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Ways to Talk With Employers About Your Mental Health

Have you ever taken a sick day for your mental health? An increasing number of employees are taking sick leave for mental health issues. However, it’s still not very common for workers to be open about it or accepted by employers. 

According to the Black Dog Institute data, 50 percent of managers think nobody in their organization is affected by mental health. Still, three to four sick days are taken each month for untreated depression in the average workplace. Workers are more likely to lie about taking time off caused by mental health conditions than physical ailments.

So, how should you approach the topic of mental health with your bosses? 

Approach it Early

Don’t wait until an annual sit-down until you open up. “In the workplace, too often, difficult conversations are only addressed as part of a formal review process,” says Sigely. “Ideally, you would speak to your managers before you hit a level of anxiety or depression where you’re just not coping. Chronic stress symptoms increase your likelihood of anxiety or depression. These include feeling overloaded, disengaged or withdrawn and suffering from fatigue or insomnia.”

Consider your why

“Whether you’ve been struggling to perform, you need time off, or you’d simply like to reduce stigma in the workplace, it’s important to contextualize the conversation with your manager to ensure their role is clear,” says Sigley. Before you share, preplan your approach. “You can choose to provide a fact sheet, or a letter from a health professional, or simply speak in general terms. Whatever you think will help your employer understand what you’re going through.”

Help them help you

Generally, employers have a positive obligation to make reasonable adjustments for employees experiencing mental illness (changes to a job, which can be made to enable a worker to perform their duties more effectively). “For example, implementing a ‘no email’ policy after an agreed time to allow for staff to recover,” says Sigley. On the flip side, be vocal if your needs are minimal. “Some people choose to share simply because they no longer wish to withhold the information. If that’s the case, tell your employer it’s not likely to impact your work.”

Pass it on?

“Let your employer know if you’re comfortable with your condition being shared with the wider team and if so, by whom (them or you),” says Sigley, “Employers have a legal obligation to respect your right to privacy.” Also, extend your conversation to human resources. “Most organizations have an Employee Assistance Program in place, where staff can get free psychological counseling. The biggest challenge is ensuring staff is comfortable enough to access the service.”

Deepen your Defense

When it comes to workplace resilience, one in-office yoga class won’t cut it! “The ideal response is that you and your manager create a clear action plan around your mental illness,” says Peta. “Become in tune with your emotions, divide your day into manageable segments and prioritize eating right, sleeping well and exercise. It’s about addressing core issues that help people reach a state of sustainable high-performance.”

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