A survey of more than 1000 UK adults to mark Mental Health Awareness Week found that almost half are unlikely to tell their boss about problems such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.
Sue Baker, head of the charity Time to Change, says telling your boss about a psychiatric illness is not always advised, particularly if an employer is not openly supportive of mental health problems in the workplace.
Speaking to the BBC, which commissioned the survey, she said: “We wouldn’t encourage people to routinely disclose. It can result in people being passed over for promotion, not being offered opportunities to develop themselves, and to outright discriminatory comments.”
So far 483 public and private sector employers have signed the charity’s Time to Change pledge, including hospitals, universities, and government departments.
The BBC’s survey found that only 35% of the 1,104 people surveyed would be happy to tell colleagues about their mental illness.
A story on the FT’s fund manager title FT Adviser quotes OECD data (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). Mental health problems cost the UK economy around £70bn per year in lost working days, productivity and healthcare.
Last month Nature Careers reported on a study of PhD students in Belgium which found that they are more likely to experience mental health distress than other highly educated individuals, including those in the general population, employees and higher-education students.
The study, originally published in the Elsevier journal Research Policy, found that more than half of the respondents reported experiencing at least two mental-health problems in recent weeks, and 32% reported four or more symptoms.
Lead author Katia Levecque, who teaches industrial relations at Ghent University in Belgium, says that the results highlight the need for universities to offer counselling services and other resources to PhD students.
In many cases, students need to look beyond their own departments for help. “Professors may be willing to support their students, but they don’t have the time or skill,” she says. “They’re also vulnerable to a lot of the same sorts of problems.”
In a 2014 survey of 790 graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley, almost half of PhD students met the criteria for depression, including up to 46% of those in a category that included biological and physical sciences. The figures were cited in a Nature Careers feature about mental health published in November 2016.
One PhD student described how her depression predated the start of her programme, saying: “You are bombarded with messages before you even apply for PhD programmes — that it’s hard to get in, that 50% don’t finish, that it’s hard to get postdocs, that it’s impossible to get grants.
“At the same time, you are surrounded by people who have PhDs. If you already have a tendency toward perfectionism or self-doubt, it feeds that really nicely.”
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, psychologist Karra Harrington outlines six steps to proactively manage your mental health.
Farewell stiff upper lip
In the UK at least, we seem to be embarking on a long-overdue national conversation about mental health in a bid to end the stigma surrounding it. The seeds of this conversation were probably sown well before the 2015 general election, when Nick Clegg, then deputy prime minister in the coalition government, committed to spending an £3.5bn on mental health care in England.
Both Clegg and Norman Lamb, a former health minister and how the party’s health spokesperson, both championed psychiatric services as a key public health priority.
As part of her bid to be re-elected prime minster on 8 June and lead the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, Theresa May has made a Tory election pledge to introduce new legislation on mental health to provide more support in schools and raise awareness in the workplace.
David Payne is chief careers editor, Nature.