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Employees reluctant to disclose experience of mental health problems at work

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The Mental Health Foundation has released research suggesting that only one in three people with experience of mental health problems feel confident in disclosing this on job application forms. However, many of those who have succeeded in finding employment are pleasantly surprised with the support and attitudes of employers and colleagues when they do “come out” about their mental health problem.

The report, Out at Work, is based on a survey of over 400 people with personal experience of mental health problems on seeking work, the attitudes of colleagues, support available within the workplace, the impact of work on mental health and the way in which people left or lost jobs. Across the UK, three in ten employees will experience mental health problems in any one year.

“The results clearly show that things are starting to change for the better,” said Ruth Lesirge, chief executive, Mental Health Foundation. “Many of those who were in employment believed that they were ‘unique’ or ‘extremely fortunate’ in receiving support from their employer and being accepted by colleagues – perhaps because they were comparing this with their earlier experiences. However, it is still only a minority of people with mental health problems who are in employment. This is despite the evidence from our research that people with mental health problems make a considerable contribution in terms of voluntary or unpaid work. In order that employers don’t overlook a valuable resource it is essential that they focus on people’s experience rather than their diagnosis.”

Less than half of those with psychosis, schizophrenia or manic depression who took part in the survey were in full-time or part-time employment. People with anxiety or depression were more likely to be employed – but still less than six out of ten were employed on a full-time or part-time basis. Overall one in five of those who responded were doing voluntary work, with people with schizophrenia or manic depression most likely to be working as volunteers.

Despite the fact that only one in three people felt confident in disclosing their experience of mental health problems on an application form, nine out of ten of those who were currently working, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, had told somebody at work about their experience of mental health problems. Within the workplace, those who had been open about their experiences generally felt supported and accepted. Over half reported that they always or often had support when they needed it, with a further one in five sometimes getting support. Around two out of three said that people at work were always or often accepting towards them.

However, the report also paints a picture of pressures at work causing or exacerbating mental health problems. Nearly two out of three believed that unrealistic workload/too high expectations/long hours were a major contributor to their mental health problems while one in three believed that bullying at work had caused or added to their mental health problems.

In Out at Work the Mental Health Foundation recommends that:
The Disability Rights Commission should give priority to addressing discrimination in relation to people with mental health problems.
The Government should recognise the importance of employment for people with mental health problems and support or promote return to employment schemes.
The Government and agencies working in mental health should consider a campaign encouraging people to “come out” about their mental health problems, in order that this is identified as not a minority issue.
Employers should audit their workplace in order to identify elements of practice or culture that may be detrimental to mental health and seek to address these.
There should be mental health awareness training in schools to try and ensure that future employers and employees have a better understanding both of mental health problems and of how to look after their own mental wellbeing.

Out at Work is available free of charge from the reports page of the Mental Health Foundation’s website. It was launched Mental Health Action Week.

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