How to disclose a mental health issue to your employer
Mental health issues are common. According to the charity Mind, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in any given year. When you struggle with your mental health, it can affect your work. Mental health problems such as depression can impact your motivation, energy, and concentration, which can obviously lead to a decrease in productivity.
Whether your mental health issue is related to your work or not, you may feel that you need to disclose the problem to your employer, especially if they’ve been noticing changes in you and your work. Bringing up the subject can help your employer to understand your situation and make any necessary accommodations. Of course, given the stigma that still surrounds mental health issues, which results in shame, guilt, embarrassment, and awkwardness, many people never bring it up at work.
But one of the best antidotes to stigma is honesty. In light of this, here’s how to talk about mental health in the workplace and get the support you need.
Taking a mental health sick day
According to the law in the UK, there is absolutely no difference between taking a sick day due to poor mental health or poor physical health. Nonetheless, many employees feel that taking a day off to look after their mental health is taboo. They don’t want to be seen as lazy or flaky. An employee may believe that since they don’t have a cough, sore throat, or aches and pains, that they must not really be unwell. But poor mental health can disrupt your day and ability to function as much as the flu can.
When you suffer from a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are unable to work. These conditions may show one set of symptoms one day, and different symptoms another day. On some days, though, the symptoms can become so intense to the point of debilitation. It’s hard to make it into work and get any work done when you can barely get out of bed. This is why some recovery time is needed.
If you tell your employer that you need to take a sick day for mental health reasons, you don’t have to go into any more detail than you would if you had a physical issue. You can simply say, “I’m taking today off to focus on my mental health” or something to that effect.
How to tell your manager that you’re struggling
Not everyone understands what mental health issues are like and how they can impact your day. So, if you stay silent about these issues at work, your manager may not be very understanding about your poor performance. You’d be surprised, though, how supportive managers can be when you disclose the problem. And if your manager isn’t supportive – or worse, dismissive and judgemental – then you should think about whether this is the kind of person you want to work for. In addition, if you are treated unfairly because of your mental health, with your boss taking disciplinary action or threatening redundancy, this could be classed as discrimination.
But how do you tell your manager about your mental health? Well, most offices tend to have meeting rooms. Ask to have a chat in private. It may be harder to disclose the problem in person than on the phone or in an email, but it really is the best way to have a productive conversation about the issue.
It’s really up to you how open you want to be about what you’re struggling with. Your manager might not know too much about these conditions and so may ask some questions. If they ask any questions you feel are prying or unnecessary, you’re under no obligation to go into detail.
Tell your employer whatever you feel comfortable telling them. You could say something like, “I know I’ve been falling a bit behind at work and I feel it’s related to stress and my mental health.” If you have a condition that they’re unaware you have, you could simply say, “I struggle with anxiety” or “I suffer from depression”.
Discuss the support you need
Once you disclose a mental health problem to your employer, they may discuss some options about the kind of support you need. This could involve flexibility in your work schedule (so you can attend therapy sessions or work during hours that suit you better), working remotely some days, and not working overtime.
Mind advises employers on how they can create supportive and effective mental health strategies for the workplace. Whilst many companies still have a long way to go in terms of looking after employee well-being as a priority, the tide is turning. Various large companies are now promoting mental health awareness campaigns. One startup doing important work in this area is Sanctus, which offers coaching services and workshops to help businesses create safe spaces for employees to open up about their mental health.
Sam Woolfe writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs. He is particularly interested in self-development, psychology, mental health, and the future of work. Most of all, though, Sam is passionate about helping people find work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his work at www.samwoolfe.com.