Review: Invisible Illness

Press Room blogger, Joshua Allen, reviews Friday’s event Invisible Illness, featuring Lefa Singleton-Norton, Adolfo Aranjuez, and Robert Coleman.

It’s hard enough to acknowledge you have a mental illness, let alone be open about it in your workplace. Adolfo (or Fez, as his friends know him) is primarily an editor, Robert is a freelance writer and Lefa is an arts worker – they each have different perspectives on how mental illness affects the way they work.

As mental illnesses don’t tend to bear any significant ‘visible’ attributes, it’s difficult for those experiencing them to ask their employers for availability and workplace changes. How do you explain to your employer that you just don’t feel like coming in to work today, when your illness is preventing you from having full energy? When should you tell your employer you have a mental illness?

After a year of starting her job, Lefa spoke to her employer and they were accommodating in ensuring that she could work effectively while going through the symptoms of her illness. This isn’t the case for some and there isn’t enough awareness of mental illness for most employers to be empathetic. Although mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are receiving more media attention, there are still many that we don’t know enough about, like chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you’re dealing with the symptoms of a mental illness for years, it becomes a part of your identity. That’s something that the panelists all agreed on. There needs to be acceptance and it’s okay for you to be open about your illness and to have a support group. All the panelists have partners and their lives are greatly improved by their support.

It was incredible to listen to such a deeply personal conversation for an hour and a half, and a lot of it hasn’t been mentioned in this review. Hopefully there will be more events in future about mental illness. Fez, Robert and Lefa have not let their mental illnesses restrict them from making ambitious decisions and they encourage everyone to be more open about discussing mental illness.