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How to Talk to Your Boss About Your Mental Health

September 21, 2021
3 min read

According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults experience mental illness every year, and 18% of the adult population have an anxiety disorder. Yet, if we’re feeling emotional at work or feeling the symptoms of our illnesses, our impulse is to hide it. We run to the bathroom to gather our composure or schedule a fake meeting to get some alone time.

While many of us are struggling with mental health issues, we’re afraid to ask for what we really need. For those looking to open up about their mental health at work, here are 4 tips for talking to your boss about your experience.

Disclaimer: If there’s no work-related reason for you to disclose your mental health issues with your boss, then you are under no obligation to do so. However, if your state of mind is affecting your ability to complete your work, your attitude towards it, or your relationships with your coworkers, it may be a necessary (and important) conversation to have.

1. Check with HR

If you are suffering from depression and anxiety, it may be a good idea to check in with Human Resources first, as many companies offer programs and accommodations that are specifically designed for this. Clearly document your meeting with HR, and use this to guide your conversation with your boss.

For example, some Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) offer free or discounted professional help for employees. Also, during the pandemic many companies increased their mental health benefits, sometimes adding free online services like meditation apps or providing additional paid time off.

However, if you have a specific ask that relates directly to your work, I still suggest going directly to your immediate supervisor.

2. Think about what you need

Your boss doesn’t need a clinical overview of your symptoms, but in order for the conversation to be productive, it’s important to come prepared with specifics about what you need. Hold off on telling your boss about your mental health struggles until you are clear about what you’re hoping to gain by sharing this information. 

If you recently began seeing a therapist and need time blocked off on your calendar weekly for your appointment, tell management that. If you are struggling to keep up with your kid’s distanced learning and need to extend remote working, tell management that. 

Once you understand the changes you’ll need, you’re almost ready for a conversation!

3. Find an appropriate time

If you have a good relationship with your boss – you communicate often, you feel your voice is heard, etc. – then sharing some details of your struggles will likely be a lot easier than if your relationship with management isn’t as strong.  

We can’t know what our mental health will be like in the future, but (if possible) try to predict a suitable day/time to bring up the topic. Approaching your boss when you’re in higher spirits and when things are calmer in the workplace, may be best.

It’s also important to note that while most people won’t choose to disclose any details about their mental health during the hiring process, it may be of interest to bring it up if you struggle to control your symptoms and/or if they will have a direct impact on your ability to complete work in a timely manner. You’ll want to frame it in a way that’s not the only thing the interviewer will remember about you. If you’re a part of a support group, or seeing a professional, it can be a good idea to speak to others about how they’ve approached this delicate situation. 

4. Take care of yourself

Besides speaking with your manager, there are things in your control that can help you better manage your mental health. 

Take part in activities that promote stress management and relaxation, such as exercise, yoga, and mediation. Do your best to eat well-balanced meals and aim to get an appropriate amount of rest. 

Lastly, it’s important that you draw clear lines between work and your personal life. Get out of the perpetual gray zone of being responsive and “kind of” working. During the pandemic, it was easy to fall into working half-heartedly all the time, but let’s focus on leaving work at work and taking some time for yourself.

While it may seem easier said than done, having a conversation with your boss about mental health is essential if your work is taking a toll on your well-being. Remember that you should never be ashamed of your mental health or let your company stop you from being happy and healthy in your career!

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