Health and Wellness

Caregivers' Circle

Stephanie Erickson

Caregivers Circle – My colleague is crazy! Understanding and destigmatizing mental illness

You arrive at work on a Thursday morning as usual to find your colleagues standing around talking. When you approach and ask what’s going on you are shocked to learn that your supervisor has just asked to take an extended leave. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. You and your colleagues commiserate on how awful and scary this must be for him and his family. You quickly set up a collection of funds to send him a get well soon card and some gift baskets. Over the next several weeks your colleagues continue to discuss your supervisor’s horrific circumstances and try to find ways to support him and his family.

The next week you arrive at work to find your colleagues speaking in hushed tones. When you approach the silence weighs heavy and you wonder what has happened to your supervisor. What you come to find out is that another one of your colleagues has been hospitalized, but this time because of a psychotic episode. You can sense the discomfort of your co-workers and notice how different the words, tones and behaviours are. People didn’t know that this woman was “crazy” and everyone starts to share stories of how “odd” and “weird” she was. No collections are taking for a get well card or gift basket, no one proposes how to support her family, and soon she is only discussed in terms of her “serious mental illness” instead of her as a person.

Despite all of our knowledge of mental health and its prevalence in the general population, we as a society continue to stigmatize those who have mental health challenges and speak of them as if they are “causing” their problems instead of it being just a case of “circumstance” or something beyond our control as we do in other health situations. Why is this? And how is the workplace being impacted by the stigma of mental health? This week’s guest on Caregivers’ Circle, Amanda Osborne, Associate Director at Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorder and a Mental Health First Aid Canada Instructor discusses mental health and stigma.