Alan Shakir, pharmacist, living with OCD

Why did you want to be involved in this campaign?

This campaign is important to me because it aims to take away the stigma associated with mental illness. The stigma being that having a mental illness is a negative characteristic for someone. I hope this campaign can show the opposite.

How can this campaign impact opinions on mental health?

This campaign can help by showing others that having a mental illness doesn’t mean the person has a disadvantage – in my case it makes me better. If you know someone with a mental illness, personally I don’t think they should be treated any differently, but rather tried to be understood. It’s an interesting topic in my opinion because the stigma associated with mental illness is that it should remain silent, that it can’t be spoken about. I believe we need to be speaking about it more, encouraging one another to share personal experiences.

What has been your experience with mental illness in the workplace?

It’s been quite a journey for me being in the workplace. Having OCD can mean something different for everyone. For me, it means making sure everything is even and straight, ordered and numbered, colour coordinated, you name it. I also hate change. So when you put all this in a pharmacy setting, where the shelves are stacked unevenly, or scripts aren’t stapled straight, products are turned around, etc, it makes it quite frustrating. In my previous workplace the pace was very fast, and as you can imagine I always got teased for being so slow because I was constantly trying to make sure I satisfied my internal craving for neatness (to my own standards). As a pharmacist though, it means I am also very stringent when I am checking scripts. I have to constantly check scripts a certain way to feed my craving. I believe this is the reason I make minimal mistakes.

What do you think makes a mentally healthy workplace?

A mentally healthy workplace is somewhere that embraces everyone’s individuality; which means accepting them for ALL of them. The bad and the good. It is also somewhere where people can feel comfortable and have people there who make them feel comfortable. I think having those one or two close work friends can make all the difference in the world.

What can business leaders learn from your experience in the workplace?

I think you can find a lot of skill and potential in anyone if you are willing to work to their strengths, you just have to find it. I strongly suggest that all managers/leaders take just a few minutes of their time to have a chat with your employees, find out what they’re thinking, ask how they’re going, because that small bit of  communication can make a huge difference. For example, in my previous job it was getting very difficult because I didn’t tell anyone about my OCD. One day my manager sat me down and had a chat with me. I told her everything. We then discussed strategies that could help improve my productivity for the business while making it a comparable work environment for me.

What advice do you have for people who might have similar experiences to you with mental health?

I’d like to say to others that rather than getting disappointed or upset when people don’t understand you, try and help them see what you do. I think the hardest part about it is not having people who understand your internal struggle. I also want to say that you need to find that skill, find that uniqueness, and use it to your advantage. Show your employer how it makes you better suited for the role.