Around one in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year says, Louisa Pritchard. But will we be able to tell our boss why we’re taking the day off?
When Hayley Smith was at her lowest point in her battle with depression, she plucked up the courage to talk to her boss. She had found a counsellor, but would need time off work to go to the sessions, and said, “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a motherly hug or an ‘Everything is going to be OK’. I expected professionalism and support. Instead, I received a negative response from my boss, who even asked if I was strong enough for the job.”
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem this year. Yet nine out of 10 people with mental health problems say they’ve experienced some kind of discrimination, while almost a third who had taken time off work because of their mental-health issue felt they were treated differently by their manager when they went back to the office.
Hayley, 28, felt so isolated by the lack of support she eventually quit. She now runs her own company, Boxed Out PR, and says, “I am used to people not having a clue how to deal with me talking about my depression but, as an employer, you have a responsibility to your employees to support, grow and encourage, and it just wasn’t there. Would they have the same response to a pregnant woman or someone diagnosed with a serious illness?”
95 per cent of people who took time off work due to stress or anxiety didn’t tell their manager the real reason
Her treatment is just one example of the wall of silence that surrounds mental ill-health at work. When Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, published their Public Attitudes survey in 2014, it found 95 per cent of people who took time off work due to stress or anxiety didn’t tell their manager the real reason. Nearly half said they felt uncomfortable talking to an employer about mental health. Sure, we can talk about physical illness, but discuss our depression, anxiety, panic attacks? Not so much.
Yet there does seem to be a change in the air. Increased media attention on mental health awareness (take Mind’s annual awards for responsible reporting of mental-health issues) coupled with ongoing work from mental-health organisations to eliminate discrimination and stigma seems to have brought the issue increasingly to the fore.
There’s also a generational shift in talking about mental health. While the fear of stigma and discrimination most definitely hasn’t disappeared, an increased openness among Generation Y and millennials about their own mental health is slowly having an impact. A study found in 2004 that 60 per cent of people agreed that “people today spend too much time dwelling on their emotional difficulties”. By 2014, just 39 per cent of people held that opinion.
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