will my coworkers judge me now that my brother is getting psychiatric care from us?

A reader writes:

While looking for a full-time job, I am helping a local psychiatrist’s office doing tech support and minimal admin work, which includes keeping patient charts up-to-date. It is a small office and I enjoy the other admin staff, as well as the doctors. Now here comes the tricky part: I live in a rural area that is very under-served by the mental health profession, and I have a brother in crisis (depressed and in need of help ASAP). All the other local counselors, as well as the one other psychiatrist in the area, are either incompetent or have waiting lists of months. I could get him on the schedule at the office at work within a week.

And I did. My brother’s mental health is more important than anything else in this situation.

However, I am at a loss of how to deal with this at work. I already got permission to put him on the schedule. But they don’t know I am looking for full-time work, while my brother does. And I have also pointedly not talked about some major family issues at work simply because I like keeping work and family separate. I can ask my brother not to mention it, and beyond that anything he says in session is protected, but I can’t help worrying about the awkwardness. I know I will be asking the office manager about what steps I need to do to ensure I don’t ever have to look at my brother’s records, etc., but that means my co-workers will be. And while they would never ever disclose anything outside the office, and can’t, legally, I worry about them judging me, or wondering why I never mentioned any of the family issues to them.

If they’re judging you, they’re jerks and not very bright … but they’re probably not judging you. Lots of people (most people?) have family issues, either some of the time or all of the time. Your office is not going to be the one office in the country that’s staffed exclusively by people with perfectly healthy, well-adjusted, harmoniously functioning families.

And no one with any sense would be wondering why you hadn’t mentioned any of your family issues to them, because it’s none of their business. Lots of people aren’t inclined to share very personal things at work. Your coworkers know that, and I guarantee that they have things of their own that they’re not sharing too.

Furthermore, working in a mental health setting tends to normalize these sorts of issues. I suspect this is going to be a much bigger deal to you than to them — chances are good that your coworkers aren’t going to think about this at all.

Take care of yourself and your brother, and don’t spare another minute worrying about what your coworkers will think.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon y. mouse

    “Furthermore, working in a mental health setting tends to normalize these sorts of issues. I suspect this is going to be a much bigger deal to you than to them — chances are good that your coworkers aren’t going to think about this at all.”

    This, exactly. Your coworkers have seen and heard it all. They know that this stuff happens to everyone. They very likely have relatives with mental health issues themselves. And they’ve worked in the industry long enough to know that mental health issues aren’t a sign of a weak or bad person. I’d be absolutely shocked if they give it any more attention than, say, a coworker whose brother is being treated for cancer. Actually, they probably won’t even politely inquire after his health.

    (As a side note, I’m curious why you haven’t told them that you’re looking for full time work. If I were in your position, I’d be broadcasting that information far and wide (without being obnoxious!) in hopes of making a connection with someone who needs my skills. With the job market in the shape it’s in, it’s no indictment on anyone’s skills to be looking for work.)

    Best wishes to you and your brother. I’m glad you’ve been able to get him help when he needs it.

  2. Lina

    I think you are over-worrying. People who work in health care are concerned with helping others. I don’t think that they are judgmental, in the least.

    Depression isn’t stigmatized in our culture anyway. If he had a more colorful and rare problem (like a sex addiction) you may be right to be concerned. However in that case you would have to worry only about some people; people who ignorant about such real and serious problems. I would not about health care professionals’ reactions who are trained and experienced in such issues.

    Plus, you and your brother are two individuals. You may share DNA but you are not responsible for anything that he does or suffers from.

    Take care of your future and your brother. You will be fine. :)

    1. Lina

      Let me just add as someone who majored in psychology in college, I hate how mental illness is still considered ‘shameful’ in our culture. No one would be embarrassed if he suffered from cancer (God forbid).

      That’s four cents. Bonus!

      1. Anon y. mouse

        Sorry to be pedantic, and I know you’re just pulling an example of of the hat, but I’m gonna be pedantic for a moment. :-)

        Sex addictions aren’t all that rare, or even particularly exotic. They’re just new to the public consciousness and somewhat controversial. Also, our culture has the collective maturity of preteens, which makes any discussion of ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ sexuality problematic.

        I also hate how mental illness gets looked at sideways. I try to be open with people about my own experiences (once they know me well enough to see that I’m basically sane) in hopes of fighting it. I figure if my openness helps even one person see mental illness in a less scary light, it’s worth it.

  3. Joey

    It’s not helpful speculating about what your co workers might think and say. I’m guessing your co workers are like a lot of healthcare professionals- they make judgments and talk about patients for entertainment. There’s nothing you or your boss can do about what employees think, but she can certainly address if they inappropriately access his files or start gossiping about patients.

    1. anon

      Healthcare professionals, like professionals in every other field, come in all types.

      I once had a particularly embarrassing “gastrointestinal issue” when I was out with a new girlfriend. I was obviously very concerned about making a bad impression, but she assured me it was no big deal. She was a nurse and she told me she had dealt with much worse from her patients. She was more concerned that I got better than anything else. I should have married her :-)

      On the other side of the spectrum, I once had a co-worker whose wife worked for a radiologist. She would bring home “interesting” x-rays to share with friends and family.

      It probably isn’t fair to generalize healthcare professionals as either saints or demons.

  4. Anon

    I had a similar situation recently, except the person who needed mental health services was myself. I not only worked fairly frequently with people in my hospital’s mental health clinic, but one of the counselors is a good friend from church.

    I finally realized that if they were going to judge me because I showed up at their clinic once a week, it’s their own damn problem, and my friend the counselor, even though if I was offered an appointment with them I’d ask for someone else, my friend is probably the best person to know I am having mental health issues because I know my friend knows how to keep their mouth shut.

  5. Jen M.

    You have stated that your brother’s mental health is more important to you than anything else. That’s all that needs to be said. Anyone who would judge you because you have a family member with an illness is someone with whom you don’t want to interact, anyway.

    If you feel your brother will get the help he needs there, then so be it. You didn’t specify that you were looking for a permanent job at this office, so really–don’t sweat it.

    Good luck!

  6. Jamie

    You did the right thing – your brother’s health is far more important and the fact that you acted on that first and are mulling over possible concerns about your job later speaks so highly of you as a person.

    A couple of points:

    Do not worry about anyone being put off by you keeping your family issues private at work. Every one you have ever, or will ever, work with has personal issues (past, present, and/or future) that they don’t talk about with their co-workers. We’re human – we have lives and problems – and most people consider it professional to draw a line between their personal and work lives.

    Anything they learn about your family from your brother’s sessions is learned in the appropriate setting – he’s there to share his issues and get help. He should be as forthcoming as he needs to be and no reasonable person would look askance at you for not sharing the same info over lunch.

    Professionals in this field should be far more advanced than laypeople in dealing with this stuff sensitively. If not, it’s time they look for a new career. Having a family member who is dealing with mental issues is no reflection on you or your work performance.

    Good luck – I hope your brother gets what he needs from this and however it works out with this job in the long run you absolutely have your priorities in the right place.

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