Telling people

What are people's thoughts on other people knowing? I'm due to go back to work soon and I know people are wondering what's been up with me. I don't know if I should, or how I could say what's been happening. Part of me thinks to just say! It's nothing to be ashamed of! But other half of me doesn't want to say because in worried about what I'll be labelled as or judged!

8 Replies

  • It took me seven years to feel at a point where I could tell a couple of my work colleagues. Even now I'm not sure I did the right thing telling them, but it feels like a huge weight has been lifted. Since my episode of PP i do certainly have more empathy towards others and only opened up to those who confided in me about their own mental health. I think being open and honest can only be a good thing but others opinions and the stigma surrounding mental Ill health is still a big hurdle to overcome before dialogue can begin.

  • Hi Hayleynevin

    This is a really good, and interesting, question, and one we all have to deal with one way or another.

    I guess all I would say is each person and situation is different, and I can only speak for myself and I guess I'd just say just take what you want from what I share but that each person is different. I work in a particular environment (it is an intentional community) and there is an expectation that it is more than a job, and that we build relationships with each other so I know I am in an unusual situation with work. My work is also a caring profession - I support people with learning disabilities. Therefore it would have been almost impossible probably not to be open.

    Therefore with work I was open with anyone and everyone, to the point of sharing quite a lot about the illness etc. Before I went back to work my mental health worker did meet me and my supervisor to talk through the illness, and to talk to my supervisor about how to support me. He was incredibly supportive, and when I was having a bout of the depression he was so calm and kind - telling me I can go home if I need to, but if it helps to keep working that's fine too etc, basically just taking the pressure off. I found colleagues generally very supportive, interested, empathic, and I have heard back how people are inspired by what I have lived and how I have recovered. When I returned to work 10 months after my son was born I was still pretty depressed and without the support of my immediate colleagues and friends at work I don't know how I would have coped. I guess the most negative experience I have had is people responding awkwardly / embarrassed / not sure what to say - which I guess is understandable.

    Generally though I have to say I have found I have come to terms with the PP, and even feeling that good has come out of the illness, by generally being open with anyone and everyone (members of the public etc if the subject of children etc come up) and trying to overcome any shame / guilt I felt / feel about being ill and I guess trying to combat any stigma that is out there by speaking out. Being part of this forum has really helped me with this. But I know that others aren't in such a position as I am to do that, and also I think we all need to talk when we feel ready as it is such a personal thing.

    I hope all goes well with going back to work, I guess I would say trust your instincts - maybe share with people you feel you could trust, who you have a connection with, or as Sherbetdip says, people who have already shared about their own mental health. And also I guess think about what you can cope with in terms of talking about it and people knowing. I really hope it goes well, from personal experience I know what a huge step it was going back to work. Take care

  • When my maternity leave was up after my 1st son I was going back to the same company and office but a different department. A few people I'd worked with in my old job knew a LITTLE about what had happened but I hadn't really wanted to talk too much about it whenever I saw them and I had discussed it a bit with someone from HR when we were looking to find me another job (my original role became redundant when I was on leave and I wanted part-time hours).

    Nobody on my new team knew anything about it but within days I'd opened up about it to my immediate manager and over time I'd talked about it with the majority lot of my colleagues (basically most if not all of the women but I didn't really say much to the men, not sure why probably because it was all related to having had a baby but I never kept it secret from them). Some people I talked about it with on numerous occasions others I just mentioned a little bot abut it and left it at that. I have to say they were all very supportive and I never felt judged or ashamed. It was a huge relief to talk about what had happened early on and it also meant that when I became pregnant with my second child (about 9 months after being back!) they were extra attentive and concerned with minimising any stress; they arranged for me to have a company laptop so that on days where I had appointments with the psychiatric nurse I could work from hoe after the appointment so I was dashing about too much trying to get back to the office.

    I'm so glad they were aware of what as going on as when it happened 2nd time around I didn't really need to explain anything I just told my manager it was happening again. Even while I was in hospital a couple of them phoned me a few times to see how I was and it was a great help. I found going back to the office for KIT days really helpful to my recovery but think had my colleagues been unaware of my PP it would have been more stressful going into the office like I was trying to hide something terrible.

    Ultimately you just have to decide what you're comfortable with; you're under no obligation to talk about what's happened so you can pick and choose what if anything you want to keep private and what if anything you would like to share and who with. Although in the very beginning after my 1st son I was very embarrassed & upset about people knowing from the time I began recovery I've always found talking about it can be helpful most times. (It can also be upsetting, and when it is unless I'm talking about something that needs to be discussed with a professional involved in my care I just change the subject). It's hard to plan really what to say and to who, I hadn't planned on telling my new team, fresh start & all but then it just felt like a burden having it as some big secret so it was obvious to me that telling people worked for me and I was lucky that everyone was very supportive.

