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I have been living with depression since the tender age of 13. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my late twenties, but my psychologist confirmed that I had been experiencing episodes for all these years. Yet, while I long suspected this, I was not allowed to visit a mental health professional. It was supposedly for my own good, because family elders believed that psychiatry was a scam, and that mental illness didn't exist.
This, in essence, is the very reason why, as a mental health writer, I have dedicated my life’s work to the topic of depression. The lack of a diagnosis made life very hard for me as a child, and a teenager. I was misunderstood, and labelled moody and oversensitive so often that sometimes, I believed it too. I thought my dark side was probably a part of my personality, or a result of teenage angst.
When I finally got diagnosed, I wanted to ensure no one suffered from this uncertainty the way I had as a child. As a young adult, I began blogging about my lived experience of mental health to raise awareness, and as a way to take back my power. Knowing that nobody could stop me from being open and vulnerable about my debilitating depression, and speaking my truth on my blog or social media made me feel free.
But while I am proud of my work, I have also made a discovery. The so-called age of ‘mental health awareness’ was performative, and my openness was about to backfire. Depression is still heavily stigmatised, and I am one of many facing employer discrimination everyday for sharing my struggles.
LinkedIn is my first witness. When I set up my account in 2014, I began to get a steady stream of offers. But soon after I started blogging about my experiences with depression in 2019, the number of job offers in my inbox took a hit. By January 2020, I had six years of experience and a solid portfolio as a writer, but I was barely getting any interest from recruiters. As for positions I applied to, prospective employers wanted to know if I had recovered or was still “unwell”.
Does this mean I regret my choice to come out as a depressed writer? Do I wish I had chosen a pseudonym instead of my real name? Absolutely not.
And this brings me to my second witness: employers. In pre-2019, in jobs where no one knew about my invisible illness, I was micromanaged and scrutinised when I failed to do the same amount of work as my abled peers. No amount of warnings, productivity hacks, and pep talks changed my output. After I disclosed my condition as a last resort, managerial expectations remained the same. My bosses still told me to work harder and improve my productivity. The fact that I was doing my best meant nothing to them. Worse, my disclosure made me come across as unprofessional, lazy, and disinterested in my job. I know this because some managers bluntly told me so, while others expressed it in non-verbal ways. Either way, ableism eventually forced me to quit these jobs.
My third and final witness is the advice I received from some fellow writers and friends working in human resources: lie about recovery. Despite increased mental health awareness and DEI policies, nobody wants to hire a depressed person. Everyone wants employees who can ‘work under pressure in a fast-paced environment’. At best, high-functioning depressives get and keep their jobs. But I am only medium-functioning, and sometimes, I am low-functioning. Since I have blogged about this, no company wants to employ a liability like me.
Employers deem me unfit to work when they Google my name and read that I have been living with depression for years. When they see blog posts about the ‘black dog’ (the nickname I’ve given my illness) impacting my productivity and energy levels, they cross me off their list of desirable candidates. It doesn't matter that I have written about how I can motivate myself to work during depressive episodes. Even with eight years of work experience and two published books, I get offers for low-paying or entry-level positions.
Recruiters either lowball or ignore me, making fair pay and stable employment distant dreams. I often wonder how they view me. Am I actually lazy and weak-willed, not disabled enough because depression is not officially a disability to them, or too disabled to be hired?
Even though working as a freelance writer is not 100% my choice, I stand by my decision to blog about depression. I blog to represent my community of depressives and to record my progress despite many internal and external obstacles. Plus, why should I hide my disability like some character flaw? If anything, working with depression showcases my grit and resilience.
I have been depressed for years, and I know how to manage it. I have limited energy, so I am good at prioritising tasks. On good days, I work harder to make up for lost time. Because sometimes I have days when I am unable to work. But after all, every employee—disabled or not—has unproductive days. So why is there overt discrimination against people like me? What good are Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies if they exclude people with disabilities?
According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It affects around 1 in 6 adults in the UK, according to the 2021 Census. Yet, few people talk about it with loved ones, let alone at work. Only when we all open up about our struggles will the stigma die down. Perhaps by then, employers will no longer be afraid to hire people like me.
I am skilled, reasonably ambitious, and have a good work ethic. Working gives me purpose, and is a healthy escape from my mental illness. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that work is a human right. Othering me based on prejudice is an act of dehumanisation, and I refuse to suffer in silence. Until the majority learn my truth, I will be here, talking about my successes, failures, and everything in between as a depressed individual.