Why We Don’t Talk About Mental Health at Work
It can be tough to open up about mental health struggles, especially in the workplace. Studies show that 38.6% of employees do not disclose mental health challenges with their manager. In a Community survey this past June, Starling Members shared what holds them back from talking about their own mental health.
Not surprising, we found that people have a much tougher time talking about their mental health at work as opposed to sharing with their family and friends. Collectively, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being very comfortable), people ranked speaking to employers about mental health at a comfort level of 5.2. Speaking to colleagues about mental health ranked a bit better at 5.8; this is in stark contrast to how comfortable people feel when speaking with family and friends about the same issues: 7.3.
From survey results, we’ve identified three key themes as to what deters people from talking about their mental health in a workplace setting.
1. Embarrassment and anxiety around their reputation.
Overall, members are commonly most anxious about what their employers or colleagues would think of them. They are worried about being treated differently after people find out that they are struggling with depression or anxiety. This is understandable, as much of the negative stereotypes around people coping with mental illness are influenced by the media and pop culture. Films and news stories tend to overgeneralize what it means to be mentally unwell. As a result, this perpetuates the notion that people with depression are suicidal or that schizophrenics should be discredited due to their hallucinations.
Here are a few comments from surveyed members:
“I’m worried about being judged and how I will be treated after I tell people. I’m worried that I’ll be seen through a filter of being mentally unwell and not seen for who I am. My current mental health struggles do not wholly define me.”
“I’m afraid I’ll be defined by my current mental health diagnoses – like oh look, there’s that depressed person who works here. I’ve learned in Starling Minds that depression is extremely common and is not permanent. This has given me so much hope; I don’t want my current state of ‘being depressed’ to define me.”
“I want to be seen beyond my mental health condition, I am not my condition or its name.”
2. Fear of jeopardizing their career.
With so many negative connotations surrounding mental illness, it’s easy to use stereotypes to justify discrimination when it comes to adequate housing, health insurance, and jobs. Many members share that they are worried about being passed over for promotions, or even fired if they let employers know about their mental health struggles.
“It feels like it’s something that will be held against me for the rest of my life.”
“I fear that I would lose my job.”
3. Struggling with mental health is perceived as weakness.
The American Institute of Stress found that 26% of workers were often burned out or stressed by their work. Despite the fact that struggling with mental health is a very common issue, members believe that having these issues is a sign of weakness.
“I just treat my mental health like it’s no big deal. Things will eventually get better, I just have to fight through it. If I’m open about my mental health, I’ll be perceived as weak.”
“I don’t talk about my mental health because men are not supposed to show weakness. We’re under pressure to do a good job and embody strength no matter what.”
How many of these thoughts resonate with you? How often do you hear others echo it? The stigma surrounding mental health prevents much-needed conversations; like solutions for how we can support each other and create workplaces where people are comfortable asking for help. By sharing our struggles, we can break the ice and show others that they are not alone in their experiences.
We would like to thank each member who has shared their thoughts in this article. You play a huge role in showing that mental illness is more common than we think and that we are truly not alone.