The conversation about mental health at work is, thankfully, becoming more amplified.
There was a time (during our parent’s generation, we reckon), where talking to your boss about your mental health at work was fairly taboo.
And even around ten years ago, it just wasn’t common to discuss mental health issues at all. But things are changing – now many employers encourage their employees to take a mental health day off if they feel anxious or stressed. And of course, social media has made the discussion around mental health challenges a lot more open.
But even if you have a super-great relationship with your boss, it can still be hard to broach the topic. When is the right time? How do you find the correct words? There might be all types of fears floating around your head around how you’ll be perceived and whether your job will still be safe.
Well we’re about to alleviate all those worries. Here’s your guide to talking about mental health at work…
Why letting your workplace know is important
According to the government site, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), over 11 million days a lost annually due to stress. If you’re staying up at night with anxiety, or your mental health is affecting your general wellbeing, then chances are it could be coming across at work too.
That’s not to say that you should feel paranoid that having a mental health condition will prohibit you from doing your job properly, but rather, that it’s really important you let your employer know if things are getting too much so that they can help you out sooner rather than later.
Case study: What happened when one woman spoke to her boss about mental health
We spoke to Wendy Tuxwoth, 22, (below) who works in marketing, about her experience of talking about mental health at work. Wendy said she was “overwhelmed by anxiety” every time she entered the office, in the summer of 2017.
“My thoughts kept swirling around me, convincing me that I couldn’t do my job, and that I was a failure to everyone around me. My heart would pound painfully against my chest, and my throat would tighten to the point where I couldn’t breathe” she told us.
“It made it almost impossible to focus on my work, because I would overthink every word I put down on paper, and because I was so worried about hiding my symptoms from my coworkers.”
Wendy was diagnosed with generalised anxiety and depression and also dealt with psychosis. She approached her boss who, thankfully, was “amazing”.
“He encouraged me to talk to him about what I was going through, he let me take days off to go to therapy appointments, and allowed me to work from home when I was feeling really bad. I probably would have quit my job because of the anxiety if it wasn’t for him. My boss takes mental health as seriously as physical health and has gone above and beyond”.
She continued: “I can see why talking to a boss about mental health could be scary though – if I hadn’t had such a good relationship with him it would have been a very daunting conversation, especially as this is my first time working in an office setting.”
Wendy now volunteers at mental health charity, Mind and believes speaking up, at work, made a serious difference to her state of mind. She didn’t do this at Uni and regrets it. “I ended up getting a lower overall grade than I would have liked whilst doing my undergraduate. I should have told my professors and allowed them to support me.” she said.
How to talk about mental health at work
Wendy had a great experience – and a fabulous workplace. But not everyone will be so fortunate. If you’re worried about approaching your boss there are a few things you can do to make the chat go smoothly.
- Be prepared: Ask for a meeting on a day where you feel confident and mentally able. Have a list of things you want to explain, ready on a notepad to discuss. It might help if you’ve kept a mental health diary, with examples of the days where you’ve felt really unwell. If you can pinpoint your rough days and explain your feelings, your boss is more likely to understand and help you implement practical solutions.
- Maintain your privacy: Remember that you don’t have to disclose everything. If you don’t want to speak about everything aspect of your mental health at work – that’s fine. Your family history and therapy sessions can stay private. No-one should ask you to provide physical ‘proof’ of a mental illness and you can also ask your boss to refrain from talking to other members of staff about your condition too. It’s your mental health and not everybody needs to know about it unless you want them to.
- Know the law: Remember there is no legal difference between taking a mental health sick day and a day off for a physical problem like a bad stomach. And according to the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers are obligated by law to ensure the wellbeing and safety and welfare of their staff – which includes mental health. Mind reports that the Equality Act of 2010 means that it is illegal to be discriminated against because of a mental health condition. And charity Rethink reports that “you may have the right to get your employer to make changes (‘reasonable adjustments’”) to your job due to your disability.”
Making changes at work
If your workplace is open to discussing your mental health at work and wants to implement changes, there are a lot of things you can suggest. Matthew Holman, 43, is the owner and Mental Health Instructor, Simpila Healthy Solutions and believes mental health training is key to raising awareness at work.
He said: “I provide mental health training to people who are over 16 years old who want to raise understanding of the symptoms and challenges of mental illness. We also look at how it is best to proactively step in early and support those who are struggling”
“Young people need education and support and universities, colleges and schools are improving the counselling and support services, but these are now beyond capacity with funding continually being pressurised. The earlier we spot the signs of mental ill health in individuals, the sooner we can provide initial support and encouragement to seek additional help. “
If workplace stress is causing you distress, counselling may help. Counselling Directory can help you find a local counsellor to speak with.
Like this? How about…