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Mental health disorder label is hurting me

Dear Office-Politics,

This letter is in regards to a work situation involving what I perceive to be as harrassment and infringement of my human rights. I am stuggling with the situation in terms of deciding if I need to take action or perceivere in the hopes that the situation will improve.

My background includes an unsuccessful tenure as a graduate student. During my time in graduate studies I was diagnosed with a mental disorder. My ability to manage my health issues and perform well at school was unsucessful. The tenure ended in a falliing out with my supervisor and me withdrawing from graduate studies.

I believe my history at graduate school has negatively affected employers and co-workers perceptions of myself and their subseqent treatment of me. It has become clear that my former supervisor has gone out of his way to negatively evaluate my abilities and has gone so far as to disclose my personal health problems which were relayed to him on conditions of confidentiality.

My employment history includes a difficult time wroking in the public service. During that time it became clear that my mental health information had been widely circulated and that my interactions with people were negatively affected by the opinions of my former supervisor. I left one position because of the treatment I received. In the following position it became clear that my former co-workers were spreading any and all types of rumors they could about me. This again negatively affected my employers perceptions of me. I took action through the union as I believed my job to be in jeapordy. The union managed the immeadiate behavior of my co-workers so that I could do my work. However, in the long run it appeares that the steps I took damaged my future in the department. My term was not renewed for dubious reasons. I did not take action but concentrated on finding employment.

I was recently hired for a position as data analyst. I have been in the job 1.5 months. It is a contact position of 1 year, slated to end Sept. 2007 with the possibilit of extension. My experience in the field is approximately 5 years.

Within 1 week at work it again became clear that former co-workers had been spreading information about my health issues and saying that I had harrassed them. I will state that in no way was their any physical or psychological harrassment by myself towards any former co-worker. Within 2 weeks at the present job while working on a project it became clear that perceptions of my abilities and my ability to interact with co-workers had been severely damaged.

The history at work includes one individual claiming my work as her own and unsuccessfully trying to delete my data files that proved I had done the work. I am subjected to slurs and innuendo. A work situation has been contrived in which it was extremely difficult for me to succeed. Certain individuals have been saying they “hate talking to me”, that they were scared of me and that I will “get what’s coming to me”. In one incident I talked with a person for perhaps a total of 15 – 20 minutes and they began telling management that she hated me and hated working with me. All my discussions with that person were work related.

The situation has calmed down in the sense that management has begun to investigate the claims against me. All claims have been proved false. Inquiries into my former employment have again shown that there was no improper behavior by myself. Management has initiated an anonymous diversity survey. Perhaps unrelated there has been a change in the organization involving the promotion of the person that claimed my work as her own.

I believe I have the basis for a strong case. My question is that will taking action against what I perceive to be an ongoing series of abuses permanently damage my ability to gain successful employment in the field? Will I need to change fields? Will I need to move again? If I don’t take action and concnetrate on my work and developing the best possible relationships with my co-workers will I be fairly judged when it comes time to review my performance and possible contract extension?

Thank you for your time,

Wanting to succeed

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. JOHN BURTON
dr. john burton

Dear Wanting to succeed,

Your situation is indeed a difficult one. It is challenging to try to unravel the origins of the attitudes that people have toward us.

Your letter refers to three situations where your mental health issues have led to difficulty in your working relationships, at Graduate School and in two work-place situations. It would be dangerous for me to offer advice about the current situation without having a much clearer sense of your history and your working relationships.

What I do suggest is that you seek some assistance in sorting through these issues. If you are currently receiving treatment from a mental health professional you should raise the matters with her or him and seek their advice on how to proceed.

Another possibility is to find an advocate through the Mental Health Association in your area. If they do not provide that service they may be able to direct you to an organization that will help you in analyzing your situation and providing guidance on how to deal with it in a way that ensures your rights are honoured without jeopardizing your ability to maintain employment.

If the organization for which you work has a human resources department, that is another possible avenue through which you may access assistance, both in addressing the issues you have encountered and in developing a strategy for pre-empting them in the future.

A final possibility that occurs to me is your union which may have resources to help you, or may be able to point you toward other agencies that can provide assistance.

Often the act of seeking help with a situation is the most important step toward resolving it. I wish you well. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Yours truly,

John Burton


Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John is currently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities.

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