It has taken time for me to become comfortable with everyone at Ontario Shores knowing about my life living with mental illness.
I have been a mental health nurse for more than 10 years and I have worked in almost every area of the hospital at one point or another. But, I have not made a habit of sharing my story with everyone.
My friends in Occupational Health at Ontario Shores know my story. They have been my rock throughout my career and have always been there for me. They have played a huge role in my well-being and I am forever grateful for their support.
However, there have been times when I have encountered stigma in the workplace. You would think that a mental health hospital would be immune to stigmatizing mental illness, but it is not.
The environment has improved steadily, but I have felt the effects of stigma over the years.
I have had experiences where colleagues have displayed little empathy for my health concerns or have questioned an unscheduled absence or leave. I feel that if I had diabetes or another critical illness that required stringent monitoring I would have received greater support, both on a micro and macro level.
I am not bringing this to light in order to point fingers at individuals or at Ontario Shores as an organization. The truth is everyone at Ontario Shores cares greatly about the health and well-being of our patients and their families.
From the moment we enter the sector as mental health professionals we begin working and advocating for our patients. But our focus can be singular at times. We can forget our patients are no different than we are. They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and colleagues. Working in mental health does not make us immune to it.
As awareness of mental health has increased throughout society, the level of stigma in my workplace has been reduced. Up until I decided to share my story this week in the #5in5 series on #MindVine for National Mental Health Week, I remained careful of when I told my story and to whom. I was careful because I wanted my colleagues to see me in action and respect me as a professional before learning that I live with mental illness.
However, I realize that it should not matter that I live with mental illness. I am choosing to live my life with an open book mentality. Mental illness is part of who I am, but it is not who I am. I want my colleagues and the patients I work with to see what balancing mental health, family and a career looks like.
Yes, at times it is very challenging. Some days I struggle, just like everyone else living with mental illness. But it doesn’t have to stop me and fear of being stigmatized should not factor in any decision-making, especially in a specialty mental health hospital.
I am thankful for the increased emphasis on workplace mental health and the efforts to de-stigmatize work environments everywhere.
I am hopeful that sharing my story will open up conversations around the hospital and in within our community. I also hope it encourages other professionals to come forward in a way that is comfortable for them and share their recovery journey.
Katie Enright has worked at Ontario Shores as an RPN for more than 10 years. She is sharing her experience as a mother and mental health nurse living with mental illness as part of our #5in5 series on #MindVine. Each weekday during National Mental Health Week Katie will post a new blog about her experiences in an effort to create conversations and eliminate stigma.