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How to Talk About Your Mental Health with Your Employer

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Sometimes the stress of work and life gets to us and we start to feel sluggish at work and we may not realize it immediately, but we are less mentally present; basically just dragging our feet. This practice can be further detrimental to your mental and physical health and it doesn’t help your work productivity either. A break from work and even routine life could actually help reboot your mental state. 

However, in order to get that break, or temporarily even lessen the load or simply get a few flexible work-hour-days- you will need to bring the issue up with your boss. It’s not a prospect we look forward to- either because we don’t like discussing our mental health with others or because we don’t want our boss to think we can’t handle the job- or both. 

To help make this conversation easier, we consulted business owners and mental health professionals to guide on how to discuss a mental health break with your employers;

  1. Reference ADA for Accommodations

“Anyone who wants to bring up their mental health with an employer should be sure to reference ADA (The Americans for Disability Act) judiciously. This can make getting accommodations- such as periodic breaks, longer time for assignments, etc.- easier. Be honest about your condition/concerns but don’t feel the need to overshare or give excess details. Give your supervisor the info they need to know to best help you get your job done and succeed in your career.”

Dr. Brittany Ferri (Ph.D. in Integrative Mental Health), Medical Advisor Medical Solutions BCN

  1. Figure Out the Cause of the Problem

“It’s not easy opening up about your mental health struggles with most people, let alone your employers. However, when your job is impacting your mental health, it is important to do so. First things first, figure out whether the job itself is the cause of your struggles or if it is exacerbating an already existing problem. For example, is your job causing you to feel anxious or depressed? Or have you struggled with these issues in the past and the stress of the job is making it worse?” (Jose Ramirez)

  1. Evidence The Cause and Effect

“If your workload is causing the issues, then talk to your boss or manager about your concerns. Make sure you have evidence as to how your workload is affecting your mental health. Try to problem solve with your boss on how your workload can be managed in a way that is not negatively impacting your mental health. 

“Advocating for yourself here is key, do not agree to anything if you don’t think it will help. If your job is exacerbating an already existing problem, you can use the tips outlined above but it may be better to escalate the issue further.” (Jose Ramirez)

  1. Set Up a Meeting with HR 

“Many companies have EAPs (employee assistance programs) designed to help employees who are struggling with their mental health. Set a meeting with your HR department and share your concerns. Ask what the options are and whether there is an EAP or other form of employer-sponsored mental health assistance.” (Jose Ramirez)

  1. You Don’t Need to Share Details

“If you are uncomfortable disclosing information, you don’t have to share all the details, you can be rather vague. If your employer does not offer assistance, consider starting therapy on your own. If finances are a concern, there are options such as using health insurance benefits, community mental health clinics, or researching therapists that offer a sliding scale.”

Jose Ramirez,  Licensed Mental Health Counselor at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale

  1. Take Time To Relax, And Reflect

“Our negative feelings about our own mental health are very strong. Most people do not realize that they are struggling with a mental health problem, so they cannot solve it. The feeling of shame also makes many people unwilling to seek help. 

“If you experience symptoms of mental illness such as insomnia, lack of appetite or anxiety, do not ignore your emotions, and feelings. Take the time to reflect on how you feel and make some notes.” (Aniko Dunn)

  1. Analyze Your Thoughts, And Emotions

“Brainstorm ways to manage your symptoms and rehearse your conversation with your boss. Keeping notes can also be helpful if you are looking for help from a mental health professional. Many companies provide health plans that offer coverage if you talk to a licensed professional. Some offer free online sessions with a therapist. So, check with your company’s health and benefits provider to find out what your plan offers.” (Aniko Dunn)

  1. Rehearse The Conversation

“One thing that can reduce anxiety is rehearsing important conversations. Practice communicating with people close to you, such as a partner, coworker, or friend, before talking to your boss or manager;

  • Practice in front of a mirror;
  • See how your body language is;
  • How does it fit in with your words?

“Knowing your body language instead of being distracted by your words will give you confidence in continuing the conversation later with your boss or manager.” (Aniko Dunn)

  1. Discuss Your Work Environment With Your Employer

“If you are mentally ill, you have the right to accommodation. According to human rights law, all employers must provide accommodation for people with disabilities, such as mental illness.

Give your boss specific examples of ways which can help you, and then plan together. For example, you may want to ask for comfortable working hours.”

Aniko Dunn is a licensed Psy.D., working for EZCareClinic.com, which offers walk-in and online healthcare services for stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD/ADD treatments, and diagnosis.

  1. Right Time

“Find the right time, try approaching your boss on a day when things are calm. A day where you’ll be able to talk in a clear and collected way.” (Daniela Sawyer)

  1. Prepare

“Explore your comfort level; if you’re not comfortable sharing it with the boss, you may try to speak to HR. It’s essential to have a sense of psychological safety with that person.” (Daniela Sawyer)

  1. Start The Conversation

“Allocate more time than you think you’ll require so that you don’t fall short of time. It might be difficult for you to talk about your mental health, but you must start the conversation.” (Daniela Sawyer)

  1. Consult Others

“It might be helpful for you to have a work friend who understands your workload. Mention to them that you are thinking about talking to your boss and take their advice.”

Daniela Sawyer, Founder & Business Development Strategist FindPeopleFast

“Mental health is a sensitive topic that has a stigma and discriminating. Many individuals prefer to keep it private. It can be uncomfortable to share your problems with others outside your immediate circle. However, mental health is crucial, just as physically, for a healthy functioning life, personally and professionally. 

“Many mental health conditions are invisible, or symptoms are mistaken for other problems. Most people wouldn’t suspect a colleague is emotionally struggling. The best way to understand how a person feels is by communicating. It’s imperative to remain productive at work.” says John P. Carnesecchi, “I have some tips to help you overcome your fear of speaking up when you think your mental health affects your ability to complete your responsibilities effectively;

  1. First, Be Mindful Of Your Feelings

“Examine the emotions you’re suffering from and what specific scenarios trigger them affecting your performance.Weed out what is not affecting your job.” (John P. Carnesecchi)

  1. No Need to Disclose Details

“You do not need to disclose specific personal details; keep words vague. You can explain there are personal matters that are impacting your abilities at work. Focus on your job; that is what is important to them. When a doctor is treating you for an official diagnosis, inform your boss your doctor is treating you without sharing the diagnosis.” (John P. Carnesecchi)

  1. Timing is Everything

“Evaluate your boss’s schedule, mood, and work environment. If you see your boss stressed and flustered, it’s best to wait for a calmer moment. You want your employer to be responsive, empathetic and focused. 

“In severe cases, speak to HR for available to you, like a leave of absence, restoration of health left, short/long-term disability. Remember, you are not alone. Consult with a mental health professional or a certified employee assistance provider to assist you through this trying time.”

John P. Carnesecchi, Certified Employee Assistance Provider, Founder and Clinical Director of Gateway to Solutions; a mental health practice in New York City. John specializes in all mental health disorders/illnesses and career coaching/counseling.