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

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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 alone, and employers have a legal duty to protect employees at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

Here, Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory, talks through how best to raise the issues with your employer if you're struggling with your mental health at work

How do you tell your boss you're struggling?

Dr Paul McLaren 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.

Don't worry about the so-called stigma - stigma and discrimination about mental health isn't allowed to exist in the workplace. Most responsible employers recognise that and many take positive steps to reduce it through educating their workforce about mental as well as physical wellbeing.

One way you can tackle the topic is to approach your employer asking for a meeting to discuss your current health situation. It doesn't have to be a formal meeting, but you can request formality if that would make you feel better. 

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).

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.

What to tell your boss about your mental health

A mental health problem is no different to reporting a problem with your physical just feels different. When we're depressed, we often have strong feelings of shame about how we're feeling. That's 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're feeling.

Dr McLaren continues to say 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 to different people and is often misinterpreted. If you've seen your doctor, and have a diagnosis, then let your employer know you're ill.

As a valued employee, with knowledge and experience, your employer has invested time and training in you and wants you to be productive. By speaking up, you're helping yourself - and them.

If you don't want to discuss your condition or how you're feeling too much, 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.

What happens after I tell my employer about poor health?

Companies, both large and small across the UK, invest in their employee wellbeing and want to provide support to their employees. Employers will have to tell HR about your current health condition to ensure that correct procedures are followed and you're being looked after whilst at work.

Immediately after, employers might try and ease your workload or make your working day easier depending on your needs and requirements. If there are things that are bothering you at work, they may try and resolve these issues as quickly as possible to make your workplace more comfortable.

Employers can also offer different treatments that might help. These might include free phone counselling and short-term face-to-face counselling (typically 6 to 8 sessions). A range of therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes, can be offered as well as online health and wellbeing programmes and an employee assistance programme (EAP). My Possible Self is another app your employer may recommend to you.

Employers may also encourage you to track your mood over time and receive help to maximise coping mechanisms. Check whether your employer offers this too, as it's free for employees and hugely valuable.

Don't forget to let them know how they did - when you've 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.

Mental health treatment at Priory

If you continue to struggle at work, you may benefit from professional mental health treatment.

Priory's nationwide network of hospitals and clinics offer effective, established treatment for depression and anxiety, as well as other mental health conditions. 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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