I talk about mental health, seemingly openly. People commend me on my “bravery”. The truth, however, is that the fear of stigma sits on my shoulders. I’m not afraid of the impact it will have on my personal social life (e.g. personal relationships). Rather, I’m afraid of the impact it will have on my professional life. I intend to work in the mental health sector, and I always declare mental illness (albeit reluctantly at times). I have been rejected on the spot because of it before, and it felt absolutely terrible. It is understandable that organisations want to reduce the risks they take, and are just protecting themselves, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.
An interviewer today asked me a question I had never been posed before – what I thought my greatest challenge would be when working. At first, my mind blanked. And then, I realised that it would be trying to convince people that, despite my past, I am competent nonetheless. The interviewer was empathetic and rather encouraging about speaking up about mental health, which felt nice.
I believe that my history gives me an advantage when it comes to working in the mental health sector because nobody who has not experienced mental illness can imagine the trauma. Each case of mental illness is unique, but I am one step closer to being able to relate to them, and vice versa, than most others.