A few weeks into my first job at an insurance company, I had a seizure and was taken to hospital.
Since I have a history of epilepsy, the doctor said there was no need for me to be admitted.
This occurred on a Saturday morning and after resting through the weekend, I was ready for work on Monday.
When I reported to work, I was informed that I had been given two weeks off to continue resting.
I reported back again only to be told that I had two more weeks off.
It wasn’t until I spoke to someone else in the company that I learned that the director had said they could not work with someone with a health condition like mine.
I was devastated and depressed. This was my dream job, but my employer did not have the courtesy to tell me that I had been fired.
My employer was not willing to let me adapt the job to my health needs.
As World Mental Health Day marks its 25th anniversary, this year’s theme is to highlight mental health at the workplace.
The stigma faced by people living with epilepsy and those having mental health conditions is the same.
Many would rather not disclose this or would rather say they have allergic reactions or migraines than confess to going through depression or anxiety.
The most common mental health conditions at the workplace are anxiety and depression.
According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people are suffering from depression globally, making it a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to the overall burden of disease.
Depression can lead to suicide, but even before it reaches that level, it can adversely affect people’s personal and professional lives.
The lack of good mental health can lead to reduced labour, increased staff turnover and high welfare payments.
A brief for a joint WHO and World Bank meeting, dubbed ‘Out of the Shadows' to discuss the global economic and development burden of mental health stated in part:
“The foregone economic output because of mental, neurological and substance use disorders globally, is in trillions of dollars.”
In contrast, good mental health increases productivity and boosts employees’ esteem.
It’s okay to give parental leave, instal wheelchair ramps and set up mothers’ nursing rooms, but also to help those who have an invisible disability or special need.
Employers should commemorate mental health alongside those promoting cancer awareness and HIV testing.
Promoting mental health can help with staff stress management.
Staff and employers need information and resources on mental health.
Promoting a culture where staff and employers discuss mental health can go a long way in reducing stigma.
Unilever is a good example. A globally recognised brand with over 174,000 employees across 100 countries, it has a mental health programme that provides training for managers on how to recognise signs of mental illness.
This has led to increased productivity and a decrease in hospital bills.
Barclays Bank began a “This is me” campaign that encouraged employees to share stories of their mental health to fight stigma.
The campaign has received 200 stories, which have gotten 60,000 visits and attracted 115 organisations representing 400,000 employees.
Since many people spend many hours at work, it is vital that everyone feels accepted.
In my case, it would have been good for the director to sit down with me to learn more about my diagnosis, triggers, signs to look out for and how to handle me --- and then share this with the rest of the team.
If he had, I would perhaps have been able to stay in my dream job.
Ms Wafula is a mental health consultant with My Mind, My Funk - a mental health resource hub. She is also a TED speaker and an Aspen New Voices Fellow. [email protected]