Workplace stigma

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New Member

Date Joined Sep 2008
Total Posts : 2
   Posted 9/8/2008 2:50 PM (GMT -6)   
I'm really in need of support with this issue about my workplace. 
I was diagnosed 10 years ago, mid career in the helping profession.  I responded well to a mood stablizing medication...and while I have some ups and downs my life was pretty good.
A couple of years ago a counsellor I was seeing regarding changes I was making in my personal life broke confidentiality and informed my employer of my diagnosis.  My employer then shared this information with management, which subsequently led to this being shared with other employees in the organization.
So, my private medical information has been common knowledge for some time.  I was informed of this by a caring co-worker.
My life has not been the same since, I went from being a respected worker in my field to being something of a professional pariah.  I have endured smirks, references about "people with mental health issues"," why don't people just go on disability and admit they're loopy", etc, etc.
Some people have been very supportive in their own way and I appreciate this.  However, the impact of this breach in confidentiality by the counsellor as well as my employer, has been personally such a struggle.  The loss of respect has been devastating.  I have lost people who I thought were my friends.
I chose not to address this by either confirming or denying. I have felt the violation of my privacy and the stigmatization so deeply.  And now I feel such a loss of confidence in general.  I don't know how to get my life back. 
I would appreciate any feedback or support.

New Member

Date Joined Aug 2008
Total Posts : 4
   Posted 9/8/2008 3:19 PM (GMT -6)   
turn Hi AnnaKarina,
I am so sorry about what happened to you and I can imagine how you feel.Leaving with BD and accept that we have this diagnose is not easy, but can be done with a lot of faith.I am not in your situation but I know that some people like to make fun of others, does't matter what kind of disease they have or personal problems.
You have to try to understand that people who really care about you....they will never leave you and they will never make fun of you, no matter what will happen to you and you should focus on them.
With the other should't bother.
I know it's hard, and I know how much pain you can feel...but you have to get up and move forward.
I am 100% sure that there are a lot of people who appreciate you at work for who you are and they are smart and can understand that we didn't choose this disease and they can also realize that there is treatment for this and we can function normally.
I hope that my words will help you a little bit and bring a smile on your face.
Big hugs,

New Member

Date Joined Apr 2008
Total Posts : 5
   Posted 9/8/2008 11:20 PM (GMT -6)   
I really hope that things will get better for you at your workplace. I am sure this is the last you need in addition to dealing with everything else.

Out of curiosity, is there some sort of complaint that can be filed against the counselor? It has caused you grief and has created a problem at the workplace. It is unprofessional and some sort of recourse should be taken. I can understand why you may not want to, but this just seems very inappropriate.

Anyway, keep the faith, and don't give your power away to your coworkers if they make comments or anything else. You're better than that!

diagnosed cyclothymic 2007
meds: Trileptal, Xanax for anxiety

Veteran Member

Date Joined May 2007
Total Posts : 3715
   Posted 9/9/2008 10:23 AM (GMT -6)   

Welcome to HealingWell. I'm glad you found us and I hope we can offer the support you're looking for.

How infuriating. I'm so sorry that you've had to endure this. I see only 2 real ways to handle it. One is what you're already doing -- neither accepting or denying the diagnosis, and just keep deflecting the implied insults. This is really hurtful though, and you have to just silently swallow all the barbs that come your way. Two is to own up to your condition and dare anyone to really bother you about it. No one makes fun of people with other conditions like diabetes or missing limbs, it should be the same for mental disorders. I KNOW that it isn't the same, but until we start standing up for ourselves, that's not going to change. A good "Yes, I have bipolar. Do you have a problem with that?" should shut anybody up. As long as it's not effecting your work performance, no one is going to hassle you for long.

As to the counselor, you should most definitely turn her in for a breach of HIPAA laws. There is a way to do it, and it's described on this page:

Is there anyone above your employer who you could complain to about having your medical information spread about?

I'm so sorry to hear about your stigmatization at work. It's not fair. No one should have to endure it. There is always the option to go somewhere else, but I get the sense that you like your job enough to not want to leave. Good luck.

