’ [2017] a study commissioned by the last government some years ago showed as a result of extensive Deloitte research that money proactively invested in promoting and maintaining good Mental Health in the workplace had a return on investment in £ pounds of up to 9:1 and very often at least 5:1+ whilst reactively trying to clean up the problems of poor Mental Health and wellbeing could show only 2:1 at very best. You might reasonably therefore think that if even the bean counters should be impressed that the agenda must move along.  I have heard anecdotally about companies looking to utilise this information and take a proactive approach and have Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace and the promotion of positive mental health and in the examples I have heard it has proven hugely beneficial.  But these have been anecdotal and from small enlightened environments and very very much in the minority.

The problem I would assert is a sense of risk aversion coupled with a lack of humanity.  We have moved in the workplace often to a position of default mistrust, more people have to spend vast swathes of their time justifying what they have been doing rather than actually doing it. The people they are justifying it to often have little or no idea about the actual job and therefore it is more about justifying the latter’s existence than anyone actually doing any work.  In this culture you must therefore be able to show what you have been doing all the time and that just isn’t how people tend to work.  Everyone has time when they are productive and time when they are not, days when we are more ‘on it’ than others are not restricted to those with Mental Health conditions this is just the nature of Mental Health in general. The great problem for Mental Health is you can’t easily verify it and in the position of mistrust there is an assumption that perhaps someone is putting it on if they should refer to having issues in a way that would be unthinkable for a physical disability.  The damage that sort of rhetoric is allowed to do is seismic and should be stamped out but it isn’t because to do so would require admitting the scale of many problems, not least what the hell the tranche of middle managers are doing and whether or not the best way to get service running wouldn’t be to have more people trained and happy working at the coal face.

I have worked in many environments in the Public-, Private- and Third Sectors and none had their act together on Mental Health apart from a Disabled People’s User-Led Organisation which took a sufficiently enlightened view towards Mental Health and sought to support as much as possible that I felt empowered enough during my 6 months there that I never needed to call upon them to support me because I felt it was there and my productivity remained pleasingly constant for all parties.  Most organisations however enlightened they may like to portray themselves, whether or not they believe their own rhetoric, when it comes to issues of disability are only interested in covering their own backsides, the risk aversion runs to simply ensuring they cannot be sued.

What worries me most is that although I know my rights and am not afraid to exercise them I also know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, I know certain battles that aren’t worth fighting and other times when a point of principle has to be held firm and that the former usually vastly outnumber the latter.  Yet I have found the working world to be intransigent to the point of belligerence, the ignorance and lack of compassion is astounding even when it becomes clear (and not by ramming it down someone’s throat).  I have tried to work to help better things but invariably been seen as someone being difficult to the point where it has made my position untenable on more than one occasion.  By and large I have managed to just about stay in work but it has not been at all easy.  I worry for the others who are not so bolshy, who for reasons of childcare or accommodation simply cannot afford to fold and have to trudge through the anguish and take it again and again. The long term implications of this are huge and I believe ultimately will lead to the premature death of a great many people who did nothing more than try to keep going in the face of it all.

Song Of the Day ~ Sinkane – Everybody