Geraldine Cupido,42 from Cape Town is a women who smashes the stereotype of bipolar.
She is bubbly, she stylish, her personality lights up the whole room and most of the time it seems like she has all her ducks in a row, you would never think she has her own battles with mental health.
Did I just think like that, I asked myself? Was my way of thinking stigmatising? After all I'm a health writer and should know better than fall into the stigmatisation category with mental health.
It seemed like she read my mind, with a warm pleasant smile, Cupido looked at me and told me she gets that quite often - a sense of relief came upon me.
Cupido says she was 35 when she was diagnosed with bipolar- something she had to learn to live with.
After being in and out of hospital she says she couldn't hide it at work any longer but she felt safe opening up to her manager.
New survey results looking at stigma in the workplace shows that 61% had disclosed their mental illness to their managers. However, 69% of respondents experienced negative or no response when they had discussed it with them.
October is Mental Health Awareness Month and World Mental Health Day being commemorated on October 10, this year's international theme is looking into mental health in the workplace.
This year,The South African Depression and Anxiety (SADAG) conducted an online survey which focused specifically on the issue of stigma in the workplace as it has become a key problem within the office affecting both employees and employers.
The results, which had 499 participants, of which 79% were female and 21% males. 59% of respondents were aged between 31 and 50 years. Interestingly, 44% of the respondents indicated that they were uncomfortable with disclosing their mental health issue to a manager, which callers often express when they call the SADAG helpline looking for advice or help.
Cupido explained that with her it started with suicidal thoughts, mood swings and withdrawal. At that time she had just divorced her husband of seven years- which fuelled her emotional instability.
“I had just had a major change in my life and during that time I diagnosed with depression. For months I took depression pills but instead of getting better I got worse until they finally diagnosed me with bipolar, something that my grandmother was diagnosed with. It was manageable and my like was going well.”
When she finally disclosed her then manager and her team, were supportive and understanding and she never felt like she was treated differently because of her illness.
“They were all understanding, I had to stay away from work for four months. It was difficult time for me. I was taken to two different hospitals. Understanding myself and managing my illness was most difficult but I knew that I was still the same person and bipolar did not define me.”
Phumla Majali*, 27 says she commends people who disclose their mental illness at work.
She found it difficult to disclose her illness at work because she fears that she won't be promoted or given leadership roles should they know she has depression.
Depression is stigmatised, sometimes it feels like people think you are “emotional wreck”, explains Majali.
“A few months before my current job, I was admitted to a depression instituted for a month and placed temporary depression medication.
When I started with my new job I struggled to keep up and had to hide my illness. Most of the time I took my pills in secrecy because I feared the million questions. Even when I relapsed I would find ways to hide it and credit my sick leave to something else but I think with time I will gain the courage to talk about it more openly.”
Two years ago SADAG released research that found that 1 in 4 South African employees had been diagnosed with depression.
Depression costs South Africa more than R232 Billion or 5.7% of the country’s GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work whilst unwell, the IDEA study of the London School of Economics and Political Science 2016 found.
According to the World Federation of Mental Health report (2017), mental illness in the workplace is still regarded as taboo, with as many as 70% of people not disclosing their mental illness because of fear of discrimination and job loss.
Lameze Abrahams, Head of Department: Psychology at Lentegeur Hospital Cape Town says there are few ways to deal with stigma in the workplace.
She suggests an increase in awareness, through education and the sharing of information on mental illness, and how to identify and treat it can challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Another way she suggests is advocacy and ensuring that a safe and protected environments for people who do disclose their mental illness are created. “Not challenging stigma can result in people not actively seeking proper diagnosis and treatment,” says Abrahams
She adds that for companies, untreated mental illness in staff members can result in increased absenteeism, increased sick leave, and loss of productivity.
“There is increased acknowledgement that a healthier workplace is a more productive workplace,”says Abrahams.
For those who have colleagues diagnosed she suggests collegial support, and ask the person how you can support them or what they might need from you as a colleague. “Do not ask intrusive questions, and if the person does not want to talk about it, don’t insist,” she warns.
You do not have to treat them differently, but with the same respect and empathy that you would anyone else in recovery from illness, advise Abrahams.
If you are ill-treated at work for disclosing your mental health problems, she suggests you · speak to the Human Resource division, who can guide you in terms of the policies of the organisation for managing discrimination in the workplace.