How Should I Approach Stigma At Work?

At work the other day I heard someone say something disrespectful about people who live with bipolar disorder. I think they felt comfortable saying this in front of me because they did not know I have a mental illness. I was surprised and offended when I heard it, but I didn’t know what to say. We work closely together every day, and I wouldn’t want to make things awkward or jeopardize my position. 

The story gets more interesting because I work in the mental health field where you wouldn’t expect to hear these things in the first place. 

I know “the right thing to do” is to speak up and tell them that’s not ok. But I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that. Especially when my first thought when I heard the comment was “wow, I guess I’m never telling you my secret.”  

I didn’t know how to approach it. I acted like I didn’t hear it. 

Later I felt guilty about ignoring it and still do. But I also still don’t know the best way to handle the situation. I can continue pretending I don’t hear these comments, and maybe they will stop or become less frequent.  But that’s not benefitting me or anyone else. The only benefit is that I am avoiding anxiety that comes with confrontation, but this is just a short-term gain with a long-term loss. And am I enabling my anxiety by giving in to it?

I thought about disclosing my illness in hopes that it will change their image of the types of people affected by mental illness. But at the same time part of me wonders if that would really change anything, and the only thing that would actually change is that they would just stop making those comments around me. Is this a valid concern or is this just my depression shooting down my ideas? Is this just anxiety trying to find a way out of coming forward? Am I twisting the situation to justify not doing anything? I have a history of doing that with other problems in my life. 

I don’t have an answer yet. We tell people to share their story, but not everyone is ready to become the poster child of their diagnosis.

Is there anything in between disclosing everything and doing nothing? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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