Mental Health Disclosure and Professional Appearance

As I started out as a sole trader/blogger/maker I received a great deal of advice, some very useful, some extremely counter-productive. In the interests of making my position on this matter clear, allow me to share the following with you.

Last year I was offered a business advice session with a person from a Sheffield company who aim to assist new startups. At this point in time I had been looking at the idea of selling online and blogging for about 6 months. I had not made huge amounts of money, nor did I have a logo or any business cards. I had a very basic business plan which bore little resemblance to what the revenue or cost of my business would be. I had this blog, a few commissions and a huge enthusiasm for making stuff out of fabric and sharing my endeavours.

It is also relevant to say that I had been medicated for severe depression and was continuing to work through some problems, which were unrelated to the new business. During the meeting, I was offered advice to the tune of ‘don’t discuss your mental health on your blog or on social media. It’s bad for your image’. I was also asked the question ‘are people buying your stuff because it is good, or because they feel sorry for you?’

It is almost a year after the fact that I have decided to discuss these ill-chosen words. Although I saw that they came from a lack of understanding of me, my venture and my aims, they caused me a huge amount of uncertainty about what I was trying to do. I was sitting in a room with a person who had looked at my website for 10 minutes and proceeded to write off a significant part of my life.The implication seemed to be that an individual’s mental health narrative had no place in a business context. After mulling it over for a few months, I can now state that I disagree with this entirely. Here are some conclusions I have come to.

there should be no need to hide facts about your mental health

You should not be discriminated against for having a mental health problem, IT’S THE LAW. That doesn’t stop people from being dicks, but it does mean that if you need to disclose, you can bloody well do it. For some people it’s a huge deal every day and pretending it doesn’t exist is like saying you haven’t got an arm. We need to discuss our arms, people!

people say stupid things

A downside to discussing your mental health can be that people can respond in ways that are not helpful to you. Most of the time, it’s because they feel weird about it and don’t know how to respond. I say, be brave and persevere. It’s good practice (for me anyway) to work on filtering out some of the negativity that is barefacedly just defensive misunderstanding. Everyone benefits from open discussion.

working under a pretence can make things worse

In my experience, trying to soldier on in a job while suffering with a mental health problem can make things worse, particularly if people start to notice a change in your behaviour. It’s a double-edged sword unfortunately, but I have found that at least if you’re clear with your employer, they have the opportunity to accommodate your needs. If you remain silent, they will not be able to do that.

speaking with your own shaky voice is better than not speaking at all

It is possible that writing this makes me vulnerable. It may alienate people from my ‘brand’. But on the whole I would rather speak with conviction and authenticity on a subject I feel is important, than ignore that conviction in favour of an image or a few sales. I’m going to be making things anyway – it makes me and the people around me happy. At least this way I can do it in the knowledge that I am not obscuring who I am. Clearly this is down to individual choice, but there we are.

So here are my opinions on this. More balanced, less anecdotal information about disclosure is available on the Time to Change website. For further tales of disclosure, I offer this triumph, written by a friend of mine.

Comments, queries? Please leave below.

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6 comments

  1. Charlotte, thank you for the link. I remember you telling me about what happened at the time when you had this meeting and I remember being horrified. The idea that mental health problems might ‘damage a brand’ is just one of the (very many) reasons that I don’t work in business or marketing – stigma and prejudice that slides under the law is totally fine, apparently. Nice of you not to name and shame the company concerned, too, since their brand is now damaged in my eyes in a way that wouldn’t occur to me in terms of MH disclosure itself..
    Stigma can go fuck itself, frankly.

    Liked by 1 person

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