He can’t believe it. His dream job is finally his. The verbal offer came through this morning and he can feel the excitement penetrating throughout his body. He calls his wife with heightened exhilaration to tell her the news. As his body settles into the news, the feeling of elation grows at the thought of starting soon. For him, it feels like he has worked his whole life for this moment. Senior executive. Global company. Great location. Growing portfolio. He has done it.

He shifts over to his PC to see whether the forms that they mentioned for him to complete had arrived yet. He opens his inbox up to see the email straight away. He notices a few of the attachments – the usual stuff. Personal details, superannuation, tax form…and then he sees it…medical declaration. He looks it, pondering, hovering his mouse over the link. He can feel the sinking feeling inside, being fully aware of what is to come.

He has always struggled with depression and anxiety. It has come and gone over the years, starting in his 20’s, and ebbing and flowing throughout his life since then. For the most part, he can get on with daily life and still feels capable and confident in managing it all. But sometimes when it comes, he knows it isn’t all that easy, and he knows that the extra support is the key to keeping it in line. He knows his last workplace eventually learned how to work with him effectively, but it took them time and he feels worried about how a new workplace might take it.

It had been some time since the last bout, but since his recent job search, he knew he had been feeling on edge – constantly preparing for interviews, checking his emails for updates, and finally receiving the job offer he was hoping all along for. Despite it being a positive process, it had been stressful, and it was only a few months ago, knowing himself, he went back to his GP and asked for some support while he made the transition. The usual process. Medications and psychologist until he feels OK again.

He hovers his mouse over the link again, noticing that his mind has wandered over what has been recent months. He sighs to himself.

He clicks on the form and he can already see the question that he is dreading. He can feel his mind beginning to race fast – what on earth is he going to do? He reads through…

Are you currently being treated, or have you been treated within the past two years, for a physical health condition, injury or disease?

Easy enough, “no”

Do you have any allergies (e.g., to medication, food, insects, environmental conditions)?

No problem, “no”

Are you currently being treated, or have you been treated, for a mental health condition?

His stomach drops, his mouth begins to twitch, and he can feel the impending doubt on what he should do. Should he be honest? Will it risk the job offer? Maybe he shouldn’t, it is only moderate anxiety anyway, right? He tries to convince himself. He has been seeing a psychologist for a few months, but they don’t need to know, do they?

He looks at the question again. He knows he has issues with his mental health and sometimes has troubles channelling his thoughts when he is having a challenging time. He knows he should disclose because he may need the support one day if things get bad again. But, no, his employer might revoke the offer, no, he cannot do it, he refutes to himself.

His mind begins flipping back and forth between the reasons to tell the truth, and the reasons to be afraid. It is the same conflict he feels whenever the question comes up, but he knows what he needs to write…

Are you currently being treated, or have you been treated, for a mental health condition?

He just can’t do it… “No”

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Fortunately there are many organisations today that are jumping on the mental health bandwagon and hosting initiatives in their workplaces to advocate for good mental health – getting the right sleep, eating nutritional foods, learning how to manage stress, but there is still one area in which we are falling down on – our employees feeling safe enough to speak honestly about their mental health.

For an employer, supporting your employees to disclose their mental health in the workplace can feel like a tough cookie to crack – the questions can feel endless – Are you allowing opportunity for disclosure at each point in employment, from recruitment to your long-serving employees? Are your leaders trained and ready for the right conversations when they happen? Do you have the resources in place once an employee speaks up? What happens if there is a crisis?

On the flipside, as an employee, it can equally feel just as scary. Even for me, as a HR professional, the same person who advocated for other employees to speak up and seek support, I still felt afraid myself about being honest regarding my mental health. I had the impending fears that I either wouldn’t get the job that I was going for, or if I was already in the job, that I would be considered as incompetent or not as valuable anymore.

It’s not surprising to know that it isn’t just me who feels this way. Of those who are diagnosed with anxiety and depression, approximately 35% of employees would not want anybody in the workplace to know about their condition. This increases to astonishing 46% of employees if the employee considers their workplace to be mentally unhealthy. Even if we go beyond diagnoses, less than half of employees who even just took a single day off due to being mentally unwell were unwilling to tell their workplace the true reason about why.

It is clear that Australian workplaces have an issue with disclosure of mental health. We have an issue with employees speaking up and feeling comfortable that the stigma of mental health won’t bite us back if we are honest. The statistics and the reality of the situation are blaring us in the face, but you’ll still find many employers still saying that there are no issues in their workplace with mental health, little alone an issue with disclosure.

Many organisations need to stop thinking they don’t have a problem and start doing the maths. With 1 in 4 Australians experiencing a mental health condition in their life, perhaps it is time to think about whether your workplace is truly being honest about those speaking up, or your employees aren’t feeling comfortable enough to.

Follow Camille to read more articles from the series or sign up to the series by email to find out more about how your workplace can start making a positive impact to workplace disclosure.

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