We will all face mental health challenges at some point. In America, one in five adults experiences mental health conditions every year, according to the CDC. A mental health issue needs to be addressed at work since 63% of American adults are employed. Yet many of us are still reluctant to speak about mental health in the workplace or are uncertain of how to approach the topic with our boss.
No need to be ashamed, afraid of losing your job, or harming your reputation if you’re experiencing mental health struggles at work. After all, it can be empowering and important to talk openly about mental health at work.
Should You Talk to Your Boss About Your Mental Health?
People are afraid to talk about mental health out of fear of appearing weak or incompetent. Some of us fear that seeking accommodations - such as mental health days or a flexible schedule - might compromise our employment.
Nevertheless, our mental health can't be put on the back burner at work. According to the CDC, mental illness can have a negative effect on our abilities to work, engage with colleagues, and even accomplish tasks physically. Depressive conditions, for example, have been linked to a higher rate of unemployment and disability.
Why It’s Important to Talk to Your Boss About Your Mental Health
It is not mandatory that you tell your boss how you feel. However, if you don't let them know how you feel, you may not have access to the benefits you require, such as time off, work-from-home arrangements, flexible schedules, or extra support. Additionally, your boss may not understand why you are less productive on some days if you do not let them know you have mental health concerns.
Managing a workplace effectively requires understanding employees' personalities and needs. In order to avoid employee burnout, employers must ensure that employees are cohesive, empathetic, and productive.
But, there’s another factor; the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The pandemic has changed the trajectory of how workplaces deal with mental health. Although mental health issues were prevalent before the pandemic, they were brought to the forefront during 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic forced employees to worry about their health, jobs, and finances in ways they never had before," Jessica Webb-Ayer, J.D., a legal editor at XpertHR, told TMRW.
In the wake of the pandemic, we were less afraid to talk about mental health at work and our productivity plummeted.
"The pandemic made it abundantly clear that mental health can no longer be ignored. Employers and employees are also becoming more comfortable having those conversations with each other," said board-certified adult psychiatrist Dr. Georgia Gaveras, who is the chief medical officer and co-founder of Talkiatry.
How to Talk About Your Mental Health at Work
“First, consider what you’re experiencing and what the impact is — on your work performance, demeanor, and other factors,” suggests Kelly Greenwood in an HBR article. “What is the duration of the impact? Is it a short blip that will go away in a few days, a longer but episodic challenge, or a chronic condition?”
“Think through what caused your symptoms if they aren’t always present,” Greenwood adds. “Was it work-related, something in your personal life, or a macro stressor?”
If you are the victim of bullying or harassment, you can speak with human resources. In many cases, you will be supported by procedures. In addition, if you are unsure about how your boss will react or feel that you are not confident in having the discussion with them, you should contact HR.
You may also benefit from talking to a colleague, depending on your situation. You'll find it helpful to have a colleague who understands your workload and your work environment - a person you can regularly check in with. Talk about your plans to talk to your boss with your work buddy. The process can be less intimidating when you have someone to assist you.
Plan for the Conversation
Understand your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fact sheet contains information regarding legal protections, accommodation of employees, and employees' rights, as well as practical tips for job seekers.
Plan the conversation with your boss. Put down what you mean to say and what you would like them to do on paper or in a word document.
Rehearse and refine your draft. You may not want to share everything you write in the first draft. While it will likely serve as a cathartic method of expressing your emotions, some topics may not be appropriate to discuss in the workplace. Take a moment to determine which topics are "must-knows" to meet the needs of your boss.
When you feel comfortable enough to have this conversation with your boss, select an appropriate time. Preferably, choose a quieter, less hectic time. You should also avoid having it during a stressful workday.
Also, consider your preferred communication method. For some, that could be through email or text. Even a phone call might suffice. But, if you want to do this in person, schedule a time to meet that works for both parties.
Navigating the Discussion: The Do’s and Dont’s
When trying to navigate discussions about your mental health challenges at work, you may find these actionable recommendations helpful.
Prepare your remarks in advance.
Be clear with your boss and ask them if they feel anyone else should know what you said. Many will simply ask that human resources be made aware so they can provide any extra support needed.
In the case of something specifically upsetting or offending you, provide the specifics (what was said or done), your feelings, and how it affected your work.
Make a list of special accommodations you'll need to enable you to balance your professional and personal responsibilities.
Describe your motivation for your job, as well as your dedication.
Ask for and offer solutions. For example, asking for a mental health day.
Request a follow-up action or conversation.
Share any information that you’re not comfortable disclosing. It’s not required for you to describe your medical condition to your employer. Unless there are specific needs that require more explanation, using the words "mental illness" or "mental health condition" should be enough.
Complain about work. Describe the challenges you've faced, the distractions due to your mental health, and how you would like to address those concerns.
Assume their reaction. If you're vulnerable about your needs, people can sometimes surprise you with their empathy and understanding.
Take Care of Yourself
By talking to your boss about your mental health and including them in the process, you’ll be able to make changes that will benefit you.
Consider asking your therapist or a friend to role-play your conversation with your boss if you're concerned that he'll react negatively. So, when the moment comes, you'll feel prepared and more relaxed.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of work through self-care, exercise, and a balanced diet. These factors are crucial to your overall mental health and wellbeing. And, if you are permitted to take a mental health day, spend it managing your stress, as opposed to using it to attend to personal business, like going to the DMV. Instead, use a mental health day to talk to your therapist, exercising, journaling, or meditating.