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Mental health disclosure at work –how to influence a good outcome

Published: 14th August 2019 Last updated: 15th August 2019

Many people experience mental health issues, and deal with the dilemma whether or not to disclose these in the work environment. Disclosure has advantages (support, work adjustments), but certainly also disadvantages (stigma, discrimination). Whether disclosure works out positively for the discloser is dependent on many factors, of which especially the communication process is of crucial importance, as was shown by a new study by Evelien Brouwers PhD and colleagues (Tranzo, Tilburg University, The Netherlands).

In the study, five stakeholder groups were interviewed: employers, HR managers, people with mental illness, re-integration professionals (e.g. job coaches), and mental health advocates.

The power of the communication process

The way in which disclosure messages are communicated was believed to be of crucial importance for sustainable employment. That is an important finding, as disclosers can actually influence this themselves, as opposed to almost all other factors. Five aspects affect a favorable outcome of mental health disclosure in the work environment:

  1. a good timing (preferably not during the hiring period);
  2. selective disclosure (not to everyone, only to trustworthy people);
  3. content of the message (work related needs rather than diagnoses);
  4. communication style (with respect towards employer);
  5. careful preparation.

It was believed that more attention to the communication process can help improve sustainable employment of people with mental health issues.

No effect on performance? Don’t tell

The groups agreed that when mental health issues do not affect work performance, it is best for the worker or job applicant not to disclose. From their own perspective, all groups were in favor of disclosure but for contrasting reasons. For instance, people with mental illness because they wanted to be honest, and HR managers because this provides the opportunity to reject the job applicant.

Collaboration

This unique study was conducted within the Academic Collaborative Center Work and Health of Tilburg University, NETHLAB, together with Maastricht University and Samen sterk zonder Stigma. At Tranzo, three PhD students conduct research into mental health disclosure in the work environment.

Note to editors

The study entitled To disclose or not to disclose mental health issues in the work environment was published in Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation. Authors: Brouwers E.P.M., Joosen M.C.W., Van Zelst C. & Van Weeghel J., 2019. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10926-019-09848-z

For more information please contact Dr Evelien Brouwers at tel. +31 (0)13-4662962, e-mail: e.p.m.brouwers@tilburguniversity.edu.