Approaching Your Employer About Your Mental Health

In the last twelve months, one in five Australians have taken time off work to manage their mental wellbeing. Sadly, those who opt to take a mental health sick day often do so under a different guise, fearing that by revealing their true struggle they could potentially jeopardise their employment.

While you are not legally required to inform your employer of any psychological condition which does not put you or your colleagues at risk, being truthful about your mental illness could help clear up any misunderstandings which may have arisen because of it.

Rather than leaving your boss wondering, informing them of your mental health condition can help bring clarity to the situation and could well shape the road to your recovery.

So, how do you broach the subject of mental illness at work?

Prepare:

When it comes to mental health conversations, preparation is key. Decide how much you’re willing to disclose prior to meeting with your employer. For some people, this may be a full account of their mental health history. For others, it may simply be a diagnosis. Be aware that the planning process does not have to occur in isolation. If you have a partner, friend or healthcare professional you trust, consider talking through your intentions with them for added insight, clarity and support.

Sensitive conversations need privacy so avoid approaching your boss in the hallway between back to back meetings, so arrange to speak with them at a comfortable time.

Explain:

Whether it’s missing targets, dodging commitments or finding it difficult to concentrate, it is important to communicate how exactly your current issues are affecting your ability to perform at work. Providing your employer with specific examples of how your mental illness presents itself can heighten their awareness and enable them to limit your exposure to damaging workplace stressors.

Ask:

Do you need access to a mental health professional, more flexible working conditions, time off or a reduced workload? Whatever it is, be sure to ask for it. Remember the point of informing your manager of your distressed mental state is to gain access to the resources which will aid your recovery and ensure your return to optimal performance. Under Australian law, your employer must make “reasonable adjustments” to aid you in carrying out the essential elements of your role. Help them do this by suggesting ways in which they can support you.

Clarify:

Assure your employer that you are dedicated to returning to your job once your health status improves. This helps highlight your commitment to the company.

Remember:

Informing your employer of a mental health condition is a mutually beneficial move – you get the help you require, while they pave the way for your return to full productivity. Rather than skipping work and making excuses, communicating your issues gives them something solid to work with and deepens their level of understanding. You’re not simply a troublesome employee.

You’re a member of staff who is being temporarily limited by a health concern. Once the issue has been highlighted, they can move forward with finding an appropriate solution.