    Hopefully if you choose to open up to your colleagues they'll be supportive and won't judge you or treat you any differently, but I can understand you being nervous as there's a lot of ignorance out there. Hopefully you'll know which people are more likely to react in a certain way & can choose just to tell those that are less likely to be judgemental.There are laws in place to protect you from discrimination at work should any issues arise so you shouldn't be afraid to go to HR but I'd like to think you will never find yourself in that position.

    Everyone's different; try not to over-think things. Hopefully when you see people you'll just know what feels right for you. I really hope it all goes well and enjoy being back at work. Sorry for rambling on so long!

    Good luck xx

  • I believe it depends on where you are in your healing process and your personality. You must be prepared for both negative and positive responses. Your willingness to share and be open is admirable. It ultimately has helped me tremendously to share but it took several years beyond my experience for me to be prepared.

  • Hi hayley,

    I had several months off after my episode due to summer vacation. Im a teacher. So I had sometime where I only open to friends which were very supportive and helpful.

    When I went back to work I was a wreck for the first two months with anxiety attacks (mostly due to the new difficult schedule) so I told the principal and secretary because I was a hot mess one day. I told them how I was in a.psych hospital and all of what I went through. They were supportive too but my principal told me not to tell anyone. I think he was trying to protect me. In those first 2 months I told a few coworks that I am friends with. I did tell another co worker ( who is a man) because he has several kids and we were talking about post partum issues. I do wish I didnt confide in him. My advice would be to not be ashamed but to think thoroughly about who you tell because you can never take it back. I did want several coworker friends to know so I could have support if I needed it.

  • Hi Hayley

    Definitely a really thought-provoking question. I can so understand that tension for you between 'I shouldn't have to feel ashamed of this' and 'what on earth will people think if I try to explain it to them'! You are so right, it's nothing to be ashamed of and as a society it is so important that we do have more open conversations about mental health, but you are also right that the work environment is a tricky place for those conversations.

    I think you've had really wise advice already in just taking your time when you do return to work - you can say as little as 'I had a really severe postnatal illness but I'm recovering well now' with the majority of colleagues and then over time it's likely that people will ask you more questions. I didn't go back to work very soon after PP, but did tell my friends quite a lot of detail and found that some were better able to cope with knowing some of the more upsetting stuff than others. I think at the beginning I was still quite 'high' and just wanted to share how intense and strange the whole experience had been. 9 years on I tend to hold back more details (!) and wait for the person themselves to ask more questions.

    I hope you find that you don't experience as much stigma as you had expected - and just keep remembering that there is definitely nothing to be ashamed of.

    All the best


  • When I went back to work I chose not to tell my colleagues any details and just said something vague like "I was very seriously ill when I was on maternity leave and in a specialist hospital for 3 months". I think they were surprised I had not brought my baby in after the birth but nobody asked me for any details which I was quite glad about. I guess you need to think what outcome you want from telling people - in an ideal world there would be no stigmas but unfortunately this is not the world we are in right now. My partner opened up to some of his colleagues during the crisis time as he wanted his colleagues to know what was going on and was shocked about how some people reacted - just wanting to close the conversation down. If I had colleagues who I considered 'friends' I would probably have been more open but I work in a very professional type of environment so didn't think it was appropriate to open up. I did however get occupational health involved when I went back so there was a record and HR and my manager knew so I felt 'protected' as I have a very busy stressful job and was having some anxiety going back doing a new role too. Good luck with whatever you decide to do and, as somebody else has said - trust your instincts. X

  • Hi Hayleynevin,

    As others have said this is a really good question and there are no right and wrong answers. It will depend on whether you can feel that being open will not hinder you in any way and if you want to keep work and outside work separate. Are you friends with people you work with? I have good relationships with people in my team and can have fun in the office, sharing a laugh or joke, but I don't see any of them socially. When I had PP, my husband informed work for me as they needed to know I wouldn't be in touch, and they were already wondering where I was after I'd not taken my baby in to introduce him which they'd asked about. Having my manager make an Occupational Health referral and having that bit of extra support in place was a good idea, but in practice it was really hard going back and I didn't talk about my illness much at first. A stressful job, busy diary, baby to look after, house to sort, it was hard to juggle.

    This changed over time though and I am now really open with people. Part of this is the passage of time and also that I feel people should be aware that this awful illness can strike anyone. The law does protect you from any discrimination but people can be difficult to gauge at times. Unfortunately I work with some small-minded people but I keep work and outside work as separate as I can and have a good dose on perspective in these things I think. If people want to think something of me, that's their problem and I'm in a good enough place in my life to know that it's their problem and not mine!

    Hope this doesn't sound too blunt but 5 years on from my illness, I have the benefit of being fully recovered and it took me some time to get to this way of thinking. I think it's been one of the positive things after being ill in that I know what truly matters and some people's at work attitude! Take care, I hope your return to work goes well and you can strike a balance which works for you, xx

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