Stigma in the Workplace

classroom-school-desk-chair-class-educationThough I’m sure I’ve experienced stigma without even realizing it, my most memorable experience happened in 2002 or 2003, when I was still teaching as an adjunct (a part-timer) while searching for a tenure-track/full-time position at a 2- or 4-year college. The school where it occurred was my favorite to teach at, even though the commute was about an hour drive there and back.

I was teaching a course on writing research papers. My class met once a week at night, so I had many adult or non-traditional students (like I once was). I also had college-age students. It was a diverse classroom.

One night, I said that I was bipolar. It wasn’t out of the clear blue sky, but I can’t remember what we were discussing that prompted me to bring it up. We didn’t talk about my disease; I just mentioned it.

A student reported this to the new dean of liberal arts, which my supervising professor told me about the next time I showed up for class. She said that the dean’s decision was to dismiss me. I made the announcement to my students, most of whom were angry. They sent e-mails to the dean requesting to keep me on, but unfortunately, it didn’t work. I was glad though, that most of my students had my back.

My supervisor theorized that the dismissal could have been because the dean was new, and didn’t want to cause a ruckus. We also wondered if, because he was Asian, his culture may have had a stigma towards the mentally ill. I’m Filipino-American, and I know that some Filipinos do. Despite my supervisor writing me an excellent letter of recommendation for future employers, I was heartbroken and devastated.

It didn’t even occur to me to take legal action because bipolar disorder, specifically, was not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) until 2008, according to the article “Bipolar Disorder and the Americans with Disabilities Act” on PsychCentral. There was no loophole for me to get out of the situation. I didn’t even know what the ADA was at the time, and even if I could have taken legal action, we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. This incident may also have contributed to the Breakdown.

If I’m ever able to work again, I would let my employers, at least my supervisor, know that I have bipolar. It’s a disease like any other, so I think it’s important that they’re aware. And, of course, to battle stigma.

Have you ever experienced workplace stigma from co-workers because of your mental illness? What about from your employer(s)?

Would you tell your employer or supervisor that you are mentally ill?


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Psychiatrist #1 of 6

black-couch-furniture-living-roomI’ve had 6 total psychiatrists in my life, and I’d like to describe them. As such, this is going to be a 3-parter, posted today and the next 2 Sundays. (I can bundle Psychiatrist #s 3-6 in one post.)


When I was a senior in high school, an authority figure “recommended” that my parents seek psychiatric help for me because of behavioral problems (I skipped classes, smoked pot in and out of school, drank, fought with my parents, stayed out past curfew — teenage shenanigans). I can’t remember the exact circumstances of how this “suggestion” came about, but I do know that it definitely wasn’t my parents’ idea because of the stigma attached to psychiatric help in the Filipino community.

I don’t know where my mom found this psychiatrist, but I thought he was a total jerk. This was in 1987, and back then, psychiatrists didn’t just prescribe medication. They provided talk therapy, as well. During our first session, he did most of the talking; I remember feeling sullen. A few minutes later, I got off the couch and walked out of the office before the session ended. I don’t remember what he said that made me do that, but I remember feeling angry. Angry that I had to be there. Angry at my parents. Angry at him.

My mom was in the waiting room, and he asked the both of us to enter his office, where he suggested that instead of individual sessions, we attend a group family therapy that he led at 8:00 AM on Saturdays. Unfortunately, my mom agreed! 8:00 AM on a Saturday? No way! I was in high school, remember; I never got up before 10:00 on the weekends. But I had no choice.

The first time we went, both my parents came. Psychiatrist #1 started asking my dad provocative, introspective questions, which I can’t post (even if I remembered them) for fear of violating some kind of confidentiality law. My dad didn’t answer them, grew angry, and left the room. He never went back.

My mom dragged me there for a few months, until I had fulfilled the “requirement,” and I think we continued going for a short time after. Psychiatrist #1 would go around the room and ask each family how their week went. I would just mutter some things. My mom confirmed and/or added to my answers.

Sounds harmless enough, but it was horrifying. I have a specific example, but again I hesitate to describe it because it was about another patient and his/her parents. Let’s just say this was when tough love was really popular. After my mom and I heard this family describe the incident, of which the doctor approved, we looked at each other and never went back.


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Facebook Quizzes & Stigma

Last week I took a Facebook quiz called What Does Your Facebook Vocabulary Say About You? Imagine my surprise when the answer was, A Crazy Person, as you can see from the screenshot. And it appears on what looks like a certificate, so apparently, I’m certifiably so. The answer was probably random, but it shouldn’t have been an answer at all.

I know these things are for fun and entertainment, but of all the hundreds of quizzes I’ve taken on Facebook, not once have I received an answer that stigmatizes the mentally ill, an already marginalized community. This is when the fun stops.

I had to scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll just to read the quiz site’s Terms and Conditions at the bottom of the page. There was a section on link removal that instructs the reader to contact them. So I clicked the Contact link . . . which didn’t work. Dead end.

What isn’t dead is my fight against stigma towards the mentally ill. Posting about mental health and suicide awareness on both my private Facebook and public Twitter accounts is a way of fighting. So is openly discussing my mental health with others. Writing this blog is another way.

We must stop the stigma.


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“Filipinos Don’t Have Depression!”

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On the evening of my first hospitalization, my parents came to visit me. They seemed angry, and my mom (who passed away last year) was in tears, I’m guessing because she was very image-conscious and didn’t want anyone to know that she had a daughter who has a mental illness.

At one point, my dad exclaimed, “Filipinos don’t have depression!” I was stunned, but not totally surprised. An April 2017 article (“We Need to Talk About Mental Illness in the Philippines”) in the Life/Culture section of CNNPhilippines.com, illustrates the Filipino attitude better than I can: there’s a cultural emphasis on “resilience and humor amidst pain and personal suffering.” I think my dad thought I should have been stronger and able to overcome how I felt. That was nearly 25 years ago, and I think he better understands mental illness — how it can affect anybody, and it isn’t something you can just “get over”. I’m happy to say that he’s a source of support.

My mother also came to understand depression, though not entirely. Years ago, my sister and I tried to convince her to seek family therapy with us (our relationship with her is a whole other story). She was angered when we brought it up, and said that “therapy is for crazy people” and that she wasn’t “the crazy one,” obviously implying that I was. I mean, I’d been in therapy since I was first in the hospital, after all. I was hurt and offended, and realized that the Filipino cultural stigma against mental illness was still a part of her.

The article mentioned above describes how the Philippines’ Magna Carta for Disabled Persons refers to all mental illness as “insanity.” Maybe that explains why my mom still felt that therapy is for “crazy people.” Well, guess what? Some Filipinos do have depression.


Photo credit: Beegee49 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND