Earlier this year, I found a story about a home improvement retailer who hired a service dog user with a brain injury. This is terrific! This is corporate responsibility. This is true representation of the broader community which this retailer serves. This is hiring people with unique skills and talents to fill a role that a company sees as valuable. I took to Facebook and thanked whoever hired this man for giving him a position that he clearly desired, wishing more hiring managers and companies did the same.
I’m on the job hunt, too, and it got me to thinking. Did this company hire this man – will a company hire me? – only because it is the law to do so? Will they do so because it is the socially conscious “in thing” to do so? Or will they hire people with disabilities because they realize that we’re a huge untapped market for them? Disability not only touches those living with blindness, who are deaf, who use wheelchairs, and/or who have brain injuries (sometimes in combination), but those with invisible disabilities as well. This doesn’t even address our friends, families, and others who care about us. A Canadian organization recently launched the We Belong App. The app allows consumers to search by location for companies and organizations that hire inclusively (primarily people with developmental disabilities), giving them the opportunity to show financially that it pays to do so.
Meaningful employment is something that’s very important to me. I want to be hired at a position with a company that views me as an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the prevailing thinking among people who’ve met me for interviews. I don’t make constant eye contact, I imply that it’s important to use words to communicate… and yet I have years of experience behind me, so that should count for something. Do I want a job? You bet your last dollar. But I want a job with a company or organization that views me as the asset that I am, with unique insights, skills, and talents to bring to the table. Things may have to be done differently, but change is a part of life; many accommodations for people with disabilities end up benefiting entire workplaces, and it’s not often realized until after the disabled employee moves on to other opportunities (personal or professional).
For those who don’t hire us because of your preconceived notions of our capabilities – not because you truly had more qualified applicants – please know that you’ve broken human rights legislation. The law is only one piece in a mosaic that fits together to include people with disabilities in society, in the classroom, in the workplace. It takes inclusive thinkers – who are unfortunately not frequently in HR – to understand that we’re more than the eyes or ears or hands or legs or brain that doesn’t work as expected. If you want to be progressive, inclusive, and innovative, hire people with unique skills, talents and insights who just happen to be disabled. Your business will benefit as much if not more than the employee you hire, because we do have friends and families and others who care about us… and they reward truly inclusive and empowering workplaces with their positive words to their friends and families and coworkers… and their consumer dollars. The bottom dollar is a motivator for many; I’d like to use some of mine to support employers who don’t discriminate. but that can only happen once pretty words on a page start becoming action, once HR managers, CEOs, and office managers view people with disabilities as unique resources and assets to business and commerce.
Oh, and if you are one of those progressive, inclusive, innovative HR managers, CEOs, or office managers, drop me a line; I’d be happy to meet you.
Everyone experiences varying levels of stress, but many of us don’t understand stress or know how to deal with it effectively. This is made more challenging by the individualized nature of stress and how we cope with it. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all strategy, so we must find our own path to managing stressful situations. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to begin this journey. Here are just a few.
Stress is constantly devalued. With headlines screaming about how to eliminate and fight stress, a very important point is being overlooked: there’s such a thing as good stress, and it’s very healthy. Positive stress is characterized by its short-term nature and ability to motivate you. Good stress is what helps you keep your energy levels high while writing an exam. It helps you evade dangerous situations, which is the original purpose of our fight-or-flight response. It helps you sharpen your focus and conquer deadlines without collapsing. In short, it helps you tackle even the most difficult tasks without burning out or giving up.
Bad stress, by contrast, is chronic, acute, and harmful to your overall health. Unlike positive stress, it contributes to burnout and even physical ailments like depression, cancer, heart conditions, and the natural process of aging. Once you learn to distinguish between good and bad stress, you can convert chronic, destructive stress to healthy, positive stress.
2. Change your perception
As we’ve covered already, stress does not necessarily deserve its bad reputation. So, it’s important to understand that your reactions to and perception of stress are more powerful than the feeling itself. Luckily, your brain is equipped to adapt over time, so if you practice active alteration of your thought processes, you can begin to view stress as a force to be mastered rather than an enemy to be avoided.
