WORKPLACE / FEB. 09, 2015
version 6, draft 6

Would You Tell Your Boss If You Had A Mental Illness?

mental illness

I wrote recently about the consequences of coming into work when you’re unwell, both in terms of your own personal productivity, but also the health and well-being of your colleagues.  It’s probable that this desire to come in even when sick is driven by presenteeism and the need to be seen working hard despite any difficulties you may be encountering.

If owning up to any physical weaknesses is challenging enough, you can perhaps imagine the challenges in owning up to mental ones. That was the finding of a recent survey, with nearly 40 percent of employees revealing that they would try and cover up a mental health issue from their manager if they could. Instead, it appeared that a peer support system would be the preferred option, with half of the respondents saying that they would personally try and help a colleague who was suffering from mental health problems.

"A significant number of working people have mental health problems, or have taken a disability leave related to mental health," the authors say. Despite this, it was revealed that just three percent of employees are on leave due to mental health related issues.


"Stigma is a barrier to people seeking help. Yet by getting treatment, it would benefit the worker and the workplace, and minimize productivity loss," the authors continued.


To Tell or Not to Tell

The study saw over 2,000 employees from the Canadian province of Ontario asked whether they would report any mental health issues to their boss, and also how they would respond if a colleague told them of their own issues.

Amongst the cohort who revealed a strong reluctance to share their health issues with their boss, the majority believed it would prove detrimental to their careers. Other reasons revealed included knowledge of how ’coming out’ had gone for colleagues, the fear of losing good friends or a general combination of factors. Indeed, a large number believed their mental health problems were not affecting their work, so there was no need to tell their boss.

The study suggests that the key, to improving this environment, is to ensure employees have much stronger relationships with their boss so that such issues can be raised without fear of the consequences.

From a managerial perspective, there are numerous reasons why this would be beneficial. Even aside from the pastoral relationship with your team, previous studies by the team showed that employees were significantly more productive after their mental health issues had been treated. It goes without saying that disclosure is the first step towards that.

The authors are broadly positive about the future of mental health in the workplace however and were cheered by the supportive stance taking by employees themselves.

"One surprising thing we found was that 50 percent said they were concerned because they’d want to help their co-worker," they say.


It’s likely to remain a challenging topic for some time to come. Especially while we wait for policies and procedures to catch up with the guidelines laid out by mental health professionals.

How would you respond if you were suffering from mental health issues? Would you be confident enough to tell your boss?

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