Although we live in an ever-more progressive world, there are still certain stigmas and fears around mental health issues. Approximately 1 in 6 people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health issue each year. And 1 in 4 report suffering from a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression. That’s 25% of people – a quarter of the population. Yet, the acceptance around mental health challenges remains low at best in some cases. In the workplace, especially, it can be hard to open up. But talking to your boss about your mental health isn’t about volunteering private information unnecessarily. It’s about taking control of your life and environment.
Why Do So Many People Put Off Opening Up About Their Mental Health?
Many people are put off by the idea of what revealing their mental health issues might mean for their day-to-day work life. The idea still exists within a lot of people that to reveal your struggles with mental health is a sign of weakness; that as soon as you ‘out yourself,’ it will be seized on by others. You may become excluded from social groups within your workplace, experience mild forms of bullying or even on the opposite end of the spectrum find people over-compensating. You become the focal point of attention when all you want to do is make it through a workday in one piece. And in the worst-case scenario, if you do speak to your boss about your condition, you might find your career path blocked. You may come under increased – and unfair – scrutiny. But oftentimes, this is just your mind and condition feeding into a false narrative.
Why Opening Up is About Your Mental Health is Important
Contrary to what you may believe, opening up about your existing mental health condition is the best thing you can do. Once you’ve made your employer aware about your situation, you’re then protected by the Equality Act. If you have a mental health problem that presents itself as a form of disability, then it’s in your best interest for your employer to know this. For example, if you require regular leave to see therapists, make hospital visits or experience absences through feeling incapacitated, your employer can work with you. In the case of ‘sick days,’ if you take them regularly without informing your employer, they’ll be viewed as a lack of commitment rather than a genuine need to take care of yourself.
How Do You Prove Your Employer That You Have a Legitimate Mental Health Issue?
Each employer will have their own procedures that they go through with regards to being informed about sensitive personal circumstances. In more casual work settings, you may be taken at your word and have an informal agreement in place about your mental health. However, in more corporate settings, you may be required to provide proof of condition to comply with the standards that are required. It most cases, a note from your doctor will suffice, including:
What mental health problem(s) you’re suffering
How they affect you on a personal level
What adjustments could help perform your duties more efficiently
How Can You Get Your Employer to Accommodate Your Circumstances?
If your mental health condition is presenting as a disability that is preventing you fulfilling your duties to the best of your ability, then it’s your employer’s responsibility to make any necessary adjustments.
Here are some examples of adjustments you could request:
Changes to your working area
Changes to your working home
The ability to work from home
Flexible working hours to attend treatment, assessment and rehabilitation
Re-allocating tasks that are either stressful or too difficult
Offering mentorship and guidance in key areas
Bear in mind the requests that you make of your employer have to be ones that are reasonable. You employer has to be able to make these changes without drastically altering the structure of their business or compromising their income in a way that would be damaging to them. Whether or not a change is reasonable depends on:
If the change deals with a genuine disadvantage
How practical the requested changes are to implement
The size of your employer and financial resources they have available
What other financial assistance might be available to make the changes
How to Talk to Your Boss About Your Mental Health
So now you have a clearer idea of why it’s important and the type of protection afforded to you in talking about your mental health with your employer. Here’s some guidance on the necessary steps:
Consult with the Relevant Departments (If Possible): If your work within a corporate setting, this may be the best avenue for you to explore. You may not have a personal relationship with your boss and fear that you might not be taken seriously. If you have an HR department, it can help facilitate the conversation by providing a buffer and someone to mediate on your behalf. It provides you with the comfort of knowing you have a witness and someone impartial to help uphold your rights.
Think About the Result You Want to Achieve: This is an oversight that many people can make. What is it you want to achieve by having a meeting with your employer? What outcome do you want? What support do you want from your employer? You’re not disclosing this information for no good reason. If you want fewer responsibilities, you might want to consult your companies HR policies first. But also, be aware, your first meeting does have to be your last. You can keep your employer informed of changes to your circumstances as and when they present.
Find the Right Time & Setting for Your Discussion: You don’t want to pick a time when you know your boss of going to be divided between multiple tasks and possibly stressed as a result of having to juggle their responsibilities. Try to schedule a one-on-one where you know you won’t be disturbed. If you’re apprehensive about the discussion, you’ll almost certainly want it to be out of earshot of your co-workers.
Remember it’s Going to Be a Conversation Not a Conflict: Remember, this is about you and your situation – you ‘re requesting a meeting with them. You aren’t going into this encounter to have your performance appraised. It’s meeting to discuss how your employer can better support you. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. Once you’ve made a formal statement about your mental health conditions, you’re fully protected by the equality act.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with your mental health and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
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