Talking about your mental health – to anyone – can be frightening, but talking to your employer? That’s a whole new kettle of fish. How do you tell them you’re struggling? Can they even help? It’s not easy, but with a little information and guidance, the conversation can be a lot less daunting
I may not have a diagnosable mental health issue but, like everyone, I have mental health – and sometimes it’s less than good. Very recently, I woke up feeling what I can only describe as “wrong”. Something was off. It was as though a dark cloud had descended over me. I felt very sad and overwhelmed; I was empty, yet my mind was full.
Almost overnight, the job I loved became something I feared. I wanted to cry.
I’m very lucky to work in the mental health industry. I told my manager how I felt and that I was going to be a little quiet over the next few days. They regularly checked in and explained that if things got too much, I could go home.
However, despite my opening up and this support, I came into work every day. It didn’t seem right to take time off because I felt overwhelmed. Surely it’s just a part of working life?
But the thing is, it shouldn’t be. No one should be forcing themselves to work when they are emotionally, and physically, struggling.
If you want to talk about your mental health, but have no idea how to broach the topic with your employer, here’s some advice to help you take the leap.
What to consider
The first thing is to remember that you’re not alone. According to Mind, at least one in six workers are experiencing common mental health problems, so chances are, someone else in your office is going through a similar thing. Is there someone you can talk to?
It can be helpful to think about what you want from speaking up – immediate support or long-term guidance? Perhaps you need some time off to rest, to scale back your responsibilities, or work remotely. Maybe you need to cut back on hours. If there’s something you think will help, write it down. Think of this note as a mini cheerleader, reminding and supporting you during what can be a frightening conversation.
If you’re not sure what might help, that’s OK. Instead, when talking options with your employer, suggest small changes. You can then make note of how they’ve helped you.
Trust your gut
Speaking about our mental health is scary, regardless of who you’re speaking to. But as daunting as it is, if you know deep down that you want to talk about it, trust that feeling. You’re the only one who knows how you feel, and if you need help it’s important you get it.
Do your research
It can help to know whether your company has a policy in place for mental health concerns. This information should be in your company handbook, or you may need to speak to HR. Having an idea of what support is available can be helpful, if and when you decide to speak up.
And remember, you have rights. Thanks to the Equality Act, you are protected from discrimination in the workplace. They shouldn’t be, but if your employer is dismissive or unhelpful, they are required by law to make “reasonable adjustments” to support you.
Take the plunge
When you’re ready, request a one-to-one with your manager. This may be easier said than done, but you don’t need to go into detail right away. Send them an email or message, or find them in the coffee room and ask if they’re available for a chat. Book some private time, away from your colleagues, where you can discuss your mental health and your options.
Prioritise your health
Remember, as hard as it may be, things will get better. Talking about your mental health is your choice, but being open and honest can help you get the support you need. Work may be an important part of life, but it’s not the most important. Your health and happiness should always take priority.
It's OK to need help. Find a counsellor using counselling-directory.org.uk