For people with mental health conditions, how much self-disclosure is too much?
A report released in 2006 considered the discussion of one’s personal mental health issues in a graduate school application to be the “kiss of death.” Disclosing personal mental health issues may allude to emotional instability or evidence of an untreated illness, harming an applicant’s chance at being admitted to their desired program. What’s the alternative? Applicants avoid any mention of mental health conditions, forfeiting their ability to receive appropriate consideration?
Almost 2 decades later and 200 million annual workdays lost to mental health conditions, the topic remains contested. The employment of individuals who suffer from mental disabilities is a dynamic process that involves the intersection between the nature and demands of the job with the competencies and needs of the worker.
Local business owner of Cedar Planters, Haley Besworth sat down with the magazine to reflect on her own experience. Besworth explains that owning her own business has shaped her opinion on mental illness and its barriers to the labour industry. “I strive to create a safe workplace that does not stigmatize mental illness, and to create safe spaces for information to be disclosed at the discretion of the employee.”
A study conducted in 2014 examining the challenges that employers face in hiring workers with mental illness (WWMI) showed that 85% of employers agreed that their institution should hire WWMI. But there were legitimate barriers to doing so, stemming from a lack of training and education required to support them, as well as a lack of access to resources required to address mental health issues.
Besworth agreed that while the safety and wellbeing of her employees was a priority, it would be naive to assume that for a small business these measures were easy. She explained that there are financial and production-based challenges that small businesses can face when employing individuals with mental illness. Her company has had to navigate employee absence, establishing appropriate boundaries of how much she can help before professional help needs to be consulted, and more. Besworth has even had to provide short-term housing and reach out to mental health and social work professionals in the community to support employees in the past.
Still, discussion regarding stigma in the workplace and a generational shift in priorities have inspired promising interventions directed at overcoming exclusionary practices. For example anti-stigma campaigns focused on influencing public attitudes through awareness and education, as well as constitutional challenges to structural discrimination by staging vocal protests and petitions.
Besworth acknowledged that strategies need to be implemented to provide more affordable access to health benefits such as medication and therapy. “I also wonder, how much support are other companies providing to their employees when it comes to these overwhelming challenges; is this the norm?”
Providing employees with adequate support has been shown to increase employee engagement as well as future employee recruitment and retention. And while the cost of education programs for employers and health plans for employees may seem steep, the $16.8 billion lost in employee productivity annually should indicate that these investments will save employers, and the community, from costly setbacks in the future.
Mental health is becoming a frontier for change. In an era where many industries are suffering due to labor shortages, companies will have to update outdated practices.
-Yara Iskandar, Contributing Writer