Mental illness can strike at any time, in response to any reason. Sometimes someone becomes ill but cannot identify any trigger in their life that may have caused it. The effects of the symptoms of mental illness are debilitating and isolating. They can affect your ability to think, take a phone call, or walk to the shops. You might want to lie in bed all day in a darkened room – the kettle in the kitchen may as well be in the next town, for all your ability to reach it.
Many people are phenomenally adept at hiding the effects of their mental illness from colleagues, then falling to pieces once they get home. If you are not surrounded by supportive people to confide in, the chances are that you suffer the symptoms alone until they come to a crisis point. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that you really are ill – if no-one else can see the illness, does it really exist to you? With a broken leg you can see your reason for not getting out of bed. But who can see a broken spirit, a sense of having lost oneself? If others can’t, maybe you feel you’re going mad because you can’t see it either.
But mental illness is real, sneakily so with its ability to create havoc in the life of the person who suffers with it. According to Counselling Directory, only 230 of any 300 people suffering with a mental illness will seek treatment. If you have not sought medical help, you may have worries about your rights within the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). You may have lived with your symptoms for a long time but never received a diagnosis. Well the good news is that the DDA is compiled according to legal definitions rather than medical definitions. So you could be suffering with any mental illness from anxiety to schizophrenia, and if it is affecting your ability to work, socialise, live life to the full, have a harmonious home life, and so on, your situation would be considered under the DDA if an employment tribunal went to court. The DDA covers all mental health illnesses, and this includes self-harm and eating disorders.
Does my employer recognise my rights under the DDA?
Well obviously no employer is going to take an employee to court to verify the legal status of the employee’s condition under the DDA. Therefore, the employer is required to work to best practice employer guidelines. This means that they are required to regard your symptoms – whether you have been to the doctor or not – as being legitimately covered under the DDA and to support you accordingly. They might work with you in a more supportive way, and at the very least they are expected to review your job description with you, removing any aspects that are likely to exacerbate your illness.
And don’t forget to keep up your end of the responsibility by being honest with your employer about your mental health employment needs! If you are worried about being discriminated against, you have recourse to the DDA and a host of national mental health support groups to protect your rights and dignity.