One of the main challenges with mental health and people feeling comfortable speaking up is that there is still a lot of stigma around it. We’ve definitely made progress but we’re not yet in a place where you can openly say to your employer “I suffer from depression” without being afraid of getting fired.
So today I want to address this common myth that mental health is bad for your career and break it down. Why do we believe this, what are the fears and most importantly, how do we overcome it?
If you’ve ever suffered from a mental health issue while at work, you’ll probably have done or experienced some (or all) of the following:
- Tried to hide it
- Been afraid of talking about it
- Been worried it would backfire on you
- Been concerned it was bad for your career and would make you look “weak”
- Felt embarrassed or ashamed you had this “weakness”
I go into more detail about why this might be, but also why it’s a complete myth we need to bust in the video below.
The implications if this myth persists
Thankfully my own experience has taught me that this myth is completely unfounded. It might have been the case 5 or 10 years ago, but nowadays things are changing so that we no longer need to fear for our career.
However if this myths persists, the stakes are high. We already know that an increasing number of people are suffering from burnout and other mental health issues at work. Coronavirus has dealt another blow to our mental health and will have more impact that we can imagine, not only on those who have lost their jobs.
If the myth persists, people won’t feel open to talk about their mental health and won’t be able to get proper treatment or help. The cost to society and employers will increase, and it’s already costing UK employers alone, up to GBP 45 billion a year!
What you can do to break the stigma
Although I recommend it, I can totally understand why not everyone feels comfortable talking about mental health at work. It’s a sad reality that in some places you can still face harassment or risk getting fired for bringing up your mental health issues. I’m not suggesting people throw caution to the wind and suddenly start sharing their problems with anyone and everyone.
As an individual
- Assess your environment: does it seem like the type of place where you could openly talk about mental health? Don’t be discouraged, just be mindful you pick the right time and place to do so 😊
- Identify the people and colleagues you feel safe and comfortable talking to. Start a dialogue with them
- Become a workplace mental health advocate yourself, starting the conversation and helping others feel comfortable
- Ask around to find out about various HR or government rules and policies that are designed to support mental health and will protect your rights
- Get external support: for example from a coach, therapist or organization that can give you guidance
As an employer
- Lead by example – leaders need to show vulnerability and talk about their experiences, enabling others to do so
- Create a safe space for employees where they feel able to talk openly (think psychological safety)
- Start a mental health internal champions network: this people can help you to raise awareness and become points of contact for employees who have questions
- Offer training and development on the topic to continue raising awareness
- Offer anonymous support via HR and champions for those who might need it
- Work with a partner to roll out large-scale mental health support such as coaching
Together we can work to create an environment where mental health is no longer taboo, and we no longer have to feel afraid of risking our careers.