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How to talk to your boss about mental health, let’s sit down and chat

September 20, 2022 - 14 min read

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Addressing the elephant in the room: What is mental health?

Why is it important to talk about mental health?

Go ahead, speak your mind

To talk about it or not talk about it

Prioritizing your mental health for the future

In the average workplace, only 47% of employees know what mental health services are available to them — and only 38% feel comfortable accessing them. Only having one mental health day a year just doesn't cut it. 

Discussing mental health in the workplace isn't always easy. You might worry that your colleagues and managers might think differently of you or that it'll impact your career growth. But learning how to talk to your boss about mental health creates change. Speaking comfortably about your own mental health will help you at work, and the positive effects of that will spill into your personal life.

We're going to talk about what mental health is and why it's important to talk about it at work. We'll give you tips on talking about it with your managers, including some, do's and don'ts.

 

Addressing the elephant in the room: What is mental health?

Mental health is a big term, so let's break it down. The CDC describes mental health as emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts our thoughts, ideas, actions, and feelings. Our mental health also influences how we cope with stress and interact with others in our relationships. 

Mental health changes with time and experiences. Maybe while in college, we're struggling with our mental health because we're constantly stressed. But after graduating, we find a job, and our lifestyle changes. This can lead to mental health changes, too. 

Here are some examples of mental health issues that we might experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Mental health awareness is also about recognizing the importance of self-care. The healing process starts from within. If we want to heal and care for our mental health, we must start by practicing self-care. When we practice self-care, we're prioritizing our wellness. We're intentional with our actions and create a routine that values our peace. 

Self-care comes in all shapes and forms and might look different from person to person. But what's important is finding practices that help our mental health. Here are some examples of different types of self-care:

  • Engaging in physical activity
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Establishing a good work-life balance
  • Unplugging from social media
  • Cutting out toxic people

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Why is it important to talk about mental health?

When we're struggling with mental health at work, discussing it is one of the first steps we should take for improvement. Talking about our struggles is important because it helps to create an open and honest work environment. People feel more comfortable talking about their struggles when they know their work environment is supportive, too. 

Mental health struggles impact employees’ productivity and work performance, as well as how often they can come to work. Perhaps unbeknownst to the manager, many employees experience high-stress levels and potential burnout.

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But not many employees strike up that conversation. One study found that 60% of employees have never spoken to anyone at work about their mental health.

If it's because they're worried they'll be fired, they shouldn't feel that way: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses with more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations for the mental and physical health of employees. 

Talking about these issues on any given workday invites discussions on how to prioritize employee mental health. These conversations require courage and assertiveness from both employer and employee.

Plus, they need the courage to stand up for themselves and use their voices. Employers must be assertive in upholding the needs of their employees, even if it causes their company to change how they operate.

Learning to be assertive doesn't happen overnight. For some people, it's a tough skill to gain. At BetterUp, our coaches will provide the guidance you need to learn how to be an assertive person. You'll develop the skills you need to advocate for your needs and communicate them effectively.

Go ahead, speak your mind

So, you're wondering what to do when mental health affects your work. Of course, one of the first things you can do to help take care of your mental health struggles is to use your voice and speak your mind.

Talking to your boss about your mental health can be a little uncomfortable — especially if you've never had this type of conversation. You can email to your boss about mental health, or talk to them in person or over a video call. 

Here are four ways to have a conversation with your boss about your mental health:

1. Be clear and direct

This isn't the time to sugarcoat things. Explain your mental health challenges exactly as they are. This openness and vulnerability will help your boss clearly understand your feelings. With all the information in front of them, they’ll better decide how to help you. Plus, you won't feel like any details are left out, and it'll feel good to get that off your chest.

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2. Make it an ongoing conversation

Normalize talking about your mental health with your boss and colleagues at work. When it's an ongoing conversation, it doesn't become as stressful or uncomfortable. Figure out when the best time to have these check-ins, and you might inspire others to have the courage to speak about their mental health.

3. Discuss your roles and responsibilities

You don't need to disclose everything in your personal life, but understanding how your mental health at home impacts your roles and responsibilities at work is helpful. It allows your boss to understand you more and what changes they need to make to help you.

Perhaps you're experiencing burnout because of your high-stress levels, long hours, and packed schedule. But maybe you’re also a newly working mom struggling to find a reasonable work-life balance. Consider what your Whole Self needs.

4. Come prepared and know your resources

Before you talk to your boss, you want to understand your available resources. Maybe your company has employee assistance programs (EAP) and a company culture that values prioritizing well-being.

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Come prepared with possible suggestions and strategies to implement so that your mental health is looked after. This could show that your company doesn't provide enough support, and you need to highlight that to human resources.

To talk about it or not talk about it

If you're thinking, "Should I tell my boss about my mental health or not?" the only person who can make that decision is you. It's a conversation that might bring a lot of change to your work life. It'll improve your work-life balance and help you create boundaries that protect your wellness.

Plus, it might open you and your team up to other ways to be more aware of mental health, like listening to podcasts about mental health issues.

If you've decided that you want to talk about your mental health, we've come up with a list of dos and don'ts to help guide your conversation:

Do:

  • Make your conversation clear and concise by writing out what you'd like to say and rehearsing it ahead of time
  • Talk to everyone who needs to know, like your boss and your HR department
  • Come prepared with reasonable accommodations or suggestions for how you'd like to move forward, like a more flexible schedule or the option to work remotely

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Don't:

  • Overshare your experiences and talk about irrelevant things happening in your personal life
  • Complain about your work and make it seem like you aren't committed to your job
  • Assume that your boss will say only say negative things about your situation

Prioritizing your mental health for the future

Learning how to talk to your boss about your mental health is an act of courage and shows that you're putting your wellness as a top priority. It doesn't matter if you have your dream job or not because your wellness should always be of importance to you.

It's a smart move for your future. You're investing in yourself and working to sustain your health. And you're strengthening skills along the way, like being assertive, articulate, and courageous. It'll show you that seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of.

If you find that your boss can't help you the way you need, you'll know it’s time to change jobs or seek help from a mental health professional who'll support you (or both).

One last thing. Have you ever stopped to think that you're becoming a leader at work by talking to your boss about your mental health? You're a positive role model encouraging others to use their voices. We need more people like that, and we’re proud that you're one of them.

Find someone outside of your workplace to motivate and empower you to talk about your mental health with your boss. At BetterUp, our coaches will provide the support you need to advocate for your needs and chart a future full of wellness.

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Published September 20, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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