Talking about a mental health condition at work

Jul 29, 2015

There continues to be stigma around talking about a mental health condition at work – especially within certain industries – but increased awareness and conversations are helping to break down barriers.

At any given time about one in five people in Australia is experiencing a mental health condition – most commonly anxiety and depression.1 Like any health condition, anxiety and depression can affect a person’s ability to work.

Even with the most supportive managers and colleagues, many people find it hard to talk about their mental health condition. Some people are worried about burdening others, while some fear letting their emotions show. Many people assume that depression and anxiety are private issues that shouldn’t be discussed.

Most of these worries are tied up with the stigma associated with mental health and can get in the way of seeking support.

Lawyers and the stigma around mental health 

Certain professions are particularly sensitive to stigma as this article highlights, with lawyers fearing admitting to a mental health condition could prompt employers to question their competency and affect their career progression.

Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Victorian Legal Services Commissioner Michael McGarvie said the ‘fitness’ of a lawyer to hold a licence has nothing to do with a condition like anxiety or depression.

“Increasingly, wise, organised, thoughtful firms…do not allow there to be a stigma around admitting mental ill health,

“[These firms] put an awful lot of effort into managing [mental health] as they do into managing every other human condition, including fatigue, confusion, happiness, sadness…[and] commitments outside work,” Mr McGarvie said.

Disclosing mental health conditions

Mr McGarvie explained that it is much harder to acknowledge mental ill health than physical ill health because of a perceived or actual sigma associated with mental health conditions.

However, openly discussing mental health in the workplace should be viewed positively as it encourages people to seek medical treatment early for existing conditions. 

“If the regulator and mentors are talking about the likelihood of a mental health condition, then it wouldn’t be seen by the [younger] lawyer as such a shocking thing to admit, especially if treatment is so readily available and encouraged by the regulator,” he said.

  • Check out how The Resilience@Law program is playing a leading role in raising awareness of depression, anxiety and stress across the legal profession - watch the video

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results (4326.0). Canberra: ABS

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