Imagine you’re starting a new job. You’re loving it so far, and you’re starting to build a great relationship with your boss and your colleagues.
But you’re carrying around a secret: you’re diagnosed with a mental health condition (like depression, anxiety, or OCD). This has nothing to do with how well you do at work, but you know that someday, when and if your symptoms flare up, you may need to ask for extra support.
If you’ve been through this before, you’re far from alone. Over 50 million Americans are diagnosed with a mental health condition, but according to one poll, only around 20% of employees had talked about mental health with their supervisors.
If you have a good relationship with your boss, talking to them about your mental health can help create a positive, trusting, and successful working environment. Here’s everything you need to know.
Should I tell my boss that I live with a mental health condition?
First of all, whether you tell your boss about any mental health condition that you live with is your decision, and your decision alone. You should know that you don’t have to tell your boss anything about your health if you aren’t ready to, whatever your reasons may be.
But you also don’t need to hide your mental health condition from your boss, either.
We’ve come a long way in raising mental health awareness, but there’s still a large stigma around these issues — especially in the workplace. People still say they’re afraid to disclose their mental health struggles at work because they’re afraid they’ll be judged or treated differently for it.
It’s completely understandable if you feel afraid to tell your boss about your mental health condition. But try to make the decision that’s best for you and your circumstances, instead of a decision that’s ruled by fear and stigma.
Some of the reasons people choose to tell their boss they have a mental health condition include:
- They need accommodations at work because of their mental health condition
- They want protections through an applicable disability protection law, such as the American Disabilities Act (ADA)
- To reduce the stress and pressure of having to keep a “secret”
- To break workplace stigma against mental health issues
- They want support of their boss and co-workers
Think about your own personal “why,” or how you hope things at work will improve by telling your boss about your mental health. If you take inventory and decide that you don’t see any benefits to telling them, then you aren’t required to.
But many people have opened up to their boss about their mental health issues and found that the accommodations provided have made them happier and more productive at work.
Things to keep in mind when talking to your boss about a mental health condition
If you decide that you want to talk to your boss about your mental health, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It isn’t all-or-nothing
You don’t need to tell your boss everything about your mental health condition if you don’t want to. For example, if you have ADHD, you could simply say that you have a chronic health condition that affects your ability to concentrate. Your boss is not entitled to any of your health information.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with telling your boss your full diagnosis and symptoms, either. It all depends on your situation, your relationship with your boss, and what’s going to work best for you and your needs.
Choose your timing
Choose the right time to talk to your boss. You may want to consider scheduling a meeting with them ahead of time. You’ll want to choose a time when your office is calm, and neither your boss nor you are inundated with stress and tasks.
For example, you may not want to talk to your boss when your office has a big audit coming up that day, or on Friday evening as they’re heading out of the office.
On a related note, think about telling your boss about any mental health issues soon after starting a new job. This will make it easier for you to get accommodations and protection when you need it.
Consult with others
If you’re not sure how your boss will react, then you might want to talk to other people at your workplace about how to move forward. If you have colleagues you feel close to, they might be able to provide input or support. If you trust your Human Resources department, then they might also be a good resource to help you prepare for a conversation with your boss.
Another great resource is your Employee Assistance Program or mental health practitioners that you have access to through your benefits package.
Ask for what you need
Often, people tell their boss about health conditions (whether they’re mental or physical) because they need some workplace accommodations to be in good health and do their jobs as well as possible. For example, you might need some time off to attend to your mental health, or you might need an extension on a deadline.
Whatever it is, ask for it directly. Make sure you explain clearly how your mental health condition affects you, and what you need from your boss to be able to manage it.
It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what it is that you need; you can say something like, “I’ve really been struggling with a lot of stress and anxiety, and I wanted to talk to you about it so we can figure out together how I can make sure I’m on track here.”
If you need support or have any questions about your EAP services please contact MINES at 1-800-873-7138 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To your wellbeing!
The MINES Team