Chris O’Sullivan, Head of Business Development and Engagement at the Mental Health Foundation, discuss why around half of people with mental health issues do not disclose their problem with their employer – and what employers should be doing to stop discrimination in the workplace…
In 2016, the Mental Health Foundation surveyed people who were working, and who had experienced a mental health problem in the last five years. Around half had disclosed at work and 29% of those who had disclosed at work had experienced direct discrimination because of their mental health. The most commonly cited reason for choosing not to divulge – highlighted by over 50% of respondents – was fear of discrimination – a fear that sadly remains well founded. Recent research found that 15% of employees have faced dismissal, demotion or disciplinary action after disclosing mental health problems at work – a 6% increase since 2016. (BITC, 2017).
Following the research described above, we set out an employer checklist for improving their approach to mental health, which suggested that employers should:
- Ensure that discrimination on grounds of mental health status is seen to be as unacceptable as discrimination in relation to other protected characteristics
- Give people positive reasons to disclose by establishing a culture that values authenticity and openness and making reasonable adjustments simple to request and implement
- Encourage staff to report discrimination or harassment they face and to blow the whistle on discrimination they witness
- Support national and local anti-stigma programmes, including Time to Change in England and Wales, and See Me in Scotland.
There are 300,000 people leaving the UK workforce every year because of mental health problems (Thriving at Work, 2017). People with mental health problems are less likely to be employed than disabled people in general. For many of those people, direct discrimination, or a realistic fear of it based on past experience plays a part.
Most discrimination at work comes from ignorance, mixed with business pressures that make it hard to adapt to show compassion, or make adjustments. In our survey just 17% indicated that their current workplace, ‘treats stigma or discrimination on mental health grounds as severely as discrimination on grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation’, and only 29% had reasonable adjustments made.
The culture and behaviours that create mental healthy workplaces, and promote diversity and inclusion start with good management practice. Most reasonable adjustments in mental health are cost neutral but require flexibility. If we balance support and equality for staff with mental health problems with a management culture that supports good mental health, we can help everyone thrive, and address the discrimination that prevents so many people with talent to offer from being able to access work.