With initiatives like Mental Health First Aid, more and more workplaces are becoming mental health aware. But unfortunately, not everyone will feel comfortable or confident in speaking to their boss yet. If this is you, read on, as we detail how to tackle talking about mental illness in your workplace

At Happiful, we like to think the stigma around mental health is changing. While the tide may be turning in the right direction, individual circumstances might feel different. For some, talking about your mental illness to those close to you may seem hard, or even detrimental.

This is certainly true for many people concerned with mental illness in the workplace. In 2016, the UK had a reported 15 million sick days related to mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Sadly, mental health charity Mind found that 93% of workers who have taken stress-related leave have lied to their boss about the real reason behind their absence.

67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer

Although conversations around mental health are becoming more commonplace in the media and in the home, work environments still feel like a dangerous place to open up. In fact, 67% of employees feel scared, embarrassed or unable to talk about mental health concerns with their employer.

The good news is that employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your illness, but they can only do that if they know about your condition in the first place. If you feel uneasy about opening up to your boss regarding mental health, read on:

1. Talk to your GP first

If you haven’t already, make an appointment to discuss your mental health concerns with a doctor. Based on your history, they should be able to help you decide if talking to your employer will negatively affect your state of mind.

They should also be able to give you some clarity about what to request from your employer, such as reduced working hours, time off, or counselling. Even if you aren’t quite ready to discuss your issues at work, you can get extra medical support such as helpful websites, support groups, and medication, if required.

2. Set your own boundaries

Make a point of setting boundaries to minimise work-related stress, even if you don’t feel brave enough to vocalise them to your boss. Take your lunch break every day, and schedule regular breaks outside if possible. Don’t check your emails in the evening, and consider uninstalling your mail app from your phone altogether. Unless you’re contractually obliged to respond to emails out of hours, there’s no reason for you to get notifications then. If there’s an emergency, people can always call.

3. Confide in a colleague or HR instead

If you don’t feel able to talk to your boss, then you need to find the next best thing. Fellow colleagues will understand the complexities and internal politics of your particular workplace, so have a catch up with a trusted friend outside of the office. If you’d rather keep it private, then contact your HR department to organise a confidential meeting to go over your issues.

They can also advise if there are any occupational health or counselling services in place to assist you.

4. Think about what you need

Depending on how much experience your employers have with mental illness, they may not have a clue that you need to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Before you set up a meeting, make a list of changes which would have a positive impact on your mind. Would the opportunity to work from home help?

Are there any stressful projects or big responsibilities which can be delegated to someone else on the team? Can you schedule in some unpaid leave or holiday to allow yourself a break?

5. Set up regular meetings/check-ins

Once you’ve found someone at work to confide in, set up future meetings so that you can continue to draw on their support. Having someone to talk to is an invaluable tool, especially if you still feel like your boss is unapproachable. These types of meetings are always best when conducted in a relaxed environment, away from prying eyes. This could be a private meeting room, or even a local coffee shop.

6. Suggest wellbeing activities

Take the opportunity to draw your team’s attention to mental health in the workplace by suggesting some activities that promote wellbeing. For example, you could encourage walking meetings outside instead of being cooped up in an air-conditioned room. You could also ask them to organise mindfulness classes, or yoga taster sessions.