How to Talk to Your Boss About Mental Health

By May 14, 2018For Talent

Mental health in the workplace is costing the economy millions. Yet there is still so much stigma surrounding it that it is often not disclosed for fear it will impact upon the person’s career.

It’s interesting how as an apparently progressive society we still largely view mental health in a negative way. We see it as something that lies within the margins of society and associate it with being something which affects the few in deeply disturbing ways and as some sign of abnormality or weakness.

Thankfully, this view is gradually changing. We are increasingly beginning to recognise that we all have mental health and are all susceptible to it becoming unstable or unhealthy at times. We need to see that mental health is a facet of our humanity, an aspect of us being human.

Mental healthSo, when it comes to employment, a place where we spend a huge proportion of our lives, we need to be able to share and gain support for those difficult times. But where to begin?

I would firstly say that the choice is yours as to whether you tell your employer or not. You should not feel pressured to or feel that in some way you have to wave a flag to spread the message about mental health. You should only tell your employer if you feel it will help you. Because, right now, if you’re going through a difficult time, the most important thing is getting well.

If you decide to share you need to think about what outcomes you would like to achieve. For example, what are you hoping to gain from disclosure? Support? Advice? Changes to work? You also need to plan exactly how much you want to disclose. Aspects of your mental health may be painful to share so you may only want to give an overview of your situation. I would say that if you are unsure how supportive your employer will be it may be better to keep things simple at first and not to overshare unless you are in a place of trust.

Next, you need to plan when to share. For example, it may be better to schedule a meeting towards the end of the day so you don’t have to just get back to work after offloading potentially sensitive information.

Before sharing I would recommend checking out your organisation’s policies around health and whether anything is in place for mental health. Either way, under the Equality Act 2010 it is illegal to treat mental health differently to physical health. This means you should be offered no different or less support than if you were disclosing you had a physical health issue. Remember your mental
health issues are real and may require treatment like any other health issue.

Finally, I would suggest planning what you may do following the meeting. Perhaps arrange to talk to someone you trust about it. Ensure you receive some support and an opportunity to unpick the meeting.

According to Mind, mental health issues affects 1 in 4 people every year. Chances are it’s happening to some of your colleagues too. It may even have affected your boss, or at least someone close to them. If they’re worth their salt they’ll support you. If this is new to them hopefully they will endeavour to do what they can to help you through this.

If it goes badly, don’t beat yourself up about it. You have not done anything wrong. You may, at the right time, want to take matters further or gain advice about employment issues from Acas who help resolve workplace problems (www.acas.org.uk). In the worst case scenario you may want to research applying for jobs with more supportive employers but remember, you shouldn’t have to. More and more employers are investing in positive mental health practices so hopefully, the landscape is changing.

Julie Jones runs Blackdog a mental health, workplace wellbeing and mindfulness training consultancy. You can find out more here.

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