Remember, too, that stress is by no means inevitable. Everyone reacts differently to the same situations, which proves that we are not programmed to respond the way we do to things that frighten and stress us out. There is freedom in working to change your instinctive tendencies. When you do, you’ll begin to notice a reduction in anxiety and better control of your emotions.
Let’s face it: we all know the essential components of good health, but rarely honour them. It’s no secret that regular exercise, restful sleep, and a nutritious diet all contribute to a healthier lifestyle, but these have other benefits, too.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce negative stress and enhance the benefits of positive stress. Energy levels rise, motivation increases, and general well-being is within reach. If you do more than the bare minimum when caring for yourself, you’ll spot the difference almost immediately.
Effective planning of your day-to-day life is invaluable, not just for productivity, but also for a more relaxed, manageable life. When you don’t schedule time in an efficient way, you will suffer for it. It’s easy, really. One of the best methods you can use is to schedule leisure or relaxation time for yourself each day. You don’t have to do this for long if your timetable doesn’t permit—just take fifteen minutes or so each day to do something you love. Choose activities that require low energy, and put aside your worries for that short time. Unstructured time doesn’t have to be wasted time.
Of course, you can always employ quicker coping mechanisms throughout the day. Take a moment to do some breathing exercises. Plan your day in advance so you don’t need to worry about deadlines. Balance work-related time with family and social time. No matter how crowded your schedule becomes, it’s imperative that you set aside time for fun and social interaction.
Coping with stress may seem like a long, daunting process, but when you implement concrete, practical solutions, you’ll notice equally concrete results. Stress is not your enemy. Learn to make peace with and master it, and it becomes an advantage, not a setback.
With 2016 drawing to a close, we hosted our Christmas luncheon, an annual event that acknowledges our clients. Their hard work, dedication, and persistence are the essence of DECSA’s spirit, and for that, we’re always grateful.
Wishing to serve our clients some holiday spirit, we prepared a turkey feast with all the trimmings, and gathered them together in the Community Hub for an open mic and sing-along. For many of our clients, a holiday meal is simply out of reach. We wanted to ensure that all of our clients could enjoy our bounty with us.
Sharing a meal with our clients gave us the opportunity to reflect on their journeys thus far, and what they plan to achieve in 2017. This day was for reflection, gratitude, and celebration: our clients show incredible courage in the face of overwhelming challenges, and while there is always more work to do, we think it is important to be still for a moment and appreciate what we’ve all accomplished this year.
Musically-inclined staff and clients performed special selections for everyone, including stirring Aboriginal songs. To accompany the stories and laughter, we drew names for three food hampers, each going to one of our deserving clients. Everyone joined in for a rousing chorus of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to cap off the afternoon.
DECSA has many people to thank for getting this event off the ground. We owe Edmonton’s Food Bank many thanks, as they generously provided all the food for the luncheon. Thank you to those who donated via the GoFundMe page; your support means so much to us. We’re also grateful to the volunteers who helped us prepare such a large-scale meal in such a short time.
Finally, we thank our clients for joining us. They are our purpose and our inspiration. We look forward to standing alongside them in 2017, as they continue their journey toward a bright, successful future.
It may be difficult to fathom how prostitution could ever be considered glamourous, but in recent years, a combination of popular media and prominent sex workers has begun to change the face of prostitution. High-class call girls like Samantha X, who were fortunate enough to work for agencies that vetted clients, speak openly about the empowering nature of their work. Belle De Jour, later revealed to be a PHD student trying to make easy money, published a blog and book that painted a glossy, alluring portrait of prostitution as a get-rich quick strategy with an edgy side.
Meanwhile, the media has capitalized on the image of prostitution as a profession for sexually powerful people who love their work and, of course, make plenty of money doing it. From the fictionalized version of Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a London Call Girl, to the student-turned-escort from The Girlfriend Experience, to the sweet-faced protagonist of Pretty Woman, the media offers palatable, seductive depictions of the world’s oldest profession, selling empowerment, agency, and a healthy side of glamour.
