Discussion on: What can tech employers do to support your mental health?

kaelscion profile image

Ignorance and apathy about mental health is actually what has chased me OUT of the enterprise tech environment. I've written some about my views on mental health and how others can become more comfortable with their mental illness, as well as some things I do to stay sane as a freelancer with mental illness. Those posts are here and here.

From my experience, I cannot say what companies are doing right because I've never worked in an environment where they have. But I can say what companies could do better. The chiefest of these things is to realize that a mental illness is a result of a wiring that is never going to be "fixed".

Every company I worked at, in a tech role or otherwise, fails to see mental illness and invisible illness as permanent and debilitating. No manager ever expects an employee in a wheelchair to eventually "get over" their need to take the elevator. But those of us who have a rough life mentally, emotionally, or invisibly physically (fibromyalgia, EDS, MS, chronic pain, even diabetes on occasion) seem to be expected to one day "get better". This approach feels extremely patronizing, as if our managers are trained to "humor us" for a time, so long as it is convenient, and allow us our to adapt so that one day we wont "need to be difficult" and can become a part of the office environment. It also communicates "Okay crazy guy, you've got 'anxiety'. I totally get it. We absolutely support your 'illness' and will give you what you need to succeed despite your 'challenges'. But, you've got about 6 months to snap out of it because we know that you're just out for attention and an excuse to be the lowest producer in the office, which won't fly after your 'grace period'. Welcome to the family!"

Simply acknowledging that, no, we are not doing this for attention, no, we are not happy about our limitations either, and yes, we would stop needing the things we need in a heartbeat if we had a choice, would be ideal. Our limits are imposed by our physiology, just like people who are paralyzed or missing limbs have their limits imposed by their anatomy. The fact that you can easily see one and not the other is not a reason to discount it. I feel the "productivity" culture at most companies is so short-sited and ignorant that they cannot even recognize that those of us with "alternative wirings" would produce at least as well as everyone else if they made extremely cheap or free changes like areas with low lighting, "quiet rooms" for us to retreat for a moment, or would send us a Slack or Jabber message 10 minutes before they show up at our desk to talk about something that forces us to suddenly and violently change mental gears. Perhaps software companies do this, but I've only ever worked as a tech worker at companies that sell things other than technology and am therefore seen as a "necessary evil" even if I didn't have issues.