Time to Talk about Mental Health in the Workplace
Depression. Anxiety. Bipolar disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorders. Panic attacks. These are some of the mental health issues which may afflict you or someone you know at any time.
The Covid-19 pandemic only exacerbates the mental health issues employees are struggling with. For some of us, the work-from-home arrangements made prevalent during the pandemic contribute to extended periods of social isolation, thus heightening depression. For others, financial worries and stress stemming from job insecurity take a heavy toll.
Even so, many employees are in great fear, not daring to speak up about their mental health struggles. According to the Mercer Marsh Benefits' Health on Demand Survey, only 10% of Singapore employees reported that they felt comfortable discussing mental health challenges with family, friends, and healthcare professionals—let alone with their employers.
These employees are not afraid without good reason. Acutely aware that mental illness remains a largely taboo subject in the workplace, they’d rather keep quiet than to be stigmatised at work and potentially even jeopardise career opportunities in the future.
However, times are gradually changing. Mental health is being brought to the forefront of the collective consciousness. Through various initiatives such as the Silver Ribbon campaigns, the government is encouraging employers in Singapore to create a more inclusive and mental health-friendly workplace. In November 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released a Tripartite advisory on mental well-being at workplaces, giving practical guidance on measures which employers can adopt to better support their employees’ mental well-being.
How to talk about mental health with your employer
If you have been struggling with some mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence. Here are some suggestions on how to talk about mental health with your employer.
Firstly, do consider your company culture. Is there a culture of inclusiveness and diversity? Does your workplace actively promote health and wellness initiatives for employees? Second, consider if your managers are individuals whom you would trust to hold a safe space for you. Are they generally supportive? Have they shared any personal struggles, even with regards to their own mental health?
When you finally decide you feel comfortable and ready to disclose your mental health issues, choose an appropriate time and venue to do so. Only divulge details of your diagnosis and history which you need to achieve your goal—there is no need to overshare. Give your managers time to process the news and to reflect on how to assist you amidst your struggles.
Furthermore, if possible, request for flexible working. In the aforementioned Mercer Marsh survey, respondents indicated that the most valued form of support they wanted with regards to their health and wellbeing was flexible working.
Inquire if your company has the practice of offering flexible working arrangements to other employees. You and whether such flexibility may also be extended to you. Are you able to take time off when needed to see a therapist? Or adjust your work schedules or work environment to help you better manage your condition? Vocalising these practical concerns will enable you to align expectations with your managers. You and your managers can then reach an agreement as to what works best for you and your team.
Truth be told, discussing mental health with your employer may be extremely discomfiting. Yet with this act of courage, you allow yourself to receive the much-needed support and empathy from your manager and colleagues. Also, you need not fear as mental health discrimination is officially recognised in Singapore—your employer cannot dismiss you after knowing about your mental health condition. If you feel you have been unfairly treated by your employer due to your disclosure, you can file an unfair dismissal case with MOM.
By speaking up, you can play a part in eroding the workplace stigma surrounding mental health and help create an environment of acceptance for people coping with it. If you need someone to speak to, do not hesitate to call a helpline listed below.
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714