DECSA’s Kathy Brown, manager of our Transitions program, tells a different story. Having
worked closely with women in the sex trade, she’s witnessed the ugly, undignified, and exploitive side of prostitution—the one both media and activists don’t necessarily discuss. Using her outreach experience among sex trade workers as a guide, she joined DECSA to make a difference to victims of sexual exploitation.
Here, she deconstructs the popular view, giving us a glimpse of the real face of prostitution.
Q: What is your background?
A: My previous job was the director of the Women’s Outreach of the Salvation Army Crossroads Church in downtown Edmonton. For the past three years, I was the volunteer team lead for the Women’s Outreach Van, which travelled through the hotspots for the sex trade in downtown Edmonton on Monday nights. A team of four or five women went out from 9 pm to 2 am to provide bag lunches, clothing and community to the homeless, addicted and/or sexually exploited on the streets.
Q: The media often presents sex workers as either drug-addled victims or icons of feminine power. Is either of those close to the truth?
A: Neither of those is a very apt description of the people I have met in the sex trade. For the most part, I have met workers who are simply doing what they have to do to get by while living in a very expensive area of the world. Just like everyone else, they have dreams and aspirations that have not come to fruition. The family and/or community of their childhood most often was broken, causing trauma that often goes unattended and unhealed. There is a deep desire for community and belonging that is often perceived to be a chasm too large to attempt to cross. They are not to be pitied or glamourized. Their resiliency, however, is admirable.
Q: What kind of women did you meet?
A: Our target population was sexually exploited women and we would see anywhere from 10 to 50 women in a night. The majority were Aboriginal and the age range was 15 to 65 years of age. Most did not have stable housing and were clearly socioeconomically disadvantaged, since they were hungry and needed clothes. Typically, women on the streets suffer with drug addiction as well.
Q: What led them to the sex trade?
A: In terms of women on the streets, we found that a common story was that most if not every one of them were sexually abused as children by someone in their immediate or extended family. Then usually by the age of 13, an older man would approach her, tell her how much he loved her, and ask if she would come with him. He might even promise they would get married. The girl would leave with the man and begin living with him. He would introduce her to drugs and she would get addicted. Then, the man would either claim he did not have enough money for rent and ask the girl to “work” to earn the necessary money, or he would tell the girl she owed him money for rent and drugs and threaten her with harm if she did not go “work”.
Q: The media and pro-prostitution activists talk a lot about choice. Do you think sex work can ever be a real, informed choice?
A: This is difficult to answer as there are many different opinions, even among those who work in the sex trade. One of the most impactful events I have been involved in was at City Council when they were deciding whether or not to lift the moratorium on body rub parlours earlier this year. I was there to tell the story of one body rub parlour worker who was working minimally in the parlour to earn enough money to get diapers and formula. I brought her diapers and formula the following week, and she exited the business. She entered school to train to be an aide in the health care field.
At the same City council meeting, there was a body rub parlour owner who spoke as well. This owner claimed that those working in the parlours made an informed choice, but she said that, of course, no one wants to work in the sex trade.
Q: So, what proportion of the women you’ve worked with want to exit the sex trade?
Q: If they want to leave so badly, why do they stay?
A: When I think of the young woman in the story above, and others that I know, I believe that most do not have marketable skills and are unable to find alternative employment. I also believe that many simply don’t know how to go about getting into mainstream employment and education. There is often a great deal of healing that needs to happen in the person’s life, along with life skills, understanding the trauma that they have often been subject to, and assistance in becoming employment/education ready. The employment climate in Edmonton is dismal right now and we do not have sufficient affordable housing and transportation, in particular, to inspire this population of women to make a choice to leave their current work.
Q: Would you say that the public view of the sex trade is inaccurate?
