We had a faculty bail out of hir contract last minute, please see yesterday's post. I'll call this person Dr. Bailer. Our department chair would not elaborate on the reasons why he/she left.
Here's where my imagination goes into overdrive, BUT there are bases to my assumptions. If this person suddenly came down with Ebola, Leukemia, or had a stroke, we would be asked to pray for them, they would be given a leave of absence, and we would bring them casseroles. If s/he had suddenly decided, "To hell with your little piss-ant college, I'm bailing!", that scenario would have been communicated to us, and the reaction of those in-the-know would have been much different.
However, no one is talking about what happened. I have had loved ones in my life with debilitating mental illness (but that's for another blog). It's really the only thing we dont. talk. about. It's hard on family members, there's still a stigma, it discomboblulates workplaces, and it freaks churches out. It's called the "no casserole" illness.
I was recently inspired by this interview:
I haven't read her book, but I can't wait to do so. In summary, churches really don't know how to treat people with mental illness, especially since some churches (not ours) still consider mental illness a spiritual problem. Most churches don't know how to rally around a family with a mentally ill member. The author argues that we should symbolically "bring casseroles".
My university is tied to its church and reflects its values. My work does "bring casseroles" when it knows what to do. I don't know if anyone knows what to do with Dr. Bailer.
So I made a bold move. I found out Dr. Bailer was going to complete some paperwork in HR soon, so I bought a book of poetry and a blank card. I wrote words of kindness, emphasizing that I did not know anything about why they are leaving. I said I imagined that it may be distressing and that they should feel our department's care and receive our support. The words on the card are better than my summary here. I was kind but as neutral as possible. I left the gift and card with the HR person Dr. Bailer would be meeting with.
This could be a huge flop, taken the wrong way and insulting. On the other hand, it could give hir some comfort. I expect to never know. What I did is probably totally inconceivable in most workplaces. However, I have been supported and helped in tough times by my colleagues, and want to pay it forward. Regular readers will recognize the larger theme of my workplace's special culture. It's one of the things that makes the decision to uproot and find a position closer to my husband difficult.
How do you feel about your institutional culture? Would you receive compassion at your workplace in the case of physical or mental illness? What type of reaction have you observed to mental illness in your workplace? What are your thoughts?