How to talk to your manager about your mental health

Many people are finding work difficult at the moment.

The pandemic and the huge challenges and changes that came with it have impacted our priorities and, for many, changed what we want from our working lives and careers.

Many people are still adjusting to the world opening up again, and as a result of the abrupt return to the office, or the stresses of working from home, many are heading towards burnout, or feel like they have no choice other than to resign.

To avoid either of these scenarios, and to become happier at work, it’s more important than ever to open up channels of support for your mental health. But knowing how to broach that conversation with your boss can be difficult.

There is still a stigma that means talking about our mental wellbeing feels awkward, or even inappropriate for the workplace. But our employers have a responsibility for our mental and physical health, and talking about it is the first step.

Business support platform Rovva and mental health startup MYNDUP has teamed up to share their top tips for bringing up your mental health with your manager, and normalising that conversation.

Dorottya Szuk, psychotherapist, coach and occupational psychologist at MYNDUP explains: ‘Presenteeism often refers to employee’s being at work when they are sick, injured or mentally unwell.

‘Although the term itself may not be familiar to many of us (as it is still not talked about as much), we all know what it refers to. It is in those times when you are too afraid to call in sick or when you ignore what your mind and body are telling you, and you show up at work despite knowing it is not where you should be.

‘Poor mental health is a major contributor to presenteeism, especially if it is dysfunctional or happening on a regular basis then it can exacerbate physical impairment and lead to even poorer mental health.’

In order to avoid this, speaking to your manager when your mental health is struggling can mean that work can support you. They can sometimes offer access to counselling, health services, paid time off, or even put things in place to support you in your job.

While it’s understandable to think that admitting that you’re struggling is showing a sign of weakness, actually, it is a sign of strength and speaking up means others can support and be there for you.

If speaking to your manager feels overwhelming or scary, then read this guide on how to open up about your mental health in the workplace:

Make time to talk

Speaking up can feel like one of the hardest things to do and timing it right can be tricky.

Should you have a chat first thing in the morning, or would it be right to bring it up in a 1-to-1 session?

If in doubt, book some time to speak to your manager so you’re not catching them when they’re busy. Equally, this will give you time to work out what to say before you sit down together.

Another way to stop the conversation from feeling daunting is to do it away from the workplace. Whether this means going for a coffee, heading out for a walk together or even just finding time to have a proper catch up on the phone or via Zoom.

Dorottya says: ‘There are however benefits to bringing our whole selves to work. Showing our vulnerable sides means we show up to be more integrated and connected, leading to better relationships, work performance and work satisfaction in most cases.’

You don’t have to spill all the details

When you’re opening up, it can feel like you have to tell every little detail and aspect of your mental health, but that’s not always the case.

Sometimes just being brief and giving the details that you are comfortable sharing is good enough and it’s important to congratulate yourself on what a huge step this can be.

For example, instead of talking about how you can’t get out of bed and you feel like you’re not good enough, you can just say that you are experiencing a difficult time with your mental health and that you need additional support.

If you feel comfortable, then you can elaborate but equally if you don’t, then that’s OK too.

For guidance, you could state that you are struggling and also mention if you’ve seen your GP or had any advice from them over what you might need. Sometimes for mental health issues including stress, anxiety or depression, they might suggest you take some time off from the workplace to rest.

You are not a burden

It’s easy to think that struggling with your mental health makes you a poor employee. That’s not true.

Speaking up, asking for help, or even admitting that you need to step back, means your manager can support you by giving you the right tools you need to focus on for yourself and your wellbeing.

By resting, looking after yourself and seeking the support you need, then you can return to work when you’re ready and show them how great you are at your job.

‘Practicing self-compassion is a major element here,’ says Dorottya.

‘For some, this may be a hard task, but a worthy one. As the great Psychologist Dr Kristin Neff put it: “The very definition of being huma” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognising that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to me alone.”’

You can speak to other staff too

While your manager is your main point of contact, there are other members of staff that you can reach out to as well.

Speaking with HR is always confidential and can be one of the ways to see what your employer can offer to support you.

You won’t be the first person to have shared your experience of a mental health issue with them, and they are often able to guide you to supportive help including dedicated employee helplines, counselling or even guides online that can help.

According to research from the HSE, 822,000 workers reported suffering from workplace anxiety including work-related stress and depression last year.

How work can support your mental health

The subject of mental health awareness, particularly in the workplace, has never been stronger. Struggling in silence means those around you can’t help.

Businesses that offer mental health support often reap the rewards. A recent study from MYNDUP showed that 61% of people (out of 3,500) made more than one booking to seek mental health support in the last year, while 31% went on to make at least five bookings.

Taking that first step can be difficult but once you have confided that you need support, you’ll find colleagues and your manager are there to help.

Speaking up is hard but sitting in silence is harder.

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