A: When I was recruiting volunteers to minister on the street, the most common misconception they had was that women working in the sex trade would be glamourous like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. They were quite surprised when women would sit and talk and be dressed just like most of the volunteers were dressed. I remember the first time one of my friends came out with me – she thought there would be lots of drama and fighting among the women. She ended up in tears most of the night as she realized how different the reality was from her misconceptions.
I would like the public to know that most if not all sex workers arrived at this point not through a series of choices, but through a series of traumas.
DECSA’s Transitions program, which has been running for over fifteen years, aims to bridge the gap between sex work and conventional employment. The program helps clients learn life and employment skills so that they can begin to rebuild their lives, adopt healthier lifestyles, and find employment that will lift them out of poverty. Meanwhile, we help our clients work through trauma, understand their worth, and free themselves from sexual exploitation.
If you or someone you know needs assistance exiting the sex trade, contact us. We are here to help.
Throughout the year, our staff and clients are focused on hard-won progress. Breaking down barriers is never easy, and overcoming trauma and other challenges is tiring. So, when the holiday season approaches, we like to take time for reflection, appreciation, and joy.
On December 14, we’ll be hosting a Christmas luncheon for anyone who is or has been a client in the past year. By preparing and serving a holiday feast for our clients, we remind them that we acknowledge, admire, and respect their efforts and progress. DECSA would not be the same without them, and we owe them our gratitude. This is just one way we can demonstrate how much our clients mean to us, and also allows us to sit down and simply enjoy fun, unstructured time with them outside the daily routine.
All the food for our luncheon is generously provided by Edmonton’s Food Bank, and it will be prepared and served by our staff. Still, we need help to obtain catering supplies, such as chafing (heating) dishes, serving utensils etc. Without these, the event cannot take place, so we’re reaching out to you—supporters, family, friends, neighbours, partners—to help us ensure our clients can enjoy a delicious holiday meal. For many of our clients, who live in low-income circumstances, this turkey dinner may be the only gift they are given this year. Help us make their holidays a little brighter.
If you’re interested in donating, please visit our campaign’s page, where you can see how much we’ve raised so far and contribute your own gift toward our goal. Remember that even if you can’t give at this time, we will still benefit from a share or two. Please share our campaign on your social media page, and tell all your friends!
We thank you for your generosity. We know you’ll help us serve some holiday spirit for those who need it most this season.
Almost everyone dreams, however briefly, of being an entrepreneur. The independence, the passion, the flexibility—these are all attractive prospects, especially after a long, gruelling day at a conventional job. Who among us hasn’t imagined what it would be like to be our own boss?
No matter how exciting entrepreneurship may seem, it isn’t for everyone. It takes a special person to conceive a viable idea, make it grow into a successful enterprise, and nurture it through inevitable ups and downs. Some lack the zeal, confidence, and work ethic; others, the money and time. If starting a small business isn’t suited to your personality, you’re in for a long, hard road.
If you’re on the fence, here is a starting point. This assessment won’t give you a definitive answer, but if you answer “no” to one or more of these questions, entrepreneurship probably isn’t for you.
- Do you enjoy challenges? There’s nothing easy about establishing your own business, so you’ll need to relish a challenge and enjoy new experiences, no matter how anxiety-inducing they are.
- Are you competitive? Whether your business is unique or an innovative approach to an existing product or service, be prepared to face competition.
- How well do you handle risk-taking? If you’re risk-averse, you’ll find the entrepreneurial lifestyle stressful, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sustain it for long. Even highly-successful business owners will have to make calculated risks at some point in their careers. On the other hand, if you’re “comfortable with being uncomfortable,” you’ll be right at home!
- What’s your approach when spending money? You have to spend money to make money, but unhealthy spending habits are hard to break, and can do serious harm to your business.
- Can you handle long-term commitment? Growing your business means you’ll be pouring your resources and time into the same project, day in and day out. It won’t always be fun, interesting, or successful, so you’ll need to know that you can weather the tough times—and there will be tough times.
