Mental Health at Work: Julia's story on facing disciplinary action after suffering stress and disclosing a mental health issue

The Mental Health at Work 2018 report in conjunction with Mercer found that 11% of respondents who disclosed a mental health issue faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal. Julia told us her story.

 

The Mental Health at Work 2018 report in conjunction with Mercer found that 11% of respondents who disclosed a mental health issue faced disciplinary action, demotion or dismissal. Julia told us her story.

Julia (37) resigned from her job as a teacher after being bullied by management over a period of 6 months; during which her GP subscribed medication to treat anxiety/depression. She’s now happier in a lower-skilled, administrative role. Julia felt that her mental health was used as a way to oust her – workplace culture is key in making people feel confident in speaking up about their mental health.

Work had always been stressful due to high workloads and unmet training needs, but Julia didn’t realise how stressed she was until she experienced a panic attack on the way to work. “I was shaking and crying. When I got close to work, my stomach would take a turn, I’d have diarrhoea. I wasn’t in a good place.”

Julia’s anxiety continued and when her line manager came into her office, she took the opportunity to tell her how she was feeling and flag that she was unable to cope. “At first she said that it was OK and not to worry, but then she used what I told her as a way to attack me – she ranked the pressure up. She wanted me to resign.”

Her line manager started to give Julia constant lesson observations, instructed colleagues to give her negative feedback on her performance and increased her workload until she was working 17-hour days. The anxiety caused headaches and on one occasion Julia accidentally overdosed on medication, causing her to faint in class.

Meetings were held in a very open and public space where pupils could observe her crying. “I was told that my anxiety was just an ‘excuse’ and that they didn’t care how I was feeling.” Julia involved her union rep, but her employer “deliberately” gave vague information, and no clear goals / performance objectives were set.

When she resigned she was offered a five-figure sum not to pursue a tribunal complaint for bullying and harassment. Two years on, Julia is still angry about the way that she was treated and feels that employers are able to “hang employees out to dry.” Julia says that if she found herself in a similar position again, she would leave sooner and not stick around to “try to fight it.”