How to talk to your boss about mental health

February 28, 2023
How to talk to your boss about mental health

Mental health is a crucial topic that affects people all around the world, and the workplace is no exception. As people spend a significant amount of their time at work, the impact of mental health on employees and their productivity cannot be overstated. In fact, statistics show that depression and anxiety are the most common mental health issues in the workplace, affecting around 1 in 5 employees. Workplace stress is also a major contributor to mental health problems, with over 60% of employees reporting that they experience high levels of stress at work.

If you've ever experienced poor mental health, you know it can have a big impact on your productivity, focus, and relationships at work. Kelly Greenwood, CEO and Founder of Mind Share Partners, credits her self-stigma around mental health as the reason why she took too long to approach her manager about her anxiety. Which ended up causing her to enter a debilitating depression.

If you're thinking about opening up to your boss about your problems, here's what you should consider from Kelly’s experience and perspective:

Understanding: Self-reflect

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The first step is to determine what impact your mental health has on your work. Is it affecting your demeanor or work performance? Is it because of a chronic condition or poor work conditions or is it something that will go away quickly?

For example, Kelly, had gone from being a high-performing, cheerful colleague to a far from competent, aloof individual”. However, every case is different so it’s always important to check with your family, friends, or therapist.

Deciding: Consider the context and resources

Image credits: Vlada Karpovich

1st. Start by looking into your company culture. Check if your company provides mental health benefits or resources. Is it a topic that is brought up or has any company leader mentioned it in the past? This could help you understand how open they might be to the topic.

2nd. Assess your relationship with your manager and how open they might be to the topic. If they share their own struggles or how they manage their own mental health (exercising, meditating, therapy) you might find it easier to talk to them.

3rd. Define what type of resources or support you will need to get through your challenges. It can be mental health resources or more work flexibility.

Kelly shares that her own stigma around the subject caused her to not talk with her manager about her needs. She needed 1 day a week to get to work later or work remotely in order to talk to her therapist, but never eventually brought it up which just contributed more to her anxiety.

Preparing: Explore your comfort level

Image credits: Gary Barnes

Perhaps you are a new hire so you don’t feel as comfortable sharing a lot of information with your manager. In this scenario, you can reach out to HR instead. “Note that your direct manager is typically required to share employee health information that impacts work with HR — not to be punitive, but to ensure consistency across managers and access to the full array of resources.”

Make sure to prepare different resources or potential solutions to mention in your conversation. Kelly mentioned that by the time she was ready to talk to her manager, her cognition didn’t allow her to think of solutions. So she asked for help from her friends and husband in order to prepare for a productive conversation.

Sharing: Start the conversation

The time has come for the conversation, so in order to make it as productive as possible make sure to:

  1. Set a time to book a one-on-one;
  2. Book more time than you think you need to avoid cutting the conversation short;
  3. Be clear about the impact of mental health in your work;
  4. Share the pre-mentioned suggestions of how your manager can help you;
  5. Give them grace and allow them to take some time to circle back with the next steps.

Your manager is probably hearing this for the first time so it’s important to let them process everything before they can come up with the perfect solution for you.

In conclusion, talking to your manager about mental health can be difficult, but it is important to take care of yourself and get the support you need.

Kelly shares that in the end, her own self-stigma was wrong. Why should she feel ashamed of her own anxiety? Why would society judge her? After all, we are all going through our own struggles with mental health and that’s ok! By planning what you want to say, choosing the right time and place, being honest and direct, staying professional, and seeking support from HR, you can have a productive conversation with your boss and get the help you need. In the end, it will be a win-win situation for you and your boss.

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