So I’m not allowed to run a company, do jury service…

…or become a school governor, apparently. I’m not falling over myself to do any of those things right now, but I had no idea before watching Channel 4 news tonight that I am not legally allowed to, because I have sought medical help for mental illness.

Lord Stevenson, former Chairman of HBOS and publishing company Pearson, has put forward a bill to change the law and encourage businesses to be more open about mental illness in the workplace. As he says, one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in our lives, so it makes sense to remove the stigma and help them recover through whatever form of treatment they choose.

I’m all in favour of removing outdated laws that prevent people experiencing mental health problems to lead as normal a life as possible (though I suspect there are plenty of school governors, CEOs and jurors who suffer from depression but who were either not asked about it or chose to conceal their illness). But I would hope that it doesn’t lead to people being obliged to talk about their depression or anxieties in the workplace, all in the name of being more “open”.

Our society today is more “open” than ever, thanks to a culture of celebrity confessions in our magazines and on TV shows. Princess Diana coming clean about her bulimia in her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir caused a sensation at the time. I can’t imagine it would make as much of a stir now as we are so inured to public outpourings of emotion and “private” thoughts.

But sharing our fears and anxieties should always be a choice. Lord Stevenson is quoted in the Channel 4 news piece as saying,  “We’re still a long way away from people going into their bosses and saying ‘Look, I think I’m suffering from depression’”.

Well I believe there should be a separation between our professional and personal lives, and that while no one should have to suffer discrimination for experiencing mental illness, they should be allowed to deal with it away from the workplace in whatever way they see fit.

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