Mental health conditions are very common across Australia. In fact, you may have heard that one in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder each year and that one in two will do so during their lifetime.
With millions of people facing mental health challenges each year it’s not surprising that they can affect our working lives. In fact, according to some estimates, mental health issues are estimated to cost the Australian economy up to $60 billion annually.
Clearly, mental health has a far-reaching impact on the wellbeing of Australians at work. Yet, for a range of reasons, many people do not feel comfortable discussing it with their colleagues.
Should I tell someone at work about my mental health condition?
If you live with a mental health condition then it’s possible that you may have felt the need to discuss it with someone at your workplace. After all, this is where most Australians spend most of their week.
If you are unsure about whether to tell someone, then consider the following: your mental health is nobody’s business but yours. The reason is that no two places of employment are the same, and while talking about your mental health may work for you at one location, that may not be the case at another.
Indeed, work and career for some people may be not only just a source of income, but also a lifestyle or an integral part of their identity. For others, a job is just a job.
More to the point, the reality of employment in the modern world is that some work places have a great working culture. At others, it’s less so. In fact, at some jobs, the people you know may become friends and acquaintances for life. At others, you may not have anything to do with anyone outside of work interaction.
What this means is that you may be ok with telling someone in one environment, but you’re under no obligation to do so. If you do feel comfortable telling someone else, then it should be on your own terms. That means only telling those people what you feel you want to (or are obliged to).
Reasons why I might decide to tell someone at work
Telling the right people about your mental health condition can, under the right circumstances, be a positive or even liberating experience.
For some people, merely knowing that a trusted colleague understands can be beneficial. You may find that having to ‘hide’ your condition is in itself a cause of distress or emotional pain, so having someone to talk to when you need support (or even just knowing that someone else knows) can be a relief.
If your condition is affecting your performance, but there’s no safety risk, then discussing it with an understanding manager may help your productivity and overall happiness. Your manager or workplace may even be in a position to offer additional support, such as via an Employee Assistance Program.
In some cases, you may feel it necessary to tell someone because not doing so could pose a risk to your safety or that of someone else (for example, if your condition is interfering with your sleep and you need to operate machinery or a vehicle).
If you do open up to someone, you may be surprised by the level of support that you receive. Opening up about mental health to co-workers may help change their attitude or perception by in turn helping them ‘see things differently’.
Not only that, but it could even lead to a situation where you ‘lead the charge’ in creating greater awareness of mental health. This could, for example, help normalise something that other people are also experiencing, but may not have felt comfortable discussing openly.
Reasons why I might decide not to tell someone at work
Despite the widespread prevalence of mental health conditions among the Australian population, it is unfortunate that people living with them may still be stigmatised or experience discrimination.
It is important to remember that a condition like depression or anxiety is not in itself a reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. You may have grown up in, or come from, an environment in which a commonly held belief was that mental health conditions are a sign of weakness or are something that you need to simply ‘get over’. However, it is important to acknowledge that this is not the case (and that mental health conditions have long been acknowledged by the medical community as being entirely legitimate).
One reason to not discuss your mental health with your co-workers may be that it does not have much of an effect on your performance or outlook at work. You may already be coping with your condition if, for example, you are managing it through counselling or therapy support, self-care (e.g. exercise, relaxation, mindfulness, etc.) or prescribed medication. If that’s the case, then there may be less reason for your work colleagues to know.
Nonetheless, it’s likely that most people who choose not to open up to their colleagues about their mental health do so out of concern that they will be judged or even discriminated against.
As mentioned, you may be surprised by the level of support you receive if you do open up. However, even though attitudes have continuously improved over the years, it is possible that talking about your mental health could affect your wellbeing at work.
So if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, and there’s no safety risk, then that’s fine too.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.