Her treatment is just one example of the wall of silence that surrounds mental ill health at work. When Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign run by mental-health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, published their Public Attitudes survey in 2014, it found 95 per cent of people who took time off work due to stress or anxiety didn’t tell their manager the real reason. Nearly half said they felt uncomfortable talking to an employer about mental health. Sure, we can talk about physical illness, but discuss our depression, anxiety, panic attacks? Not so much.
Yet there does seem to be a change in the air. Increased media attention on mental-health awareness (take Mind's annual awards for responsible reporting of mental-health issues) coupled with ongoing work from mental-health organisations to eliminate discrimination and stigma seems to have brought the issue increasingly to the fore.
There’s also a generational shift in talking about mental health. While the fear of stigma and discrimination most definitely hasn’t disappeared, an increased openness among Generation Y and millennials about their own mental health is slowly having an impact. A study found in 2004 that 60 per cent of people agreed that “people today spend too much time dwelling on their emotional difficulties”. By 2014, just 39 per cent of people held that opinion.
It's filtering through in other ways. A poll this year from leading UK mental-health charity Mind found a quarter of TV viewers suffering from mental-health problems sought help after watching a mental-health storyline. Added to this, more of us are talking about our own battles with mental health. Take journalist Bryony Gordon, who has been brilliantly open in her new book, Mad Girl, about her ongoing battle with OCD. Cara Delevingne tweeted earlier this year about her own mental-health struggle, saying, “I suffer from depression and was a model during a particularly rough patch of self-hatred.” And, in her first speech as prime minister, Theresa May also put the issue firmly in the spotlight, saying, “If you suffer from mental-health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.”
According to Time to Change, there has been an 8.3 per cent improvement in public attitudes towards people with mental-health problems since 2007, although there’s still work to be done, as the campaign's spokesperson, Rosie McKearney, noted, “We want every employer to create a working environment where people can open up to mental-health problems; to talk and to listen.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, has also noticed a shift, dubbing it the “quiet revolution… taking place around the water cooler as more and more people talk openly about mental health”. He said, “We are now at a tipping point, with increasing acknowledgement from employers that more needs to be done to help people stay well at work.”
So, which employers are listening? One of the first companies to sign up to the government’s 2011 Public Health Responsibility Deal – which has eight pledges, including giving staff the option to train as Mental Health First Aiders – was professional services firm EY.