It’s become more common for people to share mental health struggles on social media, but that decision could have a negative impact on future employment.

Potential employers view job candidates differently if they talk about their personal mental health publicly, a new study finds.

“People are often encouraged to discuss their mental health struggles on social media with the goal of reducing the stigma associated with mental health challenges,” said study co-author Lori Foster, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University.

“We think reducing stigma around mental health is extremely important, but our study suggests that mental health posts on platforms such as LinkedIn could have unforeseen consequences for people disclosing their mental health challenges,” Foster said in a university news release.

The study showed these disclosures can influence the way employers view someone in professional contexts, said co-author Jenna McChesney, an assistant professor of psychology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. She worked on the study while a grad student at NC State.

“It’s important for people to take that into consideration when determining whether to share their mental health experiences online,” McChesney said in the release.

The researchers enlisted 409 professionals with hiring experience to participate in the study, dividing them into four groups.

One group was shown the LinkedIn page of a job candidate, with no mention of mental health challenges.

A second group saw the same page, but it also included a post mentioning the candidate’s experiences with anxiety and depression.

The third group saw the LinkedIn profile and heard an audio interview with the candidate.

The final 25% saw the LinkedIn profile, including the post about anxiety and depression, and heard the audio interview.

Each participant was then asked a series of questions about the job candidate’s personality and future performance in the workplace.

“We found that study participants who saw the LinkedIn post about mental health challenges viewed the job candidate as being less emotionally stable and less conscientious,” McChesney said.

“Hearing the interview lessened a study participant’s questions about the candidate’s emotional stability, but only slightly. And hearing the interview did not affect the views of participants about the job candidate’s conscientiousness. In other words, the perceptions evaluators had after seeing the LinkedIn profile largely persisted throughout the interview,” she said.

“Our findings don’t mean people should refrain from posting about anxiety and depression on LinkedIn,” McChesney said. “However, people who are considering posting about these issues should be aware that doing so could change future employers’ perceptions of them.”

The study is a step forward in getting a more complete picture of what negative or positive consequences there might be in people sharing their full authentic selves online, Foster said.

The findings were published this month in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

More information

The American Psychiatric Association has more on stigma and mental illness.

SOURCE: North Carolina State University, news release, Aug. 29, 2023