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How do I talk to my boss about my mental health?

In today's economic climate, many can be forgiven for feeling 'grateful' to have a job and therefore all too easily, the added pressures of working life get accepted rather than questioned. Many may even consider it a weakness to suggest they are unable to cope.  Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc), consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove in Kent, talks through how best to raise the issues. 

But mental health has risen up the workplace agenda - and it starts by having a conversation with your boss. Recent research by Business in the Community found the majority of managers (84%) acknowledged that employee wellbeing was their responsibility.

More than 11 million days a year are lost at work because of stress, and employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

After all, stress, anxiety and depression may result in significant mental health problems when they are experienced over a long time.

Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc), consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove in Kent and at Priory's high street Wellbeing Centres in Harley Street and Fenchurch Street, central London, talks through how best to raise the issues. He says there are several approaches employees can take - and by "tackling the taboo", they may be pleasantly surprised by the positive response. After all, he says, healthier employees improve the bottom line.

10 things to remember when talking to your boss

  1. Remember a mental health problem is no different to reporting a problem with your physical just feels different. When we are depressed, we often have strong feelings of shame about how we are feeling. That is not just a psychological reaction but part of the biology of depression. Shame leads us to hiding away but hiding away makes our situation worse in the workplace and elsewhere. Think about the origins of how you are feeling.
  2. If you can't find the words to explain how you feel, or ask for the help you may need from your employer, write it down first in an email or letter... check it and run it past someone close.
  3. Rather than making it about how you feel, focus on the impact your mental health is having on your work and productivity - and how you can work together to improve the situation. Remember, your employer will want to help you not least because it makes good business sense.
  4. It's entirely up to you how much you want to disclose - you don't have to name your condition but be careful about words like 'stress' which can mean many different things and is often misinterpreted. If you have seen your doctor, and have a diagnosis, then let your employer know you are ill.
  5. Don't sweat about the so-called stigma - stigma and discrimination about mental health is not allowed to exist in the workplace in 2018. Most responsible employers recognise that and many take positive steps to reduce it through educating their workforce about mental as well as physical wellbeing.
  6. If you really feel you can't face talking to your boss, seek help in the form of a mediator - you don't have to do this alone if you don't want to. Help and support can often be found in your HR department, through a trusted colleague, via an occupational health officer or a representative from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).
  7. Face your fear and recognise that your boss may be more receptive than you think - these days mental ill health is the most common reason for sickness absence. Between 1 in 5 and 1 in 6 people will seek help for depression at some point, so the chances are that someone in your office or management team will have direct experience of it either through having suffered themselves or being close to someone who did.
  8. Check out what is on offer at work - companies both large and small across the UK invest in their employee wellbeing and want to provide support to their employees. This might include free phone counselling and short-term face-to-face counselling (typically 6-8 sessions). Care First, part of the Priory Group, operates an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for many UK employers consisting of a 24/7 telephone counselling helpline, face-to-face counselling, a range of services such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes, an online health and wellbeing programme and an 'EAP in Your Pocket', which is an app giving employees access to tools for stress and anxiety. Users track their mood over time and receive help to maximise their coping mechanisms. Check whether your employer offers this too, as it is free for employees and hugely valuable.
  9. Don't forget to let them know how they did - when you have weathered the storm and recovered, let your employer know how they did. What was helpful for you when you were struggling? Help your organisation to learn from your experience.
  10. By speaking up, you are helping yourself and others - as a valued employee, with knowledge and experience, your firm has invested time and training in you and want you to be productive. When we get depressed we lose sight of that. By speaking up, you are helping yourself - and them.

Depression and anxiety treatment at Priory

Priory's nationwide network of hospitals and clinics offer effective, established treatment for depression and anxiety. Available on a residential, day care or outpatient basis, our expert team will be able to provide you with care in the right environment so that you can get the help and support that you need.

This page was reviewed by Dr Paul McLaren (MBBS, FRCPsych, MA, BA, MSc),  Dr McLaren is a General Adult Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Hospital Ticehurst House.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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