Mental health at work

Six weeks ago I stood up in front of my boss and colleagues at work at a session I had arranged and talked about my mental health issues.

I talked about how I had struggled with depression in the past and still suffered occasionally to the present day, including regular sessions with a therapist. I wanted to show that such feelings could happen to anyone and could be incredibly debilitating, but didn’t have to mean everything ends or cause permanent damage to your career. I wanted to try to convince my colleagues that there shouldn’t be any stigma about admitting they were struggling and that the best thing they could do for themselves and everybody was to talk to somebody, anybody, about how they were feeling.

I was incredibly nervous beforehand about admitting suffering from mental illness in a work environment — not really knowing how it would be received or how I would be perceived afterwards. But I am one of the lucky ones — I have the most supportive boss — he actually stood up after me and talked about his own previous issues. And due mainly to my incredibly advanced years, I have a certain standing amongst my colleagues that meant that I could talk with some freedom without risking my position too greatly. And I had so many people afterwards grateful for the knowledge and confirmation that they worked in an environment that would be supportive if they ever needed it that it was incredibly gratifying. But I still dread to think how someone starting out in their career, trying to make a good impression and prove themselves would feel about talking about their own stresses and struggles.

There has been progress made in talking about and dealing with mental illness. But as today’s report, “Thriving at work” by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer shows there is so much more to do.

So if you are an employer please read the report and ask yourself if your employees would feel comfortable talking about mental illness. And work out what more you can do to support them whether they would or not. If the duty of care and moral imperative isn’t enough then think about the impact on your productivity and bottom line of not doing anything. And commit to doing something meaningful to address it at work.

And everybody else, take the opportunity today to ask that colleague you have been concerned about if they are really OK.