Don’t give false hope – learn to be more supportive

I work for a large company, so I have met a lot of people with very different attitudes towards and opinions about mental health. When I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I took a couple of months off work, during which time I attended rehab, counselling, and started taking medication. My employers were good and understanding. The people I work with were a different matter. 

I don’t advertise my depression, but I make no secret of it either. If someone wants to talk to me about it, I will talk. And a few people have genuinely been interested. I’ve had a few bad depressive episodes when I have needed some time off. I’ve tried to keep these to a minimum but sometimes just getting out of bed is all I can manage. All my efforts are spent on fighting off the dark thoughts in my mind and on generally coping through the days.

I’ve had a good working relationship with my manager and they have been very supportive. It was during one of these episodes that the conversation started. My manager was telling two of my co-workers, who knew about my mental health issues, that I wouldn’t be in the office for a while. The two guys had always seemed to empathise with me. Nonetheless, one of them – who had himself been in hospital years earlier because of a mental breakdown and depression – asked my manager what use I would be to anyone if I was to keep having time off. My manager defended me and told them that if I had been fighting a physical illness, they wouldn’t have been saying that.

The office is a place where everything gets around, making a full circle. When I got back to work I heard about what had been said. Knowing that the office is also a hive of gossip, I chose not to believe it, putting it down to rumours. But it ate away at me every time I saw the two colleagues. 

I spoke to my manager about it and, to my surprise, they confirmed what had been said. Since that day I have been very wary about the false empathy and empty gestures people throw at one another. It has made me very jaded and even more guarded than I was previously. 

This experience has taught me how hard it is to know when people are being genuine. People often just learn the right phrases to say, paying lip service to the buzzwords of the moment. 

That said, I still always try and see the best in people and believe it when they try and comfort me through the depressive episode. At the end of the day, I can’t let one bad experience negatively change my perceptions when many other times someone tries to help me.

-Andrew