Mental health – how to address the issue with your boss?

Friends communicating.As I’ve been talking a lot about mental health in the workplace, it seemed natural to cover talking about it with your boss/manager. This is a difficult topic: on the one hand mental health is still stigmatized, particularly in the workplace. On the other hand, I believe in the importance of speaking about these issues to raise awareness.

Whether or not you feel comfortable telling your manager about your mental health issue is very personal, and will depend on several factors: your level of trust, their openness to listen to you, their ability to understand (as you perceive it), and what you expect as an outcome of the conversation.

Know what you want to say

Before you schedule a meeting, make sure you are prepared. Do you want to inform him that you have a tendency to suffer from anxiety but are taking steps to keep it under control? Or do you want to discuss a particular situation at work that is causing distress? Do you want to talk about your workload? What is the angle you’re going to take?

Explain how you feel

Often people who don’t suffer from mental health issues can find it difficult to understand where you’re coming from. Explain how the situation is making you feel, how anxiety can prevent you from sleeping or causes you to feel overwhelmed. Or how depression is making you lose self-confidence making your decision making more difficult. It’s important for them to understand the direct impact this has on you and your work.

Be clear on your desired outcome

How do you expect your manager to react? If you are looking for sympathy or empathy, maybe you should speak with a friend first. If you are looking for help on how to deal with it, perhaps you should seek professional advice.

While it’s important to be open, the workplace remains a place of business. It’s therefore natural that managers will be thinking about how this may impact the rest of the business, the team, themselves… in addition to wanting to support you.

Know what you need and be prepared to ask for it.

Come with solutions

In the workplace you are often expected to bring solutions, which is also true when it comes to your health. It may be difficult to think about especially when you are distressed, but it will be helpful for your manager and ultimately you too, if you’ve thought of what might help.

If you’re suffering from an extreme workload, ask for it to be diminished. Think about the projects you could easily hand over, or the tasks you could use help with. If your issue is a colleague, consider asking to work remotely for a few days. Or perhaps ask for your boss’ advice on how to deal with a difficult colleague – chances are she has gone through this before.

If you’re dealing with personal issues you may need time off to deal with them, or explain you may have absences in order to manage the situation. Offer to reshuffle your workload in light of the absences, and suggest who could take over during your time off.

Beware of blame

You may be tempted to blame the company, the workload, your manager for your current situation, and they might very well be the cause of your grief. But blaming doesn’t usually bring solutions or understanding, it causes people to put up their defenses and resist helping you. If you need support, focus on constructive feedback and solutions.

Most importantly of all, good luck! Deciding to tell your manager is a big step in taking responsibility for your mental health. Be proud of yourself for being brave enough, and if it doesn’t turn out how you wanted, view it as a learning for the next time.

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