Co-Moderator, Bipolar Forum
Bipolar II

New Member

Date Joined Sep 2008
Total Posts : 2
   Posted 9/9/2008 5:51 PM (GMT -6)   

Thank you all so much.  Yesterday while I posted my issue I just felt so alone, so reading your kind words of support and recognition at the indignity of this is so validating of my feelings about this.

From my experience with this, I have learned that, for me, the pain of being stigmatized was just as bad as some of the devastating depressions I went through prior to medication.

Given that there are effective medications moreso than at any other time in history, it seems tragic that we still have to deal with stigmitization, or the risk of it at any time.

Thank you for the link Serafina about dealing with the breach of confidentiality.  At the time this occurred, I just didn't have the courage or the support to face any of this down.  In fact posting here is this first time I have opened up about this outside of my family.  I liked what you said about just being open about bipolar, and challenging anybody who has a problem with it!  Sounds good, and I know I don't have the courage for that yet. 

I would be interested in hearing about what others have experienced when it comes to being stigmatized, and the labelling that psychiatric diagnosis brings on.  It's funny in a way, because when I finally did see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed and had effective medication, I was just so grateful, grateful to be well and have hope again.  And yet the wider world can use this against us as a put-down anytime...I don't get it.

As I said, thank you all so much for responding and sharing your kind support. 

Georgie Girl
Regular Member

Date Joined May 2008
Total Posts : 319
   Posted 9/10/2008 9:16 AM (GMT -6)   

Don't blame you for feeling violated and paranoid.

My subordinates, my supervisors, and other personnel I come into contact with regularly know I am bipolar and know that I had a breakdown requiring hospitalization this spring.  I don't feel much discrimination because they have that knowledge, thankfully.  In this I am very fortunate. 

I do use this as an opportunity to prove to any doubters that people with bipolar disorder (and depression and anxiety, which I've also had) can continue to make a significant contribution in the workplace. Hopefully, my doing so, with some of the people anyway, I can make things easier for others with mental disorders.   I use it also as something for me to strive for - to continue to be the exemplary employee I think I was before my latest and worst exacerbation. 



Georgie Girl

Regular Member

Date Joined Mar 2008
Total Posts : 223
   Posted 9/18/2008 12:02 PM (GMT -6)   
A few years ago my manager of my unit informed my co-workers of my bipolar and other mental issues I had.  At that time I was so embarrest by my true self that I left the facility.  Now that I have gained the knowledge that yes I have an illness that causes my life to sometimes be hell, it is who I am.  At my job now I had a very bad manic phase and tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized.  I told the girls who I work with what happened and why it happens when you have this type of illness and I must tell you I compared it to them as if I had diabetes and told them I am not ashamed of who I am and this is my life to deal with it.  I feel that if you do your work at your job be proud of who you are and show them that.  Keep your head up and do not take any crap from anyone.  We are very special people and I am now realize that we have rights too.  So just smile and think that the people that are giving you the look have a problem with real life.  Hang in there! :-)

Regular Member

Date Joined Aug 2008
Total Posts : 20
   Posted 9/20/2008 6:30 AM (GMT -6)   
The counselor you saw should be licensed if she's practicing therapy. And her licensing board will have procedures for complaints to be made. Confidentiality is a pretty basic right, and even more so in mental health than in other general health areas. There are many "wounded healers" out there who are helping others and getting help themselves. For ther to out you, however, is entirely inapproriate and illegall.

I'm not sure how I would handle comments like the ones you've heard, or react to what you're experiencing at work. Lately, I've been pretty depressed and my perspective is lost. I feel so down on myself already, and at work I feel incompetent and expect someone to "find me out" anytime. I assume that if they have any insight at all, that they'll "see" I'm unstable, unable to function as well as my other co-workers.

In my current state of mind, I'm afraid I would breakdown at work if I heard the snide remarks you have. At another time, when I'm more confident, I don't know how I would deal with it.

I've chosen a few times to tell co-workers about problems I've had with Depression or ADHD, but typically after I've known someone for awhile and can trust them some. While my diagnosis of Bipolar is new, I know I don't and probably won't mention it as quickly b/c there is more stigna w/ Bipolar than Depression or ADHD I think.

I feel for you and am glad you found some support here.
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