As Sure As Jesus Wore Sandals, You Will Know Someone With a Mental Illness
8 September 2016 at 9:38 am
One in five Australians has a mental illness, so chances are you will know someone who is affected. You might even do business with one of us, writes Dameyon Bonson, a Kimberley-based entrepreneur and mental health advocate, to mark RUOK? Day.
I run a small consulting business and in 2014 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Depression is an insidious beast, but it is the anxiety, in my case, that is most crippling. And running a small business that is held to deadlines and having anxiety is like running on a spin wheel. Knowing you have to get off, you run faster to find the right moment but that moment doesn’t come so you run even faster and that moment still doesn’t come and so on, and so on.
It’s at this point that I get up from desk. Mind you I can be sitting at my desk, my mind running in that spin wheel, for hours on end. If I remember, I take a Valium. If I recognise that I am about to step onto that spin wheel, I take a Valium. If I have found a moment to realise I am on that spin wheel, I take a Valium. For me, taking medication for my mental health is akin to taking an antibiotic. It’s not something that I feel I also need to hide. I am also on sertraline. Medication however, is not the panacea. I have two dogs that I take for a walk daily, sometimes twice.
In 2014 I also found myself having to out myself as having this diagnosis of an anxiety-depressive disorder. I felt pressured that in order to be taken seriously with the work that I do, I needed to disclose that I too had that magical “lived experience”. You won’t find me at any of the “big name” events or rolled out as the mascot or ambassador – because what I possess, isn’t what folks want to sell.
A good friend recently described me as the enfant terrible of the suicide prevention sector. It was genuine and I took it kindly. I am not embarrassed by the candid nature in which I speak or the topics I speak of. I have a “lived experience” but I am tired of having to compete and work that angle. And I call it an angle because that is how I see us as being used, some angle folks can leverage of to stand tall. Or like some Not for Profits, monetise it.
The “lived experience” isn’t just a big, emotional, tear-jerking experience. Yes, those moments exist. But it is different for everyone. Those of us living with mental illnesses can be quite high-functioning and successful business people. We are also successful at being great parents, great employees, great friends, and being just great people. And as sure as Jesus wore sandals, you will know someone with a mental illness. You will even do business with one of us. They may not have told you, and that is ok. Not disclosing is a choice, and often, like myself, that choice is not because of stigma. It is simply because we choose not to. But it can be.
One in five Australians will be experiencing a mental health illness or challenged by a mental health issue at any given moment. There are so many of us and, folks, we are everywhere. I only outed myself because somebody put a value on my mental illness – they commodified it. And to be honest, I think that sucks. But here we have it.
There are a couple of things you can do if you lead, manage or contract someone who has felt comfortable sharing that they have a mental illness with you. The first thing is to acknowledge that for the person that disclosing may have been very difficult. The second thing is to ask that person what solutions they think may resolve any issues that their mental illness may cause. If you are in a management or leadership position, ask if they are accessing assistance.
The employee-assistance program I had access to allowed me to choose my own psychologist. I still visit her, even though I work for myself now. If you’ve never accessed a psychologist, finding a good one is like finding that perfect pair of underwear. As a contractor, if a deadline has been breached and your supplier has shared with you that they have been experiencing mental health challenges, be compassionate and negotiate with them the best possible outcome. If they are a great supplier, you would want to hang onto them!
Something else you can do as a contractor, is acknowledge days like RUOK? Day in your office or building site. A sticker here, a poster there. It all helps. But you have walk the talk. Paying lip service may cause significant damage.
If you’re an employee who has a mental illness, what I have learnt is it’s ok to acknowledge it. If you are behind on your reports, email the people expecting them and tell them that you have an [insert mental illness] and that it is affecting your ability to deliver this report on time. Remember, one in five Australians have or are experiencing a mental health issue or challenge at any given moment. So there is a fair chance that the person who receives your email is one of those five or knows someone who is one of those five.
I know this, because I have had to do this recently. Previously, not disclosing was because of stigma. I didn’t want to be viewed as incapable for any other potential work that my skill set would be suited for. But then I, eventually, told myself, “If my mental health is a barrier to folks contracting me, well, that’s ok. I probably could do without the performance anxiety anyways.”
About the author: Dameyon Bonson, a Mangarayi and Torres Strait Islander male, is a Kimberley based social enterprise entrepreneur and consultant. He is the founder of Black Rainbow Living Well and YFRONTS – a peer to peer digital application for men in the FIFO sector. He is also a National Advisory Committee member for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project. Dameyon is also this years Dr Yunupingu Award Recipient for Human Rights. You can follow him on twitter @dameyonbonson