Work life in general can sometimes be stressful. When you’re a person with one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions it can be even harder. I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
BPD is a psychological illness that, among other things, causes the sufferer to experience extreme emotions: your annoyance is our rage, your disappointment is our despair.
This whiplash emotional state causes many people with BPD to experience anxiety and depression along with many other painful symptoms.
BPD ranges widely among people with the condition. I’ve met people who may never be able to work because of the severity of their illness and I’ve met others in high pressure jobs who I’d never have known experience the same highs and lows as me.
Personally I have been in employment since the age of 16, with only a gap of one year when I was so ill that I was sectioned and received treatment for drug addiction.
In my time in employment I’m pretty sure I’ve come across the whole spectrum of attitudes to mental health, from ‘it doesn’t exist, you’re making it up!’ to ‘I’m going to constructively dismiss you because you’re not productive enough’.
Even in some of the most well-meaning employment situations, when things get tough people have thrown the towel in as if to say ‘that’s it, you’re too much hard work now’.
Every person at some point can be perceived as hard work but we are worth it.
Disabled workers make up a huge portion of the UK’s workforce now and we are worthwhile employees.
Following on from this there are some things that I’d like all employers to know about working with someone with BPD.
1. Remember this is an illness
Firstly BPD is an illness like any other, so apply the litmus test: would I make my employee do this if they had a broken arm/vomitting bug/severe flu?
If the answer is no then don’t make them do it if they’re suffering because of their mental illness.
I have to take days off because I have panic attacks so severe I need to sleep for twelve hours afterwards. I also get so depressed I physically can’t move (this is called a catatonic state).
This level of absence could be similar to a person with early onset arthritis for example, yet a physical symptom nearly always garners a more sympathetic response.
2. Don’t shy away from the issue
Something not many people talk about is that employment can actually help with mental health issues.
I enjoy routine, and when I’m feeling my life is worthless work actually gives me a reason to live, and socialising in the work environment can help ease symptoms dramatically.
Which leads me on to social interactions. If your employee discloses they have BPD, do your research.
I’m not saying read clinical notes and essays but Mind and Time To Change both have bite-size information on their sites which will help you support your employee, which you have a duty of care to do.
Something that I’ve found helpful is – if your employee feels comfortable – discuss the triggers or scenarios in which they might struggle and implement reasonable adjustments.
This may be them being able to take five minutes alone when they feel anxious or it may mean simply not chastising them when they find something difficult or stressful that other people may not.
Open communication is key and one thing that doesn’t help any person is passive aggression.
People with BPD may experience ‘black and white thinking’ meaning being passive-aggressive just doesn’t make sense to a lot of us and this confusion can lead to frustration, so being straightforward and honest is the only way to help both yourself and your employee do the best work.
This doesn’t mean giving your employee carte blanche to be rude or you to be excessively blunt, it just means communicating clearly and honestly so there’s no ‘grey area’ to get wires crossed.