'Keeping schtum' about mental health problems
Posted Thursday 19 November 2009
Following the tragic death of German footballer Robert Enke, the difficulties people feel about being open about their mental health experience has made international headlines.
Enke's death has prompted a wave of public sympathy. Strangely, Monday's Financial Times Deutschland article 'The Perils of Revealing Your Illness at Work' doesn't refer to Enke, but it does remind us of the terrible bind so many people find themselves in: be open and risk your job, or stay quiet and risk your health.
The article's author, Lucy Kellaway, claims that it's best to keep quiet about mental health in the workplace. "The truth is that given our ignorance and squeamishness about mental health, it is probably better to shut up about it," she says.
She seems less concerned that 'keeping schtum' about mental health problems can contribute to perpetuating stigma, and in Robert Enke's case, can lead to people feeling they can't continue.
The article also takes a swipe at two well known faces of the Time to Change campaign, Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell, suggesting that their public positions mean that disclosures about their own mental health 'don't count'.
On the contrary, it is their candour that has already helped bring mental health, and the stigma surrounding it, to the forefront of public attention. Every person who is open about their experiences should be applauded, as greater openness about the issue is what we need to break down the stigma that destroys lives.
However, Kellaway is right that admitting to mental health problems at work can be very frightening, and it's often a difficult choice for people to make. Recent research for the Time to Change campaign revealed that 92 per cent of the British public believes admitting to having a mental illness would damage someone's career.
Thankfully, developments in the law are making it less difficult to fight unfair treatment, and more organisations have positive policies on disability and equality at work.
No one should have to choose between their life and their livelihood.
Julia Lamb, Media Team
Commenting is now closed.