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About 40 per cent of workers wouldn’t disclose mental health problems: study

Study reveals workers have both negative and positive attitudes about workplace mental health


(Canadian OH&S News) — Although nearly four in 10 workers wouldn’t tell their managers if they had mental health problems, half said that if they knew about a co-worker’s illness, they would want to help, a new survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found.

The survey, “Worker attitudes towards mental health problems and disclosure,” was published recently in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Headed by Dr. Carolyn Dewa, senior scientist with CAMH in Toronto, the study revealed that workers have both negative and supportive attitudes about mental health in the workplace.

Dr. Dewa said that the survey had asked 2,219 working adults in Ontario: “Would you inform your manager if you had a mental health problem? And, if a colleague had a mental health problem, would you be concerned about how work would be affected?”

Among the 38 per cent who would not tell their manager, more than half were afraid that it would affect their careers, the study found. Other reasons for not disclosing included the bad experiences of others who came forward, fear of losing friends or a combination of those reasons.

The survey also found that three in 10 people wouldn’t tell because it wouldn’t affect their work. A total of 64 per cent said that they would be concerned if a worker had a mental illness, and one in five also worried about making the mental health problem worse.

According to a statement from CAMH, a positive relationship with their manager was the key reason given by those who would reveal that they had a mental health problem. Supportive organizational policies were cited by half of those who would disclose as another factor influencing their decision.

Dr. Dewa said that her past research had shown that workers with depression who received treatment were more productive than those who didn’t. Without disclosing, it might be difficult to get treatment, as work absences for counselling sessions or appointments need to be accounted for, she noted. “Stigma is a barrier to people seeking help,” Dr. Dewa said. “Yet by getting treatment, it would benefit the worker and the workplace, and minimize productivity loss.”

For organizations that want to address the stigma surrounding mental illness, Dr. Dewa recommended a number of elements to be in place, including policies and procedures, as well as facilitating positive relationships between managers and co-workers.

Statistics from CAMH show that in any given year, about one in five Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem.