How to talk to your employer about your mental health

Bringing up mental health with your employer can be tricky. Brendan Street, professional head, emotional wellbeing, at Nuffield Health, provides some tips on how to get the conversation started

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article which appeared on the Nuffield Health website.

While it’s true that one-in-four of us will experience a mental health issue in our lives, everyone has emotional wellbeing needs that change day-to-day, week-to-week and year-to-year. At work, the responsibility to have open conversations about mental health lives with everyone – but disclosing personal struggles can be daunting. However, speaking to your employer can bring a lot of relief to anyone suffering and help them get the support they need. Don’t suffer in silence.

Here’s how conversations about mental health at work can move from a ‘one-in-four’ to a ‘four-in-four’ focus – because we all need emotional support in the workplace.

Understand where you are
Before you talk to anyone, it’s a good idea to really understand where you are with your mental health and how it’s affecting you personally and professionally. Your GP or cognitive behavioural therapist can help identify what’s really going on.

Knowing this information will also enable you to, confidently, explain how you’re feeling to your employer and why you think your condition has been exacerbated.

Plan for progress
Before you speak to someone at work, think about what you want to get out of the conversation. It might be that you find the hustle and bustle of commuting during rush hour has a negative impact on your stress levels, so working from home, or having flexible start and finish times, might really help.

If you feel out of your depth, or unsupported in your role, requesting a mentor or more regular catch-ups with your line manager might be what you need to feel happier and more in control.

Requesting longer periods of absence than the official policy states, in order to recover properly from emotional ill health, might also be something you want to discuss.

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Decide who to speak to
There are no set rules for who to speak to about your mental health at work, it all depends on the relationships you have. If you’re not close to your boss, it might be better to speak to a HR representative first; they’re also likely to have had formal training in, or previous experience of, assisting with sensitive issues.

If you work for an organisation with no HR department it’s best to speak to a senior person you feel knows you best, or who has the authority to take positive action quickly.

Explain your situation
Frame the conversation as an opportunity, explaining that you want to be able to perform to the best of your ability. Have specific examples to hand of things you find difficult at work and how this has impacted your performance or productivity. Make sure to talk about this when not you’re feeling at your most emotionally vulnerable, or at the end of a particularly difficult day.

This way you’ll be able to explain yourself more clearly – and it’s less likely stress will take over – making it harder to get your point across.

Visit Nuffield Health Emotional Wellbeing to find out more.

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