David H shares his story about his battle with Schizophrenia and employment and gives his advice for how employers can support a schizophrenic employee.
I am a talented new business fundraiser. I live in London. My favourite food is pasta. My name is David and I have schizophrenia.
I’m just like you
Most of the time my days are just like yours. I wake up in the morning, have some breakfast and then take a couple of tablets. Some people take vitamins in the morning, others take pills for arthritis. I take something called Abilify. Then, I head into work. My colleagues seem to like me, and I get good reviews for my performance. My condition is completely manageable, when I take my medication.
Life sentence of medication
I find it hard to accept that I’m probably going to be on medication for the rest of my life. It makes me feel different to ‘normal’ people and I worry about the stigma attached to my condition. Sometimes these feelings stop me taking my meds. This happened eleven years ago and, as a result, I was hospitalised three times for a ‘delusional disorder’, also known as severe anxiety. When I’m ill, and unmedicated, I have delusions that overpower my usually logical brain.
Schizophrenia and employment
As with any ‘normal’ person, I have had mixed experiences with my employers. But I guess mine might be slightly more unusual, as there have been a couple of times when I have come off, or changed, my medication where my managers have had to work with me through times of acute distress. Two of my employers have been particularly impressive in the way they’ve handled things, so I wanted to highlight their best practice, in the hope that other employers can learn something from it.
In 2017, I went through a turbulent period where I came off my medication, originally Citalopram but then Abilify. I was suffering from severe anxiety. When I’m unwell I get overly concerned that there is a virus that is spreading around colleagues, clients and those close to me. Thankfully, when these thoughts started to become more dominant, I was working for Hospice UK and managed by a talented woman called Catherine. Catherine spotted the warning signs – I was openly and anxiously talking about my worries (bizarrely, due to the aforementioned ‘virus’, which I mention because of the current pandemic) openly to other colleagues.
Catherine was calm and sympathetic – I was given 1:2:1 time, sent home to rest, given the opportunity to talk to professionals through an employee assistance programme and encouraged to speak openly to family and friends.
Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the charity sector, my colleagues were supportive and listened, but Catherine took control and really helped me address the situation. The HR team were understanding, empathetic and flexible as to how I wanted to work.
Returning to work
I was scared about returning to work, but there was no pressure put on me, despite being in what was a fairly senior role. I was in awe at how receptive, sympathetic, patient and consistent the company was. I was able to return to work fairly quickly, thanks to the support from my lovely Hospice UK colleagues.
It happened again
A couple of years later, I was working for RCPCH. Again, I came off my medication, and became incredibly anxious. it’s an ongoing battle for me to stay on meds (but one I now, happily, feel I have conquered). I started expressing my worries about the ‘virus’ to my colleagues.
My line manager, Shuaj, and Michael from HR were superb. They provided me with their time and a sympathetic, even empathetic, ear or four. They offered access to our employee assistance programme, which this time I took up (a couple of months later admittedly to help with severe family issues). I was given as much time off as I needed, to resume my medication (it takes a week to kick in) and was really well supported to re-join the office by incredibly kind and thoughtful colleagues. I was amazed at how understanding they were.
I believe this best practice should be adopted by all organisations.
on each occasion I was asked how I would like to move forward, how I wanted the situation presented to colleagues. So considerate and thoughtful. I hope all employers can follow this example.
Sometimes, like most people, I doubt my ability. But, on good days, I know that I am really good at my job. Losing me from the sector because, every few years I get a bit poorly, would mean that less money is raised for some important causes. That’s why I wanted to share my story.
There is a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion in the sector at the moment. I hope that, by me sharing what it takes for someone ‘like me’ to be included, more of us can and will be.
Stay happy everyone and talk to your colleagues! A problem shared is a problem halved.
Thanks for reading and please do share as widely as you want.