08/02/2023

LGBT+ History Month – When one person benefits, we all do

Heni Tinker
Henri Tinker

Freelance writer

February is LGBT+ History Month, and this year we’ll be uplifting the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community, to hear how their identity shapes their mental wellbeing and their working lives.

In our second blog, self-employed writer Henri Tinker shares their story. Henri is non-binary, is disabled, and has autism and ADHD. They discuss the coping strategies they’ve used, how these impacted their mental health, and how they found a working style that suits their needs.


 

For a long time, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t work like other people. Why I couldn’t concentrate in a bright, noisy co-working space. Why I couldn’t motivate myself to complete work until the deadline, and why I struggled so hard to pay attention in meetings.

It was only after dropping out of university during the COVID-19 pandemic that I realized that there was something different about me. I was depressed, anxious and frustrated about not being able to work like other people, and it was that frustration that led me in search of answers.

I blamed myself for struggling

I have since learned that I am multiply neurodivergent- I am autistic​Support at work – a guide for autistic people Web page If you're autistic and in work, there are a few things that might be helpful for you to think about. This guide is full of useful tips on all sorts of issues, from office behaviour to your legal rights.Free By: National Autistic Society View resource and I have ADHD. I also have hEDS, which is a physical disability​Employing disabled people and people with health conditions Web page Encouraging applications from disabled people, including those with mental health conditions, is good for business. This guidance has a summary of issues to consider and a wide range of advice and tips.Free By: Department for Work and Pensions / Department of Health and Social Care View resource that causes joint instability and chronic pain. But because I never learned why I was different, I blamed myself for struggling with things that other people found easy.

A big part of the problem was that I learned from a young age to give the appearance of working in the ‘correct’ way – even if it made me less productive. For example, I listen best when I am not making eye contact with someone, though to a neurotypical person (someone who is not neurodivergent), it looks like I am not paying attention​Focus PDF This one-page PDF from Unilever explores ways of helping you to regain your focus, allowing you to give tasks your undivided attention.Free By: Unilever View resource. Knowing this, I would give the appearance of listening with the expected body language, tone of voice etc., so focused on the performance that I wouldn’t hear a word.

A workplace meeting.

This is a coping strategy known as ‘masking’, and it is a way that neurodivergent people pass for neurotypical to avoid discrimination. Many neurodivergent people learn this coping strategy at a young age, and like me, do it without realizing long into adulthood. Unfortunately, masking is well known to be detrimental to your mental health and according to Autistica, Autistic people who mask more show increased signs of anxiety and depression and it may even been linked to an increase in suicidal behaviours​Suicide prevention and postvention Web page NHS Employers have put together this short web page with facts about suicide, links to resources which might be helpful for managers, and signposting to crisis help for those at risk of suicide.Free By: NHS Employers View resource.

However, unmasking is not easy, especially in a professional context. Co-workers can misinterpret your behavior as rude, cold, or even hostile, and when asking for accommodations you may be perceived as ‘difficult’ or a ‘troublemaker’ for disrupting the status quo.

I’m always bracing myself to deal with transphobia

Being trans​Supporting someone who is LGBTIQ+ Web page Sadly, people who are not straight or cisgender are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population. This web page from Mind explores what you can do to help if an LGBTQI+ person tells you they are experiencing poor mental health.Free By: Mind View resource as well as neurodivergent and physically disabled makes things a lot more complicated. I have had to deal with repeated misgendering and I’m always bracing myself to deal with transphobia – whether intentional or just ignorant. Despite the 2010 Equality Act making it illegal to discriminate against trans people in the workplace, a report from 2018 revealed that 1 in 3 employers admitted to being ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person, and 43% were unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker. As well as the potential for me to make social faux pas in interviews due to being neurodivergent, I also have to contend with cisgender people’s prejudices against me for being trans.

Someone wearing a pink cardigan, viewed from behind.

Because I am both trans and disabled​Disability Confident: how to sign up to the employer scheme Web page Disability Confident helps thousands of employers to challenge attitudes about disability and make the most of the talents disabled people can bring. This page has everything you need to know to sign up.Free By: Disability Confident View resource, I am also more likely to be discriminated against according to this report from Stonewall Stonewall Stonewall is a UK based charity aimed at empowering LGBT people.  View organisation, which found that 16% of LGBT disabled staff report being denied jobs or promotions because of their identity, compared to 10% for LGBT staff in general.

Navigating all of this can be exhausting, but my mental health has improved significantly since I accepted that I am disabled and neurodivergent and stopped forcing myself to work in ways that don’t suit me. What I’ve learned is that it’s much better for me to be self-employed and work from home​Working from home: a wellness action plan PDF A wellness action plan (WAP) is a useful tool to help us identify what keeps us well and what impacts our mental health. This revised WAP has been modified to support you when you’re working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak.Free By: Mind View resource, because it gives me the flexibility that I need to accommodate myself. It also comes with challenges, such as job insecurity and having to do more admin than I would like. But for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Getting the right help can significantly improve your wellbeing and mental health

Luckily, there is support for disabled and neurodivergent people in the workplace through the government’s Access to Work Scheme. For example, if you have ADHD this grant means that you can access ADHD coaching, which for many is otherwise unaffordable. There are many other accommodations that you can access with this grant. However, the application process is lengthy so if you find admin difficult, it is recommended to go through an organisation that can help such as Celebrated Difference or This is Me Agency.

I think it is essential for neurodivergent people, especially those from the LGBTQ+ community, to find jobs that work for them. It is also important to advocate for yourself in the workplace and ask for the accommodations that you need, because getting the right help can significantly improve your wellbeing and mental health. There isn’t any shame in asking for the help you are entitled to, and employers need to do everything they can to support their neurodivergent employees, because when one person benefits, we all do.


Standard Five of the Mental Health at Work Commitment encourages employers to provide targeted support around key contributors of poor mental health, which might include disability or being from a marginalised community. Find out more about the Commitment or sign up here.

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