Workplaces blame or punish individuals for madness, exclude mad people from work, and fail to recognise the role of work in making people mad in the first place. This is true even of measures supposedly designed to enable accessibility or promote mental health. Sick of this, I asked some members of radical and peer-led mental health groups, along with some friends and fellow weirdos, what they think would make it better to be ‘mad at work’. I collected all the responses, merging duplicates and re-writing stories into demands, to make the list below.
Of course one of the best things workplaces could do for mad people would be to improve their economic conditions. Many folk brought up precarious employment as especially harmful, including short-term and zero-hour contracts, as well as people having to re-apply for or apply for funding for their own job. As long as there is capitalism there will be suffering for mad people at work, exclusion of mad people from work, and madness as a result of work. Although this list is not primarily about economic conditions, is not intended to justify wage labour or erase the harm it causes.
Yet many of the suggestions made below are perfectly compatible with the logics of capitalism. Some mad people just want to get through the day however they can. They want to have a nap sometimes, dress more comfortably, mask less, not get lied to and – perhaps most of all – be subject to less surveillance. These things are cheap, straightforward, and would even enable mad people to ‘more productive’ workers within the grim logics of capitalism. So why are most items on our list still completely unimaginable?
- No glass walls or doors for maximum privacy and minimum surveillance
- All toilets to be accessible and all-gender
- Provision of private nap cubicles
- Abolition of gaps around toilet doors to allow for privacy for purging and panic attacks
- Provision of luxury harm reduction rooms, including beautiful soft furnishings, safety equipment (wipes, clean needles and razors, sharps bins), and gold boxes for everyone to keep their individual stuff in
- No dress codes or norm of dressing gowns, blankets, pyjamas, slippers, bare feet
- No more defining mental health as the ability to work
- Abolition of counselling as gatekeeping for jobs
- End of the use of health and safety and risk assessments to punish and restrict autonomy of disabled people
- Abolition of small talk (replace with standard red/yellow/green communication badges every door)
- Police uniforms for Human Resources & Occupational Health staff to make their roles clear
- Paid time in all workload models for collective organising (including but not limited to trade unionism, direct action, feminist consciousness raising and zine-making)
- Free workers’ canteens (with no coercive ‘health’ or ‘normal’ eating)
- All contracts mandatorily available as job share
- All workplaces to circulate and commit to Recovery in the Bin principles
- Worker feedback forms to be located over the shredder for clarity around purpose
- No more macho pretend-its-fine culture
- Actually flexible working hours
- Recognition of workers as humans for whom work is only one part of life
- Abolition of workplace communication by whatsapp, ‘fun’ group chats that include bosses and all social media (except personal or political social media use at work)
- Time in all workload models for private, skilled, on-demand clinical supervision for anyone who works with ‘vulnerable’ groups
- Recognition that learning, not-knowing and lack of enjoyment are inevitable elements of work and not signs of unprofessionalism
- Resources to support working from home (e.g. printer and scanner)
- Option to get paid based on hours or on task, your choice, with no reduction in pay (maximum 25 hour work week either way)
- A sensory room with sensory toys AND integration of those things into rest of work place
- No forced disclosure ever
- Sound proofed screaming cubicles
- Screaming normalised everywhere, ear defenders supplied at all entrances
- Employers to pay employees’ union membership
- No more suffering as a rite of passage
- Education for all employees about madness BY mad people
- Abolition of the idea of ‘professionalism’ (otherwise known as ableism, racism, misogyny, etc)
- Abolition of ‘reasonable adjustments’, replacement with actually accessible workplaces including accessibility budget for all workers with no monitoring
- Wages for housework, care labour and all social reproduction
- No more rest or breastfeeding areas in stationary cupboards
- Repurposing of ‘common room’s for crafting, animal therapy, prayer, dart boards and punch bags with bosses faces on, meditation, etc.
- No more token wellness activities or ‘pledges’
- More sharing of unsantized stories (NOT ‘it all got a bit tricky but I’m totally better and promotable now’)
- Abolition of requirement to perform trauma and healing for job
- No more blaming our mental health for impossible working conditions
By Darcy Leigh.
The making of this list was inspired by the Mad Love Designer Asylum project, in which mad people design their own asylum.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.