Mental Health – How open should you be in the workplace ?

Workplace mental health
Mental health and being open in the work place

Mental illness still carries significant stigma in many workplaces, BeyondBlue has warned.

Workers who tell bosses about their mental health issues are risking their careers, the head of national charity BeyondBlue has warned.

BeyondBlue chief executive Georgie Harman said that openness about workplace mental health issues could potentially help managers create the best environment to aid recovery.

But workers should speak openly only where they were confident they would be supported, she said at an event in Melbourne to promote improved mental health outcomes in businesses

The tragic actions of Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz brought workplace mental health issues into sharp focus

BeyondBlue still heard “horror stories” about people finding themselves stigmatised and victims of outdated attitudes to mental illness at work.

Debate over the disclosure of mental health issues has intensified in the wake of the Germanwings plane crash, after co-pilot Andreas Lubitz was later revealed to have suffered from depression.

But Ms Harman said workers considering revealing mental illness should think about what support networks employers had in place, the culture of their workplace and how their immediate manager was likely to react to the discussion.

For employees considering whether to reveal their condition in workplaces where there was little awareness of mental health issues, Ms Harman had simple advice:

“Don’t, because you might not get that promotion, you might get the sack, there might be repercussions.”

Ms Harman said she would like to see every workplace have an open disclosure policy and the end of discrimination.

“But where we want to be is a workplace culture where everyone feels they are confident and safe to disclose. That’s nirvana,” she said.

Ms Harman said the construction and banking industries had been particularly proactive in building healthy workplaces, but businesses in other sectors needed to change to treat mentally ill employees more fairly.

But there was still a long way to go, she said.

“We’re not encouraging full and open disclosure in every circumstance.”

“But where we want to be is a workplace culture where everyone feels they are confident and safe to disclose. That’s nirvana,” she said.

Ms Harman said the construction and banking industries had been particularly proactive in building healthy workplaces, but businesses in other sectors needed to change to treat mentally ill employees more fairly.

Starts at the top

The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance had created an online tool to help workers weight up the pros and cons of telling their manager about their mental ill health, as part of their “Heads Up” initiative.

BeyondBlue co-hosted a workshop with Diversity Council Australia and the Business Council of Australia in Melbourne on Tuesday morning to teach employers how to build mentally healthy environments for workers.

Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said creating a mentally healthy workplace was important on both ethical and economic grounds. She said PwC had found mental health issues cost the Australian economy $10.9 billion dollars a year.

But for every $1 businesses spent on mental health initiatives, they got $2.30 in return, due to lower absenteeism and higher productivity among other factors.

“Work should be a dignifying experience, it’s not just about the money you take home,” she said.

Source: Larissa Nicholson, Sydney Morning Herald

If you’re suffering from workplace stress, depression or anxiety and you’re NOT getting the support from your workplace – Contact Counselling In Melbourne on 1300 967 734 or book online

About the editor, Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

I am a Registered Psychologist with AHPRA’s Psychology Board of Australia and a Chartered Counselling Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, UK. My formal training began with a B.A. in Psychology and Welfare at Charles Sturt University, and B.A. (Hons) Psychology from the University of Wollongong. I then progressed to the M.A. (Hons) Clinical Psychology at the same university before moving to the UK to undertake a PhD in Psychology from City, University of London.

Find out more about Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross

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