The issue of depression and associated stigma in the workplace is a difficult one to address but it is one that has to be addressed if the rights of those who declare a mental health difficulty are to be safeguarded.
To apply stigma to an employee who discloses that they have suffered from depression is to mark them as being distinctly different from their colleagues. It is a most damaging and soul destroying experience for any employee. For any employee who has or who has had a battle with depression, it is a frightening prospect and there is little doubt that it serves to compound the stigma. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. There is a reticence among people to inform their employer about anything relating to mental illness and statistics would suggest that this reticence is justified.
It would seem that mental illness is possibly the last remaining taboo in Irish society and it would follow that this transfers into the workplace. If employees are obliged to disclose their medical history, it would seem that those who had experience of mental illness are left to ponder the implications of disclosure.
The results of a survey carried out by St Patrick’s Mental Health Service is no surprise to those who have been labelled or fear being labelled. The isolation and loneliness associated with mental illness was reflected in the fact that 25% of the respondents reported that they would tell no one if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts, 38% would not tell their partner if they were taking anti depressants; and 36% would not tell their partner if their child was being treated for depression.
In relation to the employment setting, 31% reported that they would not feel comfortable explaining to their boss that they need time off due to a mental health difficulty, 29% did not think someone who experiences panic attacks could be head of a company and 73% believe society views those who receive in-patient care for mental health difficulties differently. Imagine if there was evidence of similar attitudes in relation to cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease. What if employees who disclosed any of these illnesses were clearly labelled and pointed out? It would, of course be deemed incorrect and unacceptable on every level. Why is it acceptable in relation to mental illness?
Picture is from website of @davidshrigley