Mental health is increasingly part of our conversations surrounding everyday aspects of our lives. From day-to-day stress to the mental and emotional pressures on students, we recognise that to be functional and happy, we must keep mindful of our wellbeing. Despite this knowledge, stigma remains a challenge to those of us who experience mental illness.
The workplace can be a particularly difficult environment in this regard. Even though 1 in 5 adults in the US and Australia live with a mental illness, and many employers continue to treat mental illness as less important than more visible or physical ailments. Not to mention that those of us who have experienced stigma know that it can change how people view us; that extra scrutiny that suggests an erroneous questioning of competence. At the same time, we need to discuss our mental health so we are not deprived of positive resources from employers that may well (and should) be very supportive.
It’s a conundrum and not one with solutions that are right for everyone. That said, it’s worth considering some things before (and if) you choose to speak to a colleague or employer about your mental health at work. If you do want to bring it up in the workplace, then there are also some excellent methods you can use to approach the situation while still safeguarding your wellbeing.
Six things to consider before you discuss Mental Health with Your Employer:
- It Can Aid Prevention
Dealing with our mental health issues alone can exacerbate the situation. Making employers aware of the challenges we face allows you to work with them early on to understand where adjustments can be made should the need arise. Informing them which aspects of our jobs trigger stress or anxiety can help you work together to create a mutually beneficial plan.
- We Can Improve the Workplace
Often it is not the case that employers don’t want to consider mental health; in fact, they likely know that maintaining employee wellness benefits their business. It improves productivity and morale, not to mention that it fosters a sense of trust and loyalty. However, employers generally won’t have the nuanced knowledge that we — as people who experience these challenges — have. While it is not your responsibility to educate our employers, assisting them to understand what helps us and why, perhaps introducing them to community educational resources, are positive steps. Providing these insights may also make operations easier for other employees in the long run.
- Openness Bolsters Our Working Relationships
While we can’t be certain that everybody will react positively, being open about your mental health helps to build trust. It shows your employer and colleagues that you are proactive in finding solutions. It also means that everybody is on the same page at times when you’re struggling, and better able to provide support. Plus, you never know who else is wrestling with mental illness alongside you!
- Be Aware There May be Unnecessary Scrutiny
While this may well come from a place of caring on behalf of the employer, It can be uncomfortable. What’s more, you may can feel as though your mental health status makes you appear to be less competent. This is why it’s important to be clear about exactly what assistance is and isn’t needed, and maintain open communication.
- Some People Experience Discrimination Due to Mental Health Concerns, So Be Aware of the Signs
Make no mistake, discrimination based on mental health conditions in the workplace is illegal in many places, and it’s unethical. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen through less obvious means though. If you are concerned that you are, or may be discriminated against due to your mental health concerns, speak to someone outside of the workplace, or a supervisor who you trust and ask for their feedback as you move forward. You have a right to be seen, heard and treated equally like everyone else.
- You May Need to Reframe or Confront Negative Labelling
Those of us who experience mental health challenges know that our condition doesn’t define us. However, once employers and colleagues have been made aware of an illness, it may become the primary characteristic with which we’re associated. In poorly educated businesses, these labels, stereotypes, and stigma can impact us, which is why it’s best to discuss this with a supervisor or an independent, trusted source first. They can help equip you to navigate this should it arise. However, wider mental health education in businesses, schools and organisations does mean this is increasingly less likely to happen.
How to Approach the Matter
So you’ve decided to approach your boss, employer or a colleague about your mental health concerns. You’re amazing, and so brave! As you prepare to chat with them about it, consider these tips:
- Avoiding unnecessary scrutiny while receiving sufficient assistance can be achieved by presenting a well-researched case. A good approach is to arrange a meeting with your employer, during which we not only tell them about the challenges we face, but also the experience you’ve gained about the underlying causes, and how you both can make adjustments to address them. This also shows that you see it as much your responsibility as theirs to find a way to work through the challenges.
- While we all hope it isn’t necessary, it’s also important to keep a thorough record of the conversations you have surrounding the matter. Detail what suggestions or requests we’ve made, and what the responses have been. This helps to ensure that should anything happen or if people behave inappropriately, you can demonstrate that we’ve acted reasonably and appropriately.
- Finally, we must consider how we frame requests for mental health-based improvements. Alongside informing our employers of the challenges we face, if you feel able, you can also demonstrate how company-wide alterations to processes can have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. In industrial environments, talk about how taking more frequent breaks not only reduces stress but increases job satisfaction and productivity. Present the case that providing wellness resources such as counselling can decrease leakage due to absenteeism.
So what’s next?
Talking to your employer about our mental health is a personal decision — nobody else can make it for you. Consider first how it will affect your mental wellbeing, and take time to formulate an approach that works for you personally.
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