Full time employment just wasn’t an option for me. Even with a strong work ethic and graduating with a First-Class BA (hons) degree, I knew it would be foolish to apply for an employed role. My health wouldn’t have been able to manage it and many work places just wouldn’t want an anti-depressant induced employee – despite my credentials.
I’m used to the slight pause when I tell people I have chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder. The lingering look and comments of “Oh, so what do you actually do?” when I tell people I’m a freelancer is just the ‘norm’ for me now.
Having a long term mental health problem doesn’t mean you’re unemployable, you have a poor work ethic, or simply live off the state. It often means working harder, being more committed to a job and planning your life around balancing your health and work.
Jenny Edwards CBE, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:
“We need to stop seeing mental health purely as a problem, rather than an asset that everyone has and which needs to be protected and improved.”
The lack of credit that is given to those who turn to self-employment or part-time work due to mental illness is degrading. It’s as if we’re either millionaires working just for fun or so unwell that no would employ us. Being self-employed has its benefits – such as choosing your projects – but it also means, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, like you would a salary job.
For me, freelance gives me the flexibility to work as many hours as my health allows me to. I can take longer breaks if needed and say no to certain projects if I’m simply too unwell to take them on. Yet with that, comes a responsibility to monitor my health and not let others down by agreeing to work and not then fulfilling the assignment.
When I read statements like “Our work has revealed that the UK is facing a mental health challenge at work that is much larger than we had thought.” It makes me want to scream for justice and say, “No shit! We’ve been saying this for ages!”
Those of us that have worked in employed roles will tell you how isolating it can be to tell your boss that you have a mental health illness. The lack of understanding – which may I add, is by choice – feeds into the wider negative stigma that is linked to telling others you have a mental health problem.
But there is hope. There are positive managers who choose to engage in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their employees. They are seeing the difference in their staff thriving at work and creating a culture where other staff members can share if they’re struggling or not.
I recognise that I am in a fortunate position to be able to freelance and still live a relatively financially secure life with my husband. Would I earn more money if I was in a salary job? Definitely. But the detriment to my health wouldn’t be worth the monetary rewards.
May tell us she has “… made it a priority for this government to tackle the injustice of mental illness,” and I really hope they listen this time.
To see a movement of healthy workplaces with healthy workers is vital to us as individuals as to us as a economic nation. We can no longer ignore this pressing issue and I urge every workplace to actively engage in vital conversations around mental health and the wellbeing of their employees – and themselves.
This article originally featured on The Huffington Post on 26/10/2017