It might sound a little strange, but we need a little less bravery when it comes to mental health.

People who speak up about their mental health issues are applauded for their courage. Yes, they are courageous, but the fact we view speaking up as an act of bravery shows we have a long way to go.

If someone is scared that they will be judged for having a mental health condition, the sad truth is that there’s a good chance they won’t talk to others about it. Instead they will try and put on a ‘happy face’. Nothing to see here. All fine. People can be great actors, especially when times are tough. All too often when someone dies by suicide you hear the people around them say things like, “They seemed so happy.”

Hiding a mental health condition can only make matters worse. It can be exhausting constantly trying to keep up appearances – it can also increase the feeling of isolation.

Author and journalist, Jill Stark  writes about her silent battle with depression and suicidal thoughts in her article, ‘In this photo I am living my best life. The reality was very different.

She points out that we need to get to a point where talking about mental health issues isn’t seen as an act of bravery.

“The more of us who ‘bravely’ share our stories, the sooner we’ll get to a place where speaking about mental illness is seen not as an act of courage but as a normal part of life,” says Stark.

We couldn’t agree more.

“You don’t leave your depression at the door when you walk into work,” says Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman. This is why Beyond Blue works so hard to address the stigma around anxiety, depression and suicide, especially in the workplace.

There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to telling people at work about your mental health condition, but we know deciding to tell your boss can be a difficult one. As an employee you may worry about losing your job and your financial security. You may also worry about being judged differently by your colleagues. As a result feelings of anxiety and depression often remain a secret.

However, having a conversation with a trusted colleague or workmate can help. Talking about your mental health with an employer lets them hear where you are at and what support systems you might need to help you stay at work or assist in your recovery. 

Australian workplaces have come a long way in the past few decades, and while there is still more to do to support staff to talk openly about mental health in the workplace, having a conversation can be a good to start.

If you're unsure about talking with your employer, this interactive tool on our Heads Up website can help you decide.

Original article published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Related reading: Who should I tell about my mental health condition?

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