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Talking to Your Employer About Your Mental Health

12 years ago, I started taking a new antidepressant medication while at an old job. My workload had increased, and I was on the hook for meeting more and shorter deadlines. Side effects of the medication pummelled me.

Bad timing. 

I experienced ongoing dizziness and disorientation. I called my doctor, and he asked if I was taking it with food. No, I said. You got to, he replied. That did the trick, and I felt better, but I didn’t dare communicate any of this to my boss. I was scared to discuss my mental health because I didn’t want to lose my job. 

Now, I made a presumption; I didn’t consult my employee handbook on the matter, nor did I conduct any general research around broaching the subject in the workplace. Still, I had a good read on the organization’s work culture, and it didn’t exactly foster a safe environment for such discussions. 

I certainly wasn’t alone then, nor am I now. A 2020 survey by Paychex found that only 20% of employees discussed their mental health with a supervisor, and 5% with an HR representative. 

That’s changing now, and one thing we can actually thank the pandemic for is that it’s forced a mental health reckoning writ large, which has permeated the workplace. 

No one has to divulge medical information, but mental illness looms large when you’re trying to do your job, and if a coworker is open about their migraines and receives accommodations, then so can you. 

Here are ways to talk to your employer about your mental health. 

Determine Who You Want To Speak With

You can approach your boss or your HR manager, depending on your comfort level. If you have a good relationship with your boss or manager, then set up a meeting and be candid about your situation and what you need. You can also run it up to the appropriate HR representative, who can explain company policies and protections under the law. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employees with psychiatric disabilities have a right to reasonable accommodations. 

What to Say

Request a 1:1 with your boss, and be as honest as you can be. You’ll likely find that you’re in good company because your boss may be struggling as well. According to a 2021 survey by Development Dimensions International’s Global Leadership Forecast, nearly 60% of leaders felt used up at the end of the workday, a strong indicator of burnout. 

Business Insider ran a story in the fall, citing advice from Anisha Patel-Dunn, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at LifeStance Health, who recommends breaking the ice by telling your boss: 

"I've been dealing with some intense changes in my family life, and it's been a major source of anxiety for me lately. I know I've been distracted during the workday as a result of this, and it's taking a toll on my ability to be 'on' the way I need to be. I don't know exactly how to solve this, because it's an ongoing situation, but I think it could be helpful for both of us if we spent more time in our check-ins setting goals and priorities so I can know when I'm on track and when I'm getting behind."

Have a Specific Ask

You are your best advocate, and you don’t have to be bashful about requesting what you need. The same article recommends asking for a flexible work schedule and reductions in work hours and workload. At the same time, you still have to do your job, and one of the provisions and a gray area of the ADA is that accommodations can’t cause undue hardship for the employer.

It’s worth noting--and I hate to narrow it down to the cold equation--that the mental wellbeing of employees is directly related to productivity, which is critical to a company’s bottom line. Investing in mental health is humanistic and good for business.

The good news is that many employers are increasing support for mental health, and now is as good a time as any for you to start the conversation so that you can feel whole and successful. 

About the Author, David Telisman
I am a Writer and Content Creator with a passion for mental health awareness and advocacy. I have written extensively on the subject, in addition to serving clients in other verticals. I understand that you deserve to feel proud of how your content marketing looks and what it says, and I deliver by providing expert copywriting and digital marketing solutions.

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