We need to end the stigma of mental illness

During the summer of 2008 I was having something of a mental breakdown. I had a new job that required me to be at work in New York City at 6:30 a.m. I wasn’t sleeping much if at all, and it led to anxiety and other depression-related issues. I had a hard time really understanding what was happening.

I went to my then primary care physician, who decided to just throw some pills at the problem. They gave me Ambien, Xanax and Zoloft. They didn’t refer me to a psychiatrist or do anything that a doctor should do to really try to solve my problems. The Ambien helped me sleep but scared the crap out of me. Xanax helped, but it made me feel very foggy. I ended up just stopping all of the pills after a few weeks and never returning to that primary care physician.

In the middle of it all, my work at my new job slipped. I had a hard time concentrating and felt anxious all the time. I never had anxiety issues like I was having that summer, so I wasn’t even sure how to cope. I decided to go to my new boss and confide my issues and see how we could try to help me work around everything.

She was dismissive of my issues, and all of the sudden she was yelling at me all the time and being hyper critical of my work. There were plenty of times I had to walk away for a few minutes to cry in the bathroom. And within a short period of time, I lost my job.

I cannot say definitively I lost my job because of my mental health issues, but it appeared on every level for that to be true. I don’t talk about it often because I’m embarrassed by it and there still remains some anger. My friends encouraged me to sue, but I knew it wouldn’t be good for me for a variety of reasons. I mainly feared being blackballed in the industry.

I share this story because it shows all the problems surrounding mental health issues in this country today, and this was four years ago. I had a doctor who just wanted to prescribe the problems away rather than getting me the right treatment. Plus the stigma that comes with mental illness led to the loss of my job.

That incident and the stigma is why I continued to suffer in silence and not open up about my issues. I feared being blackballed in journalism and not being able to find a job. I feared losing a job in the future. I feared being judged. So it was better to keep my mouth shut and suffer in silence.

Lots of people have said we need to have a serious conversation about mental health and care in this country since the shooting in Newtown, Conn. on Friday. It heartens me that people say that. For so long people want to talk about guns rather than the underlying reasons people are turning to guns to solve their problems.

But the reality is the stigma of mental illness needs to go away in order for us to have a real conversation as a nation about these issues. I’ve seen people post on social media basically equating mental illness with homicidal maniac. In their mind, anyone has a mental illness will kill you and your loved ones. Clearly that’s not true because there are so many people who suffer and don’t have any sort of homicidal or violent thoughts.

We can’t properly care for those who need treatment if people are going to treat them as a second class citizen. We’re regular people who work regular jobs and have regular lives. Some people have worse conditions than others, but many people have found ways to live a normal life. I can guarantee if you talked to people around you, you would find lots of people who are being treated (or have been treated) for mental illness at some point in their lives.

There is a happy ending for me with my job loss story. I was out of work for two months, but it allowed me to get back to normal with sleep, therefore correcting my problems. And while being out of work was frightening, I landed my job at Patch, which was a great experience for me and my career.

I had a scary moment not long after we launched the first websites. I was again suffering some anxiety issues because of all the pressure being put on us. I decided I needed to talk to my boss about it, but I was fearful I would run into the same problems I had at my previous employer. It was the complete opposite. Brian was supportive and understanding. And I thank him for that because it restored my faith in employers. I still fear being judged, but I learned there are some understanding people out there.


About Jen

Jen is a social media producer and a local journalist at heart. When not trying to take over the journalism world she writes, takes lots of photos and roots on her beloved New York Rangers and Mets.


3 thoughts on “We need to end the stigma of mental illness

  1. “I cannot say definitively I lost my job because of my mental health issues, but it appeared on every level for that to be true.”

    From my experience, that’s probably true. Unlike at the University, I have never had a good reaction from revealing my mental illness (depression) to co-workers, supervisors, bosses, etc …

    The last time I did, my supervisor actually had the nerve to ask me why I didn’t tell her this during my job interview! I retorted, somewhat smarmily: “Of course I didn’t. You wouldn’t have hired me.” Obviously I got fired.

    I mean, it is a bit of a Catch 22, especially when you’re working in fast-paced fields, such as in the media or journalism. On one hand, I understand that employees in this field have to be highly reliable, and reliability often does not go hand-in-hand with mental illness. On the other hand, there must be a niche somewhere that would allow us to work in these fields?

    Thanks for the article, best, Emily

    Posted by emily | December 17, 2012, 4:13 pm
    • Thanks for your comments, Emily. I’m sorry you didn’t have an understanding boss who fired you. Like I wrote, I’ve been there. But I’ve also had understanding bosses.

      For me, the fast-paced world of journalism is actually helpful. It’s a coping mechanism in a way, and I’ve done some of my best work during some very dark times in my life. When I first struggled with depression when I was 26, I started an all-out Freedom of Information Act assault, forcing town officials to rethink how they handle their e-mails. I am still proud of that work.

      I like to say journalism has saved me. Helping others through journalism and uncovering the truth helps me get my mind off my issues. It may be burying myself in work, but it’s burying myself in work with a purpose.

      Posted by Jen | December 17, 2012, 10:15 pm
      • Wow. I’m proud of you too!!! I wish I could have done that.

        When I had that job I was only in a moderate depression, and I was asking to have my hours reduced.

        Unfortunately, my most recent (and worst) depression involved a lot of cognitive dysfunction: such as not being able to read, write, or even speak properly. (I even had trouble following movies!). I definitely was not employable.

        And, normally being an ambitious person, the agonizing boredom of not being able to bury myself in a project was the worst part.

        I mean, now I’m in remission, and I have this blog, and it pretty much fulfills all my “project” needs. So, now stuff’s good. I still don’t really leave the apartment, but that doesn’t really bother me so much anymore.

        It’s funny how people can be severely depressed and appear completely normal or even highly functioning. The thing that surprised me the most when I started the blog was the amount of feedback I got from friends and acquaintances whose work I admired: Many of them confided in me and told stories of their own depression—it was amazing, and, of course, also sad to know that so many people think they’re alone.

        Anyway, thanks for writing back. Great topic for discussion, Emily <3

        Posted by emily | December 18, 2012, 7:52 am

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