When to speak up about mental health at work

A CEO’s reply to an employee’s email about taking a mental health day went viral recently for all the right reasons. It was a positive reminder that when leaders handle conversations about mental health in the workplace in a human way – with honesty, kindness, and compassion – it helps to break down barriers and builds a platform of trust.

This US-based story represents a best-case-scenario. It involves an employee who chose to speak up, and a leader who chose to respond with compassion. The situation is refreshing, but the shockwaves it created indicates most workplaces aren’t as conducive.

In Australia, one in five people have taken time off work in the past 12 months to manage mental health issues. While more businesses are trying to destigmatise mental illness, many employees still grapple with whether to disclose a mental health condition to an employer.

As part of National Mental Health Week (8-14 October), I was interviewed by Radio 2CC about this topic. There is no right or wrong decision. What’s important is to make an informed decision by weighing up the pros and cons.

Listen to the full interview.


Disclosure may be the right decision if your mental condition affects your ability to perform your role safely, or the safety of others is impacted. This presents an opportunity to seek support, and adjust your schedule or workload to maintain safety at work.

Disclosure may be the wrong decision if your mental health condition does not affect your ability to perform your job, and/or you have concerns about discrimination. Please note: Employees are protected from discrimination based on mental health conditions by law.

Where to from here?

The Black Dog Institute website has some useful, interactive tools to help you decide what’s right for you at this stage, including a mental health workplace toolkit. A good executive coach can be a great source of support and guidance, too.

Most of us are fortunate enough to develop meaningful connections in the workplace. In a culture of openness, employers and workmates can play a practical role in supporting the management of your mental health condition, and in the recovery process.

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