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Careers and professional development, Mental health

Is it okay to disclose mental health struggles on LinkedIn?

New research investigates the influence of mental health disclosures on evaluations of job candidates, highlighting persisting stigma in professional contexts.

12 October 2023

By Emily Reynolds

Over the last decade, more and more people have become comfortable with openly discussing their mental health. While we’re all familiar with these disclosures on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter(/X), many have also taken to opening up on LinkedIn, a professional networking platform. Given that mental health is still stigmatised in the workplace, some may describe this as a bold move. 

Whether or not talking about mental health in a professional setting affects career prospects, however, is open to debate. A new study, authored by two North Carolina State University researchers, looks at the impact of LinkedIn mental health disclosures on appraisals of job candidates. Their investigations uncover a number of ways that applicants are judged based on their online conversations about mental health — both for better, and for worse. 

The study in question included 409 adults, recruited via an online platform, all of whom lived in the United States. Firstly, they were randomly assigned to view one of two types of screenshots of a LinkedIn profile. Half of the participants saw a profile containing a post starting with “Anyone who knows me well will know I suffer from depression and anxiety...”, and the other half saw the same profile with this post blurred out. Some participants in each of these groups saw a female profile, while others saw a male profile, with some hearing a recording of a male or female voice answering interview questions. 

Participants were then asked to evaluate the applicant after viewing the LinkedIn screenshot or after listening to the audio recording of their interview answers. They reported how emotionally stable they felt the applicant was, as well as how conscientious, by indicating how much they agreed with statements such as “the job applicant likely carries out his/her plans.” They also shared how they felt the applicant would perform in the job, indicating how much they agreed with statements like “If hired, this job applicant would adequately complete assigned duties.”

Finally, participants recorded their own age, how many years of hiring experience they had, whether they had ever experienced anxiety or depression, as well as their gender and race. 

Analysis of this data pointed to the conclusion that disclosing experiencing mental health issues did indeed impact candidate appraisals. Candidates whose profiles featured the mental health post were seen as less emotionally stable, as well as less conscientious than those who had not mentioned anxiety or depression on their profiles. This suggests that stigmatising beliefs about those who experience mental health issues still persist in professional environments. However — and more positively — disclosing anxiety or depression didn’t impact how evaluators felt applicants would perform at work. 

The study also shed some light on how mental health problems “interact with other aspects of a person’s identity.” The team did not find that gender played a part in how evaluators assessed applicants, with no significant differences between impressions of women and men who disclosed mental health struggles. The team notes that women and men, however, may be “penalised differently, but experience similar outcomes”; women may be punished for acting emotionally, whereas men may be punished for “not acting tough.” This alone could be the topic of future research.

Listening to the interviews improved the assessments of the evaluators — although it didn’t fully get rid of negative impressions caused by mental health disclosures. Not disclosing mental health struggles put people in the best position, but being given the opportunity to answer questions did help those who had. 

Stigmatising and stereotypical beliefs around mental health still abound, and still very much affect how people are seen in the workplace. A seemingly easy solution would be to encourage workers to not disclose their mental health experiences on social media, though this would likely only reinforce existing stigma. 

Read the paper in full: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-023-09907-