The conversation around mental health in the workplace is focusing on employees, but what about their managers?
The most-often quoted statistic around the prevalence of mental illness indicates that one fifth of the overall population will struggle with a mental disorder of some degree each year.
In any given workplace, therefore, up to one in five employees is likely to need assistance in order to maintain good mental health for issues such as anxiety and personality disorders as well as psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.
But that often-quoted statistic belies a much-broader prevalence of mental illness, with data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating nearly half of the entire male population (48 per cent), and 43 per cent of females, will experience some form of mental disorder during their lifetime.
Given those numbers it would be fair to assume that mental illness has affected some of Western Australia’s business leaders at one time or another.
And yet there was a marked reluctance on behalf of those sought out to discuss their own experiences when Business News compiled this week’s feature on corporate health and wellness.
Conversations around mental health management are fresh, just a month after national Mental Health Week brought the issue firmly into the mainstream and encouraged business leaders to engage with employees about mental health management.
Apart from examples in the public sector such as WA mental health commissioner Tim Marney, who when under-treasurer spoke publicly of his own anxiety and depression issues, it’s hard to think of business leaders similarly motivated to start a discussion about mental health.
From a business perspective the motivation for such conversations comes down to productivity – employees will be much more productive if their mental health is good.
Granted, many managers are genuine in wanting to keep workers happy, but at the end of the day a happy and content worker is going to be more productive, and it’s doubtful any manager would deny that being a benefit to the business.
But the conversation changes when the focus is put on business leaders’ mental health.
Given the general nature of the statistics, and reluctance to go public with their personal stories, it’s hard to know exactly the degree to which mental health issues have affected the chief executive cohort, but it’s not a stretch to believe that a significant subset of business leaders has faced personal struggles with mental illness.
In fact, Business News was aware of numerous examples during the research for Well @ Work, yet most were unwilling to speak about their experience.
The situation is a delicate one; mental health advocates urge those in leadership positions to talk about mental health struggles in everyday conversation in the hope it will reduce the persistent stigma.
And yet it’s that very stigma that plays such a major role in people’s reluctance to talk about the issue from a personal perspective.
It’s understandable that a business leader may not want to draw attention to their own personal mental health struggles out of concern it could alter people’s opinion of them or create doubt in their ability to do their job.
Some may not want a mental disorder to define who they are as a person.
It’s also been said leaders may not want to make the mental health conversation about the executive level of the business sector and create an impression that it’s an issue only affecting those in high-pressure positions.
Mental illness does not discriminate.
But while leaders’ reluctance to speak out may have some merit, raising awareness of mental health in the workplace is one area where there’s much more to be gained from leading by example than in remaining silent.