Matt’s Story

Matt lives in an outer ring suburb of the Twin Cities. He likes his home and neighborhood; however, he relies on public transportation to get around, and there is only one grocery store within walking distance from his house. When he ran into a conflict with the one grocery store in the neighborhood, he found himself without a place to shop for food.

Usually Matt shops on weekday nights, as crowds and loud noises trigger his anxiety. After a particularly difficult day at work, he needed some items from the pharmacy and could not avoid shopping in the late afternoon. Though it was difficult to manage the rising panic attack, he managed to get what he needed. He made his way through the checkout line and paid. As he was leaving, a staff member who claimed Matt had stolen an item confronted him.

In Matt’s cart there was a small item Matt had not noticed. Matt explained he had not seen it and that he had felt a lot of anxiety while shopping and was not paying attention when he checked out. The manager agreed to let him pay for the item, as it seemed an honest mistake.

Since then, Matt has felt uncomfortable shopping. He noticed staff tracking where he was in the store. At the cash register line, cashiers would subtly call over other staff members to watch as Matt emptied his cart – to make sure everything was paid for. One cashier in particular made a point to be unpleasant to Matt – treating him in a patronizing manner and double-checking everything he took out of his cart. One time Matt thought he saw the cashier mimic him behind his back.

These things were subtle enough that Matt didn’t feel comfortable complaining; however over time he found himself panicking when he had to go grocery shopping. He made his food last as long as possible between shopping trips. Finally it got to the point where he needed to go shopping, but couldn’t manage it. Matt called Mental Health Minnesota for help.

Matt’s advocate acknowledged that the stress around food and grocery shopping was dominating his life. Consequently his mental health symptoms had gotten worse. Matt felt if they could resolve the conflict with the cashier, he would be able to go to the store with less stress. Matt wanted to file a complaint.

Matt and his advocate called the store manager. Though initially reluctant, the store manager took time to listen to their complaint in detail. As Matt told his story, the store manager’s demeanor changed. He disclosed that he had family members who lived with mental illnesses, and that he had seen their experiences of stigma by community members. The store manager told Matt that the cashier should not be treating him that way, and he agreed to confront him about it. The manager suggested Matt come to the store and meet with him in person. That way, if Matt felt targeted by an employee, he could tell the manager directly. The manager also stated he was going to elevate this complaint, as he felt the store could do more to train staff about stigma and mental health issues.

After the conversation, Matt felt the experience was positive and that his concerns were addressed. He was impressed by the manager’s empathy, but he was still nervous to meet him in person. The advocate helped him plan for the next time he went to the store. By the end of the call Matt was optimistic and promised to call if he needed more help.