How to Talk About Your Mental Health with Your Employer

A diagnosisable mental illness can affect up to 80% of people, regardless of whether they are aware of it. Although symptoms are common across the board, the majority of employees have not spoken to their manager or coworkers about their mental health. The effects of stigma can still be devastating, even though colleagues, managers, and direct reports have been more vulnerable than ever because of shared societal problems and the blurring between the personal and professional over the past 18 months. Here are four ways to disclose your mental health problems at work, according to the author.It was too late when I revealed my generalized anxiety disorder to my boss. It had turned into debilitating depression, and I couldn't even write a simple email or do the job I was hired to do. I had noticed a decline in my performance, which forced me to share the truth with my family and eventually led me to take a leave.Retrospectively, I think a simple accommodation could have prevented this, which would have saved me tremendous turmoil and my company the additional workload.It was shocking to learn that up to 80% will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetime. Although symptoms are common across the board, almost 60% of employees have never discussed their mental health with anyone at work. These challenges often lead to strengths in high-achieving people, such as myself. I wasn't as isolated as I thought.Mental health is just as important as physical health. It's a spectrum we all experience. Depending on the circumstances of our lives, many people experience stress, burnout, or other diagnosable conditions such as depression and anxiety. Although it can be more difficult to talk about bipolar disorder than burnout in the beginning, most people should be able relate to some degree.This is more so than ever in the past 18 months due to the stressors from the pandemic, racial terror, and many other factors. Shared societal challenges have made managers, direct reports, as well as colleagues, more vulnerable and authentic than ever. Remote work has blurred the lines between the professional and personal. Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, have been a great inspiration. They not only shared their mental health issues on the public stage but also made tough decisions that prioritized their well-being.However, stigmatization can still have a significant impact on people. My self-stigma said that I was weak and should be embarrassed about my depression and anxiety. Societal stigma said that I would be judged by society and face professional consequences if I disclose. Since I have made public disclosures of my condition over the past few years, none has happened. Mind Share Partners was founded by me as a result of my personal experiences. It aims to change the culture in workplace mental health. If you are considering revealing a mental health problem at work, here's what we recommend.Understanding: Self-reflectConsider what you are experiencing and how it affects your work performance, demeanor and other factors. How long is the impact lasting? What is the duration of the impact? Is it temporary and will disappear in a few days? If your symptoms aren't constant, think about what might have caused them. Is it work-related, personal, or macro stressors?These elements were simple for me and required little self-reflection. A few months before I started this new job, I was working with a small team. For the first time in my entire life, I couldn't do everything. Aside from that, I had taken my anxiety medication off and was unable see my therapist due to my new commute. I should have seen her more often, given all of this. I went from being a cheerful, high-performing colleague to an inept, detached individual. It wasn't difficult for me to put everything together. However, it is possible that others have more complex stories and would benefit from a discussion with friends, family, or a therapist.Decide: Take into account the context and available resourcesI wish I had decided to share enough money to secure accommodation immediately, or that my employer encouraged flexibility so that I didn't need one. My employer granted me permission to see my therapist during work, which was difficult given my long commute. This would have required me to work from home on Fridays or coming in late one week per week. The latter was only allowed for employees who had been employed for six months. This simple accommodation was not possible due to my self-stigma, unfounded fear of my manager, and my inability to accept it. Sometimes I wonder if things would have been different if I had attributed my need for leave to a physical condition such as a weekly allergy shot.The topic of workplace mental health was not on everyone's radar at the time. It was not something that anyone discussed openly. No one had any trainings about how to manage it at work. There are now more indicators that your manager, HR team, and company support mental health.Consider your company's culture. Are your leaders open to discussing mental health? Is your company offering workplace mental health trainings Are there any mental health resources for employees (ERGs)?Next, consider whether your manager is supportive and safe for you. Are they open about their mental health and other personal issues? This level of authenticity can build trust and be a telling sign. You should consider whether your manager has demonstrated mental health behaviors such as regular exercise, sleep, vacation, and healthy eating habits. This will help you decide who and how much information to share.Then, learn about the legal protections and benefits you are entitled as an employee. For example, in the United States, employers with more than 15 employees must provide reasonable accommodation. You can find your local laws and resources. You can then advocate for yourself in the event that your HR manager falls behind.Finally, consider the support or resources that you might need, such as access to mental health care or formal accommodation. This resource is owned by who? This could be your manager, HR, or anyone else. Think about your sharing goals.Preparing for: Find your comfort levelWhat amount of information are you comfortable sharing with others? What amount of information do you really need to share in order to reach your goal? If you are close to your manager, this could include your history and diagnosis. It could be as simple as "I'm having trouble due to the pandemic." Is it OK to take Monday and Tuesday off?My anxiety diagnosis was something I didn't want to reveal to anyone as I was a new employee, trying to prove myself, and afraid of being repercussions from the profession. However, it is very possible that I could have reached my goal of flexible working hours and being able to attend my therapy appointments if I shared less.You may feel uncomfortable speaking with your manager. It is important to feel safe with anyone you choose. Your direct manager will typically be required to share information about employee health that has an impact on work with HR. This is not to be considered punitive but to ensure consistency among managers and full access to all resources.You might want to think about the specific resources and solutions that you believe would be most useful for flexible work. These resources may be helpful to you in your conversations. These could include routine therapy appointments, more frequent check-ins, offline hours or protected time that allows you to concentrate on your work.You'll want to seek out safe spaces to get input if you're like me. My cognition was not able to solve problems or make decisions as normal, and I was already suffering from depression and anxiety when I made the decision to disclose. My husband, parents, therapist, and I discussed everything. For advice, others might seek out a friend, colleague, or an expert in mental health, neurodiversity or disability ERG.Sharing: Get involved in the conversationOnce you have decided to share your experiences, arrange a private time to chat one-on-one. To ensure that the conversation doesn't get cut short, budget more time than you think. Make sure you are clear about the effects your mental health issues have on work. If it is work-related, tell everyone.Make suggestions to your HR manager. You might have ideas for changes or resources that you would find useful. These ideas can vary widely. These could include: I'm doing well, but it would be useful to know which resources are available in case of emergency. A simple conversation about your work style can help you and your team members to communicate what is needed to do their best work. You are welcome to discuss the problem with your manager or HR. It is not your responsibility to know all the answers.As you would hope your HR manager will be compassionate for you, so should you try to have empathy for them. This is likely to be new for them, even though you might have been thinking about it in detail. While they may not be able to answer all your questions, they are likely to have good intentions. Allow them to have some grace and to allow them to return with next steps. Set a time for follow-up.As we all return to work, I hope that we don't fall back into old work habits. Instead, I want companies and managers to make it easier for employees and their families to share their mental health issues and work together to find solutions. As recent events have shown, I hope we all embrace the chance to remain vulnerable and authentic at work. Instead of saying "I'm fine", let's give the whole, honest answer to How you are? We all have something going on, no matter how small or large. All we need is to communicate with each other.