Sickness Stigma


There’s a fine line between being rightly annoyed about lack of sympathy and being a needy little bitch. I believe I might be floating around that line with this post, so if you’ve had personal experience in this area, I’d love to know what you’ve been through.

I’ve never been off sick for a long period of time or left work due to a physical illness, so I can’t fully compare the difference between this and being off sick or leaving work due to mental illness, but from my experiences, it smells like mental health stigma to me.

I’m not proud to say I’ve had to move on from different roles because of (at least in part to) my depression. It’s either been an abrupt one due to my condition or after a period of absence and yet both times I barely received a single goodbye, let alone a card or get well wishes.

I’m not blaming particular individuals here because if it was just certain people then it wouldn’t have happened more than once and it wouldn’t have been such an epidemic across institutions. So it’s my assumption that it’s the work of stigma’s sticky little fingers.

Either people aren’t educated enough to know what to say in this circumstance (although a simple ‘get well soon’ or ‘sorry to see you go’ would suffice) or they don’t truly understand or sympathise with people in these situations. Should a colleague feel no other option but to resign due to *insert serious physical illness here*, I believe they’d get a well-deserved send off and sympathy concerning the situation, along with lots of ‘get wells’. Yet twice in my own personal life, it’s like entering a vacuum or going back in time as if I’d never worked there.

So what’s going wrong here? I never actively obscured my illness to colleagues, quite the contrary really, so it can’t be due to ignorance. I think about the closeness of my relationships and consider maybe that was a factor, but when it comes to office gestures, a level of real friendship is barely a factor (happy birthday Sue, I’ve spoken to you once but have a great day!). Then I think, what’s the common denominator? Me. Is it my fault? Am I not worth a goodbye or a get well soon?

And I suppose this is where the power of small gestures really makes a difference. When someone has a dementor constantly yammering in their ear about how little they’re worth, a simple lack of thought can create a huge well in self-esteem. For the life of me, I’ve tried to find a reason why this has all happened, but I’ve come up empty except for blaming myself. Maybe it’s just that people aren’t as nice as I’d hope and, as someone who looks for the best in people, my expectations are too high? Or maybe I’m just completely over-thinking the whole thing – who knows?

But what I do know, is that a simple gesture, even if you’re unsure about how to approach the topic of mental illness, can make a huge difference.

If you’ve had a similar experience, please share it below. 

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