Mental health stigma in the work place: are things starting to change?
Many sufferers of a mental illness worry about how their career will be affected. We take a look at whether employers are beginning to understand and respond to employees with a mental illness appropriately, or whether an unsympathetic culture within the working environment still persists.
Stressful working environments are still the norm
Austerity measures and the rise of temporary employment contracts, part-time and zero hours jobs have combined to mean that today’s working environment is frequently challenging, even for people who don’t have a diagnosed mental illness.
Unfortunately for many mental illness sufferers, trying to deal with their illness whilst also coping with insecure employment and a fluctuating income just makes their symptoms worse, lessening their ability to cope with the demands of their job.
It’s likely that legal change at a national level is needed to prevent unnecessarily insecure employment terms and also ensure that vulnerable employees are offered greater protection.
Legal need to accommodate reasonable changes to work
Under existing disability law, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the duties and environment of a disabled employee in order for them to be able to undertake their work effectively.
Such adjustments might include accessible office furniture or allowing employees to have an altered job role if one particular task was beyond their capability.
If you have been diagnosed with a disabling mental health problem, your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to continue with your employment.
Talking to colleagues about your mental health issues
While many people find that being honest with their colleagues about the mental health problems they are facing is best, others feel that it’s better to keep their medical issues confidential. Essentially, like any other illness, deciding whether to tell colleagues about a mental health issue comes down to personal preference.
It’s wise to tell your manager or personnel department—particularly if you are going to require additional support or time off—but there’s no reason to discuss the matter with everyone else unless you’re comfortable in doing so.
People do get better
With an estimated one in four people experiencing a mental illness each year, it’s good to know that many of these sufferers go on to make a good recovery and can enjoy excellent employment prospects.
Employers can’t discriminate against you on the basis of previous mental illness (except for specific, high-risk occupations) and even if you’ve had a significant episode in the past, there’s no reason to think that it will inevitably reoccur.
Whilst significant progress has been made in terms of employment law and mental illness, considerable work still needs to be done around fair working conditions for all and ensuring that employers don’t indirectly discriminate against those with a mental illness.
Growing understanding and awareness of mental illness amongst the general public means that sufferers are now far more likely to receive understanding and support than might have been the case a few decades or so ago.
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