- Do big decisions scare you? Decisiveness is one of the qualities entrepreneurs must possess if they hope to succeed. Running a business means you’ll be faced with all sorts of decisions, and many of them will involve huge expenditures and frightening risks. If you believe you can handle these decisions under crushing pressure, you’re likely to be an excellent entrepreneur.
- How do you respond to stress? Burnout is common for new business owners, since they work long hours with minimal support (or none at all). Coping with stress and exhaustion in a healthy, efficient way is key.
- Is persistence in your nature? Throughout their journeys, many entrepreneurs contemplate giving up. A strong work ethic and zealous passion aren’t always enough. While it’s important to practice self-care and avoid unnecessary stress, entrepreneurship means refusing to fold under significant strain.
While these questions can serve as a springboard, remember that there’s no replacement for research and hands-on experience. Even if your personality matches that of the ideal entrepreneur, you still need to discover whether your idea is viable and, if it is, whether you actually want to pursue it. Examining your chosen field, starting your business on a very small scale, and interacting with other entrepreneurs are additional ways to test the waters. You can also get out and participate in entrepreneurship workshops or programs, such as Ventures, DECSA’s program for entrepreneurs with disabilities. After all, studying entrepreneurship on paper is nothing like the real thing.
Myth: Asking for help makes you weak.
Many people are socialized to believe this but it is smarter to avoid working in isolation. Humans are naturally cooperative, so functioning as an island goes against nature. Feeling indebted to someone else can be awkward, but overcoming this awkwardness to lean on others shows strength, not weakness.
Myth: You’ll figure it out on your own, somehow.
Sure, it’s likely that you’ll manage on your own, but why manage when you can excel? Collaboration can yield the best results, especially if you work with people whose aptitudes are compatible with your project. Some assignments just aren’t possible to complete by yourself in a given time frame. By refusing to ask for help and struggling along on your own, you’re actually missing out on potential networking and relationship building opportunities.
Myth: People don’t want to help me.
Don’t get us wrong: during particularly busy times, your peers may be stressed and unable to take on further tasks. However, most of the time, people like to help, as altruism makes the reward pathway in the brain light up like a Christmas tree. When you specifically seek someone out for help, they may feel especially useful. Lastly, picture your own reaction: you’re willing to help others, so what makes you think they don’t want to help you, too?
Fact: Asking for help is worth it.
Don’t let these myths discourage you from asking for help. If you’re specific about what you need and why, and direct and polite when asking, you’re likely to receive the help you need. And if they say no, ask someone else, or adjust your plan for completing the assignment. In addition to meeting your targets, accepting help from someone is likely to lead to an even better relationship built on trust and mutual understanding. Of course, never forget to give a heartfelt thank you and make sure you pay it forward! Next time someone asks you for help, return the favour, if you can.
How can DECSA help you?
DECSA is available to help Albertans overcome barriers to employment and education. Individuals looking to exit the sex trade are invited to join our Transitions program, where we provide supports and encouragement to escape the sexual exploitation lifestyle. Youth between the ages of 15-30 with a visible or invisible disability are welcome in our Assets for Success and Time for Change programs, where we assist them in getting the skills and making the connections necessary to enter the workforce. We also offer a unique program for entrepreneurs with disabilities called Ventures, which assists with business planning.
So why not reach out for help when you need it? There’s a lot to gain and little to lose.
You’ve begun to notice something disturbing: one of your coworkers is behaving strangely. They’re constantly late, but their excuses are vague. They always seem to have one minor injury or another, and are uncomfortable when you ask what happened. They frequently receive personal phone calls—phone calls that appear to upset them. They’re preoccupied and startle easily. They seem anxious all the time, and they refuse to discuss it.
If you’ve seen any of these signs, it’s possible that your coworker is experiencing family violence. While the situation is delicate, there are steps you can and should take to reach out to them.
In recognition of Family Violence Prevention Month, we’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts when bringing up the issue with a coworker. We hope you’ll never have to use it, but since 25% of violent crimes reported in Canada are related to family violence, it’s important to have this information handy, just in case.
