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 it 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.
“One in five Australians will experience a mental health disorder each year.”
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 many Australians spend most of their week. A strong workplace culture can make it easier for people to talk to their colleagues or manager about their mental health.
Your decision to tell someone at work is up to you. Your situation and workplace is unique to you. If you do feel comfortable telling someone else, then it should be on your own terms. You don’t have to legally tell your employer about your mental health condition unless it puts yourself or your colleagues at risk.
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, it may be 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 something that you need to simply ‘get over’. However, it is important to acknowledge that this is not the case. Mental illness is common and it is not a sign of weakness.
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 have an outside support network. 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.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or you are struggling, call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
If it is an emergency, dial 000.