Updated 20 March 2015

Stigma keeps employees from revealing mental illness

A new Canadian survey has revealed that 38% of employees would not disclose a mental illness to their manager for fear that it may affect their career.


Many workers say they wouldn't tell their manager if they had a mental health problem, a Canadian survey finds.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health poll of more than 2,200 working adults in the province of Ontario found that 38 percent would not disclose a mental illness to a manager.

Their reasons for keeping quiet included fears about the effect on their career, bad experiences of others who came forward and the risk of losing friends. Some said they wouldn't disclose a mental illness because it would not affect their work.

On the other hand, having a good relationship with their manager and supportive company policies were the main reasons given by those who said they would disclose a mental illness.

Read: The stigma of mental illness

Almost 3% of workers on short-term disability for mental illness

"A significant number of working people have mental health problems, or have taken a disability leave related to mental health. Annually, almost 3 percent of workers are on a short-term disability leave related to mental illness," said study leader Carolyn Dewa, head of the centre's division for research on employment and workplace health.

"Stigma is a barrier to people seeking help. Yet by getting treatment, it would benefit the worker and the workplace, and minimize productivity loss," she said in a centre news release.

The survey also found that 64 percent of respondents said they would be concerned if a co-worker had a mental illness. While more than 40 percent said their concern would be due to worries about reliability and safety, 50 percent said they would be concerned because they'd want to help their co-worker, Dewa said.

About one in five respondents also said they would be worried about making their co-worker's mental health problem worse, according to the study published recently in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Dewa said her past research showed that workers with depression who received treatment were more productive than those who didn't. But without disclosing depression, it may be more difficult to get treatment if the workers need to take time off work for therapy.

Read more:
Mental illness common in South Africans
Working overtime ups depression
Work pressure doubles depression and anxiety

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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