Asking the Question
Bringing up the issue can be awkward for both of you, and the way in which you ask can mean the difference between a positive response and a total refusal to speak. Approach the process with care.
- Don’t assume all victims are women: if you see suspicious signs consistent with family violence in a male coworker’s behaviour, remember that he may be dealing with family violence. Men make up roughly 50% of victims, but struggle to report (and are rarely believed when they do).
- Do maintain confidentiality: ask the question in private, so that your coworker doesn’t feel pressured or uncomfortable. Reassure them that, whatever happens, you’re a safe person to speak to.
- Don’t jump right in: first explain the signs you’ve been noticing, then express general concern. A good place to start is to ask them whether there is anything going on at home.
- Do be gentle: if your coworker is taking time to respond or has difficulty getting their words out, listen patiently. An open ear is one of the best ways to encourage a response.
- Don’t push the issue: if your coworker clams up, becomes hostile, or insists nothing is wrong, back off. You can’t coerce them into discussing what’s going on. All you can do is reiterate that you’re there to support them, and keep the offer open.
Handling the Response
So, your coworker has revealed that they’re experiencing family violence. Now what should (and shouldn’t) you do?
- Do emphasize trust: it isn’t easy to report abuse, so you must ensure they know that you are a trustworthy person. Breaking their trust could lead them to develop trust issues long afterward, so be very careful.
- Don’t judge: it’s natural to want to tell them that their relationship is unhealthy or to ask them why they would stay in that type of situation. You may even be tempted to mention that you, personally, would never tolerate abusive behaviour. Remember that one of the most harmful ways to handle their admission is to make your colleague feel judged, so keep your opinions out of the conversation and focus on how you can help them move forward without judgment or shame.
- Do thank them for telling you: acknowledge that it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and tell them you’re grateful they trusted you.
- Don’t ask for details: discussing the abuse may be painful for them, so don’t ask why it’s happening or how severe it is. Probing for specifics might cause them to become uncomfortable and abandon the conversation altogether.
- Do remind them that they’re not alone: it’s essential that you stress the fact that you believe them. If they know that at least one person is looking out for them, they may feel inspired to seek further help.
You’ve opened a dialogue with your coworker, they’ve admitted they’re being abused, and they’ve indicated they’d like to take further steps. Where should you go from here?
- Don’t tell them what to do: victims are experts on their own situations, so no matter how strongly you feel, remember that your role is to support them and make them aware of their options. The rest is up to them.
- Do encourage them to reach out to others: suggest that they talk to a supervisor or human resources professional, who may be able to alert security of any potential threats to their safety.
- Don’t initiate rescue missions: your coworker may have reasons for staying in an abusive relationship that don’t include love or loyalty. For example, they may be financially dependent on their abuser, or may have their children’s safety to think of as well.
- Do ask open-ended questions: your coworker may be able to list concrete ways to help them. Maybe you can screen calls from their abuser, document signs of abuse, or accompany them if they need to exit the building during the work day. They will know their needs best, so ask them for suggestions and respect their wishes.
- Don’t offer conditional support: make it clear that whatever they choose to do, you will always be there should they need any other assistance. Perhaps one day, if they decide to take action, they’ll be able to lean on you.
When Lawrence received the diagnosis for the ADHD he had had his entire life, he was in a very dark place. He was so depressed, in fact, that he did not know where to turn, and wasn’t sure how he’d continue to deal with his “scattered mind.” Unsure of which direction to take, he stumbled upon DECSA and joined the Ventures program.
The Ventures program suited his entrepreneurial spirit, and DECSA was vital in his recovery. In addition to his mental health struggles, he was plagued by physical issues, adding another barrier to his success. He confided in our staff, allowing them to help him understand the changes occurring in his life. The program helped him hone his existing skills and understand his disability more clearly. It was at DECSA that Lawrence realized ADHD didn’t have to be a barrier—and that it could even be an asset.
“I started understanding myself and what I could do in this world,” he said, “and realized that DECSA was a place where I felt safe.”
