WHILE one in five workers experience mental health problems, fears about damage to job prospects, not getting support and lack of understanding from managers prevent the majority from speaking up.
Almost two thirds of employees do not discuss mental health problems with their manager, according to a survey of almost 1,400 British workers.
Mike Blake director at Willis PMI Group, which commissioned the UK research, said: “It’s unlikely we would ever see a case with physical illness where most people are unwilling to report it to management, so companies must ensure employees with mental health issues do not suffer in silence.”
Australian campaigners say the research is reflective of the challenges faced here.
“While we are working hard to encourage work environments where talking about mental health is less risky, we are not there yet,” said Patrice O’Brien, general manager workplace at beyond blue.
“There are still instances where disclosing a mental health issue can put people at risk of discrimination and can mean career opportunities are limited. So, the decision is a very individual one based on unique circumstances.”
Although there is no legal duty on employees and there are opportunities for legal recourse if they are discriminated against, the decision on whether to disclose a mental health issue is often a very difficult one, said Professor Bernadette McSherry, Director of the Melbourne Social Equity Institute.
An important factor can be the level of trust there is in supervisors and the organisation, according to recent research, she added.
O’Brien agreed trust is important and said employers have a responsibility to create an environment where people can talk about any issues that might be impacting their work performance.
“Sometimes the solutions are incredibly simple, such as taking time off for a psychologist appointment or adjusting a small part of their role,” she added.
There is not a legal requirement to disclose a mental health condition — unless there is potential danger to your safety or that of colleagues, for example through the ability to operate machinery.
But Andrew Jewell principal lawyer at Melbourne employment law firm McDonald Murholme said legal protections, around discrimination and the duty for employers to provide a safe working environment, only come into play once a mental health condition has been declared.
“This can be a difficult decision and some people feel they don’t want to be treated any differently at work. But from a legal perspective it is better to disclose a mental health condition and to provide as much detail as possible,” he said.
“For example, someone who has been diagnosed from depression might explain that it could impact their punctuality. It is much better to have this conversation as early as possible, rather than once an employment situation is going poorly.”
For an interactive guide on the pros and cons of disclosing your individual mental health issues see headsup.org.au.
This article first appeared on ‘Adelaide Now’ on 16 May 2016.