Who to turn to in case of difficulties at work

When Melbourne GP Grant Blashki sits down with patients who have mental health issues, many ask the same question: Should they tell people at work?

“It’s a common conversation with patients when they have a mental health issue, how much to bring it up with their employers,” says Blashki, also a senior clinical adviser for the mental health and wellbeing support organization Beyond Blue. He is keen to emphasize that there is no single answer.

“Really, it’s quite a nuanced conversation,” Blashki says.

You may be struggling at work, but what you disclose to your boss or co-workers, if any, is up to you.Credit:iStock

This nuanced conversation has been happening more frequently since the pandemic began — in part because people are now talking more openly about mental health issues. However, not all workplaces are willing to listen.

“The stigma has gone down a lot in the community, but you could still have an employer who isn’t very helpful or who’s going to put the brakes on your promotion,” Blashki says.

By law, an employer must respect your right to privacy, unless there are good reasons to believe that your condition compromises workplace safety. This means that what you disclose to your boss or colleagues, if any, is up to you. According to Blashki, the context and the nature of the mental health problem must be taken into account.

“You may find that your employer is actually very helpful and genuinely trying to find a good solution.”

Grant Blashki

“It could be something more minor that you think you can handle in your job, and you don’t want to divulge things. Or you might decide, “Hey, there are big benefits if I tell them what’s going on. My employer can make some changes, and maybe that will put an end to some rumors about my performance. And of course it can change the culture of an organization,” says Blashki.

On the Beyond-Blue Heads Up affiliate website, many resources are available for employers and employees. The program, supported by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, asks business leaders to start taking action to help struggling staff members.

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