After he left the program, Lawrence searched for a way to use his entrepreneurial spirit and newfound confidence. Some friends of his, also entrepreneurs, invited him to help reinvent a company called Combined Insurance. The company has been around since 1922, and under the leadership of Lawrence and his team, it has made a stunning comeback.
Lawrence describes Combined Insurance as a company dedicated to helping people “prepare for, work through, and recover from life trauma.” Combined Insurance focuses on filling in the gaps of existing medical insurance, supplementing health plans and insuring those who would otherwise struggle to be covered at all. The aim, Lawrence says, is to sit clients down, figure out which difficulties they’re facing, and help them understand the benefits they already have. From there, it’s just a matter of providing the extra assistance needed to walk the client through their recovery, whatever it might look like.
Lawrence explains that his own trauma and recovery gave him an edge: he is able to understand what clients are going through more intimately, and can demonstrate to them that he’s been through trauma of his own. This places him in a unique position to help them recover from their own experiences.
“I want [clients] to know that I’ve been in dark spots too, that it’s okay, and that we can move forward together.”
For Lawrence, it’s all about community. Being around people who have suffered through dark times reminds him of how far he has come, and allows him to fulfill his life’s purpose. Even though he no longer works with us, Lawrence remains strongly attached to DECSA and the community we serve.
“I’m a big fan of DECSA. I could not have found my mission and purpose in life without them. DECSA is a place I can call home.”
Work is good for us. There is evidence that it makes us happier, and while mental illness can hamper your ability to work, you really should if you can. Disclosing your mental illness might feel like a lose-lose situation: you must reveal sensitive information about yourself, and your boss must figure out how to deal with it. The stigma surrounding mental illness doesn’t help, either. Despite numerous campaigns, articles, and attempts to educate the public, myths and misconceptions are difficult to dispel. There’s certainly a possibility of negative consequences, so it can be a frightening prospect.
“If it’s so risky, why should I tell?”
Perhaps the most pressing reason is that if your mental illness interferes with your work, you are obligated to disclose it. This is actually meant to help you; telling management that you face performance issues and require accommodations will make your job easier. You have a responsibility to let your boss know so they can support you.
Another compelling reason is that, by disclosing, you have an opportunity to educate others. Your productivity can prove to your superiors that mental health issues are not an insurmountable obstacle. You can lead by example, and reduce stigma at the same time.
“What should I say?”
There are several approaches you can take. It all depends on the nature of your illness and how comfortable you are with exposing personal information. If you struggle with the idea of being vulnerable, you can use general terms. You don’t need to be too specific. You only have to talk about what is relevant to your work situation. You are not even required to name your illness, if you don’t want to.
Talk about your strengths. While you do need to discuss the ways in which your illness will affect your performance, you should also point out the ways in which it won’t interfere. Make sure your manager is aware that you are still an asset, not a liability.
Stress that your illness is not a symptom of a bad attitude. Help them understand that at least some of your issues are beyond your control and that, while you’ll try to give it your best, there will be times when you struggle. Make sure you explain how this can be dealt with.
“How can I help my boss understand me?”
The first step is to tell them about your specific needs and preferences. Be honest and forthright about the accommodations that will help you do your best work. Chances are, they won’t know much about the topic, and they definitely can’t know what you’ll require unless you tell them. Don’t make them guess.
It’s a good idea to present them with brochures and other educational materials. Different sources of information are helpful, especially if you find it difficult to share that information yourself. This may also help them get past any deeply-ingrained beliefs about mental illness, which may be out of date or simply wrong.
“I’m still not sure about this…”
Disclosing mental illness will never be easy, but trust us when we say that failing to do so is the bigger risk by far. It causes intense anxiety in most cases, but once it’s over, there is an excellent chance you won’t regret it. It may result in a more supportive environment, and once the required accommodations are in place, you’ll be a happier, more productive employee. We know it’s hard, but be brave and take the leap. You’ll be glad you did.