Disclosing Mental Illness at Work: Should You Tell?

The good news is that there is less stigma around mental illness at work than there used to be, though many people remain unsure about whether to share information about their mental health in the workplace.

Figures suggest almost half of Australians with a mental health condition are withholding this information from their employers because they are worried it would put their job at risk.

However, experts say there can be benefits to speaking up about what is often ‘the elephant in the office’ – i.e. mental illness at work.

Benefits of disclosing mental illness at work

Dr Caryl Barnes, consultant psychiatrist at the Black Dog Institute workplace programs says growing awareness about mental illness has lead to significant changes. According to Dr Barnes, there is change in public understanding of mental illness which has resulted in increased numbers of people being proactive in management of mental illness. Despite this positive shift, stigma is a continuing problem in our workplaces and it stops many of us from disclosing mental illness at work.

“Many people don’t seek help for mental illness. People would rather lose their job than seek help,” Barnes says. Yet, psychologists agree that if you have a mental health condition work is often very important as it provides:

  • an income
  • a sense of purpose and goals
  • increased social inclusion
  • a sense of belonging and involvement
  • structure and consistency to the day and week
  • distraction.

On the flip side, hiding a mental health condition can create additional stress and anxiety if you are already struggling.

Double-edged sword

Ingrid Ozols, managing director of MentalHealth@Work says considering disclosing a mental illness at work is a “double-edged sword”. She says benefits of disclosing include better understanding and two-way communication.

Stigma in the workplace is still a sensitive and complex issue though. Caution and intuition is recommended as many organisations still have cultures that don’t address this well. People may be fearful to share their circumstances due to concerns about the impact on career opportunities such as:

  • possible discrimination
  • rejection or not getting a job
  • “being managed out”
  • missing out on promotions or transfers
  • misunderstanding and judgmental attitudes
  • bullying
  • social avoidance by team members and co-workers

Tips for disclosing a mental health condition

There is no obligation to tell your employer about a mental health condition if it does not affect how well you do your job.

If you do decide to be open about your mental health in the workplace, there are a number of aspects to consider.

  • Does this person need to know?
  • Do you have a good rapport with them?
  • How comfortable are you sharing your personal information with them?
  • Do you feel confident they will maintain your privacy and confidentiality?

Timing is important. Try to make an appointment with enough time for a lengthy conversation. Also make sure it is a good time for the person you are meeting with and they aren’t distracted by other concerns.

Once a mental health condition is disclosed people can involve their doctor or psychologist as a team member in developing a graded return to work plan. Our team of psychologists has assisted many clients in this regard and can do the same for you. If you need help deciding whether you need to disclose or are experiencing any other difficulties related to your mental health management, please contact us now – you can book an appointment online or give us a call.

We are here to help you live the life you deserve.

Reference: Dr Jocelyn Lowinger. www.abc.net.au