Published 23rd November 2018
That is the question for those of us experiencing mental health difficulties in the workplace
More than one in six of us are currently experiencing mental health problems at work. We might be feeling low, feeling hopeless about the future, finding it hard to concentrate. Or we might be feeling worried much of the time, stressing that we have either forgotten to do something or that if we are not careful we will soon make a significant mistake. These common mental health problems might resolve by themselves in a few weeks, but what if they persist and we notice that depression or anxiety inhibits our ability to work as well as normal, or as well as we would like? What then? Numerous bodies advise us to talk about our troubles. ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved’ we hear. ‘Take ten’ and talk to our colleagues or to our line managers. And as psychologist I often recommend going outside of work to find a course of an evidence based psychological therapy.
But what if we are scared to do so? Over 70% of employees who have mental health problems actively conceal them at work, usually because we believe that sharing this information will harm our employment prospects. And we’re not all wrong. Stigma surrounding mental health problems is falling compared with a decade ago, but there is still a long way to go. 50% of workers would be reluctant to talk to their managers about a mental health problem and only 24% of managers have had any training on how to recognise when their staff are experiencing MH problems (Thriving at Work, 2017). And a recent study by Dr Sara Evans-Lacko and colleagues at the London School of Economics published in BMJ open in July 2018 showed that about half of UK employers did not offer proactive support to people with depression. But it is not difficult to do so. Training line managers, promoting wellbeing for all, looking out for and helping people who have recognisable mental health conditions are all attainable. And it’s good for us and good for business. For example, the LSE survey across 15 countries showed that employees who felt able to speak openly about their depression were more productive. They even took less time off work. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/bmjopen/8/6/e021795.full.pdf
So to talk or not to talk? If you are lucky enough to work in an organisation or a department that promotes positive wellbeing for all their employees; offers training for their line managers to actively support their staff who have mental health problems; makes reasonable adjustments as necessary when you return to work; and most importantly you have a manager you feel you can trust, then yes, go ahead. But if you find yourself in a different sort of organisation I can’t honestly recommend you talk openly. Unless of course it’s to suggest to your employers that they call CWMT to see what help we have on offer, including training for your line manager.
June Dent, Director – Workplace Programme