I recently received a summary of some research conducted Allison & Taylor, a company that checks references. It noted that

"mental health - often downplayed in the workplace - is becoming more of a focus for corporate leaders.  In many global corporations, HR providing more support for employees with mental health issues."

This is actually nothing new. HR groups have traditionally claimed, in addition to handling payroll and recruitment, to be "employee counselors." I suspect that many people--especially those just entering the workplace--take those claims at face value.

I did something like that when I entered ninth grade. The school handbook said that guidance counselors were available to help students deal with personal problems. Since my family was extremely dysfunctional, I decided to give it a try.

While the guidance counselor did listen to me, the moment I left her office, she turned me into the administration for having hair that was "over the ears or collar," -- a violation of the school dress code. So much for confidentiality.

The scales fell from my eyes. Despite the title, the guidance counselors weren't counselors that provided guidance; they were enforcers of administration policy masquerading as counselors, a deceit that clearly made their jobs somewhat easier.

The same thing is true for HR departments. No matter how much they claim to be concerned about the mental health of the employees or willing to help employees through difficult situations, their real job is to manage risk and provide cover to management.

That's why it's so ridiculous when people suggest that employees who are having problems should share those problems with HR. HR only cares about your mental health insofar as the lack of it might create a problem. 

The same thing is true, incidentally, of sexual harassment. If somebody is being sexually harassed, the LAST people you'd want to tell are the folk in HR because, far from being your advocate, their job is to limit potential damage to the company.

The HR folk are not your friends. They are not your allies. They are not your counselors. When HR says "your input will be held strictly confidential," it actually means "everything you say will go into your employee file where it can and will be used against you."

HR will never admit this because HR is more effective at supporting management and reducing risk if employees believe all that bullsh*t about HR being concerned with the employees' well-being.

This not to say some people who work in HR aren't nice people. Quite the contrary; most of them are quite pleasant. But then, hey, that guidance counselor seemed like really nice person, too, until she ratted me out.