I repeat: mental illness is NOT a weakness. It sounds obvious, right? Yet I believed the opposite for years. I thought having a mental illness meant that I was weak and somehow less of a person than everybody else. I thought I had to work twice as hard as everyone else to counteract this weakness. Of course, putting such pressure on myself made the mental illness worse. It took me a decade to realise that coping with mental health problems has made me stronger.
Mental illness itself isn’t a strength any more than it is a weakness: it is a condition, a disease, not a character trait. However, dealing with the effects of mental illness has forced me to develop a number of desirable skills and character traits. For example, I had to learn to speak up for myself because the alternative was to be abused or neglected. I have become more compassionate because I have been in desperate situations and know how painful it is to be ignored, belittled, insulted, derided or criticised when you are in such a wretched state. I have also learnt to laugh at many aspects of mental illness, because the only other option would give it too much control over my current and future life.
Although it is illegal to discriminate, many employers view people with experience of mental illness as weak. When considering potential employees, they consider mental illness a drawback. In fact, I would argue that the opposite is true. When you have battled mental illness – and often continue to battle the symptoms on a daily basis – other challenges pale in comparison. You are persistent and resilient. You have had to become an expert at problem solving. I’d say those are some bloody good traits to have in an employee.
But how can we expect employers’ attitudes to change unless we lead the way? We must stop thinking of mental illness as a weakness. To do so gives it too much power and detracts from our own power and strengths. What has your experience of mental illness taught you? What skills have you been forced to develop as a result of mental illness? Which parts of your personality have been strengthened? How has mental illness affected your values? How has it changed how you treat others? Has it affected the decisions you have made in your life?
See also: The Merits of Mental Illness