While discussions about mental health are becoming more commonplace, people remain hesitant to have these discussions with their boss. This is, in part, due to fears of unfair treatment, loss of credibility, and being passed on opportunities and promotions. There are many misconceptions about mental health, especially in relation to one’s work ethic thus, discussions about mental health can help rectify these misconceptions.
Mental health in the United States is common–it is estimated that there are 43.4 million adults currently living with any mental illness–including anxiety, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Specifically, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that:
- 18% of adults have an anxiety disorder (including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder)
- 9.5% of adults have depression
- 4% of adults have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- 2.6% of adults have bipolar disorder
- 1% of adults have schizophrenia
Additionally, about 18% of adults in the workforce report having a mental health condition in any given month.
Disclosing Mental Health Information in the Office
While disclosing mental health disorders to a boss or superior is a choice, talking with your boss can help facilitate subsequent conversations about proper accommodations, workload, work-leave and flexible deadlines.
Before talking to your boss, some key points to take into consideration are:
- Asking yourself some hard questions about your capabilities.
- Are you certain you can effectively do your job with your mental health disorder?
- Can you continue treatments or medication regimen when working?
- If no, then consider asking for an accommodation to help improve your job performance.
- Do some research.
- How does this disorder impact your work ethic at your job?
- What accommodations do you believe are best suited for you needs?
- What are your (work-related) stresses and what do you believe will help alleviate them?
- Compile information about your mental health disorder and proper documentation.
- What information do you believe is useful to disclose to your boss?
- What is it about your mental health disorder that makes certain job responsibilities difficult?
Next, consider planning out your conversation by preparing your boss about having an important conversation, addressing your concerns specifically, and offering suggestions of what you believe would work best for you. Some key points to remember are:
- Only disclose relevant information about your mental health that will help improve your work productivity and stress levels
- Let your boss know how and when they can support you and think ahead of what resources would be beneficial to you
- Inform your boss by providing them with proper information after you talk with them to help them better understand.
Following, identify specify accommodations such as– flexible work schedules or start times, reduction in noise or other distractions in the work area, working from home or telecommuting, written directions or tasks, regular written or verbal feedback, private space for breaks, or the use of a job coach–that you believe will help you succeed at your job performance.
Some things to keep in mind when requesting an accommodation is:
- To contact your human resources department to inquire into the accommodation request process
- To prepare how to explain which accommodations you believe will help you the best
- To keep all documentation and detailed notes of communication between you and yoru boss
- To negotiate and be flexible when discussing your options
Know Your Rights
While there are fears about discrimination in the workplace after disclosing mental health disorders, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on mental health. Under the ADA, employees have protections which ensure their right to privacy and to a job accommodations–given this doesn’t cause unforeseen hardship for the employer. Additionally, Social Security Disability can help employees who have mental health disorders seek coverage for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Managing Stress in the Workplace
While discussing accommodations and other options with your boss is necessary to improve your job productivity and manage your mental health disorder at work, it is also important to do what you can to manage your stress levels. Here are some tips to alleviate stress in the workplace:
- Educate yourself by recognizing the symptoms of your disorder and how to best handle them while at work
- Stay organized by keeping your desk and personal work area clean and by prioritizing your work to avoid missing deadlines and getting stressed out
- Honor the work-life balance by setting boundaries to ensure your work life doesn’t interfere with your home/social life and avoiding bringing work home with you
- Take advantage of employer resources and benefits including an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if your workplace offers one
Most importantly, treatment–including therapy, medication, and complementary and alternative treatments, is seen as the most helpful to people who have mental health disorders.