OPINION: Why I’m open about my mental health at work

Cameron Gorman headshot

Cameron Gorman

If you remember only a few golden societal rules you were taught in childhood, these might be among them: Don’t ever ask someone their weight, their age or how much money they make.

Those kinds of questions, your teacher or parents probably told you, make people feel uncomfortable. That stuff is personal business, to be kept in jacket pockets and behind closed doors.

After all, in a way, it seemed shameful somehow. Well, you might have reasoned, why else would everyone be so secretive about it?

Often, it can feel the same with mental health. Whether you struggle with anxiety or schizophrenia, the pressure to hide mental health issues or neurodivergence can seem overwhelming sometimes. Who should you tell? Do you even need to? This weight only increases when it comes to the workplace.

If you do decide to open up at work, will it color the way you’re perceived in your career or by your friends and coworkers? Might it make you less desirable in future jobs, or make you seem unprofessional? Perhaps most dreaded (at least by myself) is the idea that perhaps, if we are open about our health, it might begin to define us.

But here’s the funny thing: more and more, we see that being open about these things does the opposite of what we might have originally feared.

Forbes, in a 2014 article, noted a now often-known fact: “Pay Fairness Requires Pay Openness.” In other words, the more open we are about how much we’re being paid, the more even the field becomes. It mirrors health. As much as I can, I’ve tried to be open with my own mental health. In doing so, I hope I am holding the door for others to feel comfortable opening up as well.

For the most part, I’ve been open about my journey through my own mental health: I’ve even written about it before. I haven’t always felt so comfortable, though. When I was younger, I used to wonder — If I told someone I worked with, would I be fired? Would I make my friends feel uncomfortable or burdened by being open with them?

Doubts like these silenced me for a long time. I thought if I could simply press my own struggles down within me that I could also suppress them from my work. As time passed, though, I found I was perhaps a little too good at it: I was shunning all emotions, good and bad. My personal life was suffering, but so was my work. I made the tough, gradual decision to open my full self, starting with chronicling my own experiences. Slowly, I became more comfortable — even in a classroom or professional setting — with allowing my entire realm of experience to have a place in my life.

Being open with others and myself has allowed me to feel strength in my vulnerability. I’ve realized I’m not at fault for having these life experiences — if anything, being able to understand them makes my voice authentic.

Most importantly though, my hope is by being open with mental health not just at home, but everywhere, we can normalize it.

If we can walk into the office and vent about headaches, we can talk about mental health, too. And if even one person reading this feels less alone, then I’ll have done what I set out to do.  After all, one of the best things we can realize when we’re struggling is that we’re not alone. And you aren’t. You struggle… I do, too. We’re in it together, on this journey all the time. Even when we’re making copies.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected].