Australian Workplaces Discriminating Against Mental Illness
8 February 2016 at 10:57 am
Australia must develop mentally healthy workplaces “that have positive and supportive attitudes towards mental illness”, a leading charity has said following the release of a landmark report.
A survey by the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health asked people with diagnosed mental health problems or high symptom levels how they have been treated by different groups of people including friends, partners, co-workers and others in the community.
The survey, touted as the first of its kind in the world, found that workplaces were one of the worst environments for discrimination when it came to living with a mental illness.
“Encouragingly, we found that for most people and situations, being treated more positively was more common than discrimination or avoidance,” lead author of the study, Dr Nicola Reavley, said.
“The only exceptions were when people with mental health problems were looking for work or in situations involving the legal system, banking or insurance.”
SANE Australia CEO, Jack Heath, said the report was unique because it focussed on people’s experiences of discrimination while living with a mental illness, rather than asking people about their attitudes towards people with mental illness.
People who reported being discriminated against were asked for more details on their experiences.
“As soon as you mention a period of non work, you are forced to disclose the depression and once they’ve heard that word, that’s it,” one respondent said.
“Sometimes I think it’s worse than telling them you’ve been in jail. Once you mention that, their face changes and their body language changes and you know you won’t get the job.”
Heath said the study showed stigma surrounding mental illness was still playing a big role in attitudes in Australia.
“Improved understanding of mental health conditions in the workplace can reduce stigma – a major barrier for employees, let alone potential employees, who feel they can’t disclose their mental health concerns without fear of discrimination,” Heath said.
“With one in five Australians affected every year, it’s no surprise many of us will face this challenge at work. We need to develop mentally healthy workplaces, that have positive and supportive attitudes towards mental illness.”
Another key finding according to Dr Reavley was respondents’ experiences with family and friends.
“The study found that friends and family were more likely to avoid the person than to discriminate,” she said.
“We had a separate question on avoidance, but people still talked about this when we asked them about their experiences of discrimination.
“I think this highlights the importance we place on maintaining social connections.”