Mental Health in the Workplace

Disclosing mental health problems at work

Should I tell my employer if I have a mental illness?

here is no one right answer to this question. The decision to disclose a mental health problem varies according to the employee’s circumstances, the workplace culture and relationships with supervisors and colleagues. In some cases, people report that disclosure made their working lives more difficult, while others report that it enabled them to get the help and support they needed to work productively. 

An employer is legally obliged to provide reasonable adjustments for an employee with a mental illness. However, if you do not tell your employer about your mental health problem and any adjustments that would help you, then they are not able to provide these. However, it may be that you do not need special support at work.

Experiences of stigma and discrimination usually happen as a result of ignorance and fear. Your employer’s concerns are likely to arise out of assumptions about your ability to do your job. If you can show them that your aim is to keep working productively then this will help minimise these concerns. Discussing your mental health in a straightforward, unembarrassed way can also help those around you to do the same. 

If you do decide to disclose a mental health problem: 

  • think about how and when to do it 
  • how much information you want to give, what kind of information, and who to share it with 
  • be aware that you don’t have to go into personal details
  • focus on what you need for the job 

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"In so many cases, managers or colleagues, they might think that there's a problem but they avoid it, they don't ask early enough. So by the time they do have the conversation, it's really difficult - people are on the back foot and it can get hostile. Managers need to be more proactive and have these conversations earlier. You can keep it low key, just check in with the person, ask them if they are getting the support they need."
HR Manager
*not her real name
"If someone broke their arm we wouldn't be worrying about whether or not we were liable, we'd just send them to the doctor. It should be the same for mental health problems."
OHS Manager
* not his real name
"Some employers think that if they accept that there is a problem, then that means they are accepting liability. Sometimes that stops them helping get employees into treatment. Actually they would be better off getting the person into treatment early - that's likely to reduce the risk of a stress claim. I recommend that where they can, employers offer to pay for two sessions of treatment without considering issues of liability."
Occupational Physician
*not her real name