The stigma surrounding mental illness often stops people from being open about their mental health concerns. This can be especially true in workplace environments. Because mental illness is often met with judgment, many people assume that sharing with a superior will make them seem weak or incompetent. Unfortunately this is sometimes the case. There is a dearth of mental health training and human resources policies that support positive mental health. Most HR departments are not equipped to properly support employees experiencing mental health challenges.
One of the best ways to change this is counterintuitive; it is to speak up and advocate for ourselves. Not only is mental health as important as physical health, it can also affect our physical health. This in turn, affects our work life, our efficiency and productivity. Employees whose work habits and output deteriorate due to mental health problems also affect the company’s bottom line. It is in any company’s best interest to take care of their employees’ mental health within reason.
An employer cannot guess what you’re feeling and cannot understand your situation unless you disclose at least some of the information. When you begin to see your work suffer due to your mental state, when you begin to feel excessive stress or anxiety at work and when it begins to seriously affect your work relationships, it may be time to bring it up with a manager. Here are a few things to remember when initiating this conversation.
Communicating your mental health struggles with a manager or superior:
Choose a quiet time when neither of you are busy or distracted
Choose a quiet and private place
Be confident in advocating for yourself and avoid getting too emotional
Explain what symptoms or issues affect your work and how
Clearly and concisely identify and communicate your needs in this situation
Help your manager determine what accommodations are best and are realistic based on your workplace
When requesting accommodations, it is extremely important to be able to verbalize our needs in a clear and concise manner. This helps the person we are communicating with to understand and react accordingly. Accommodations can only be offered if you disclose your mental health challenges and communicate them clearly to your superior. Once you have done this, you can together make a plan to counter your challenges.
Unfortunately, this may seem like an impossible task for so many people. This is due in part to self-stigma and a fear of judgment, but also because they have reason to believe their superior will in fact react with judgment. If you don’t feel like you will be successful in communicating a mental health concern and a need for accommodation, there are a few things you can try. It is always helpful to practice your “pitch” beforehand to someone you trust. The most important points listed above in this situation are to be confident, not too emotional and clear and concise. Remaining somewhat fact based as opposed to emotion based often connects better with people who lack depth in their knowledge of mental health and illness. They respond best to clear bites of information, explaining what you’re experiencing and how it affects your work.
Work is one of the places we aim to be the best we can be, to support our team and to prove our worth. It can feel like disclosing a mental illness goes against all of that. If you are experiencing mental health concerns, you are not a burden to the team. A team supports each other and that is what you need in those moments. As long as you are responsible in doing as much as you can and asking for accommodations that will allow to still be an asset to the team, no one can fault you for experiencing and communicating those challenges. It is important to remain self aware and understand when we are in need of support, as well as when we may be in need of time off. These are both ways in which you are doing what is best for the team while taking care of yourself.
Not every workplace is entirely accepting, not every workplace is an open and understanding environment in which to discuss mental illness. The more we talk about it, however, and the more we model mental health care practices for others to see, the more we can make a change in this attitude and reduce the stigma.