- Posted by Jon Harju
- On May 8, 2019
We may find it easy to call into work when sick with the flu, but when it comes to explaining a sick day for a mental illness, this can be another matter.
The overdue conversation about mental health has finally begun in the workplace but it begs the question: if you were worried about your mental health and felt it was impacting your performance at work, would you feel comfortable sharing this with your manager?
You are more likely to experience mental illness than you are to develop heart disease, diabetes, or any kind of cancer. For anyone facing mental illness, stigma is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. In fact, it is the principal reason why two-thirds of people living with a mental illness do not seek help.
Having an open discussion about your mental health inevitably leads to vulnerability and can feel daunting. You may be worried about what to say or dread the socially awkward nature of this conversation. Perhaps you fear being treated differently — or even worse — fear being overlooked for future work projects or promotions.
Mary Killeen, a senior research associate at Syracuse University’s Burton Blatt Institute said in a Washington Post article: “People wish they could be open with their supervisor and colleagues about occasionally needing time off, not because they are physically ill, but because they are dealing with a personal issue or an emotional state that makes it impossible, temporarily, to do their work.”
Do I need to share with my boss?
Telling your manager or human resources team about a diagnosis of any health problem is called disclosure. In Canada, there is no legal requirement to tell your employer what is causing a disability.
Your employer may need information from your healthcare provider about your abilities and difficulties, but they do not need your diagnosis.
Making your employer aware of your condition ensures you can begin accessing the support you need and deserve. Your manager is unable to help if they don’t know the challenges you’re facing.
8 tips to help you plan your mental health conversation with your boss:
1. Gather your information. It can be useful to provide your employer with relevant fact sheets or other information regarding your mental health condition. Often people feel uncomfortable talking about mental illness because they know little about it.
2. Respect your own privacy. It’s perfectly okay to be selective about what, and who, you share with. Your mental health journey is exactly that — yours! Sharing information to aid understanding is great but don’t feel obliged to offload everything about your illness. Be comfortable and be in control of what you share.
3. Timing is key. Think about where and when you want the meeting to take place. You may feel more focused in the morning or your manager may usually be free in the afternoon. Do you want to have a formal meeting or just chat over coffee? Consider how much time you think you may need.
4. Do you need a support person with you? Regardless of whether they come with you to the meeting, it’s a good idea to have someone you feel safe with to debrief with afterwards.
5. Discuss the planned conversation with family, friends or a close colleague to get their perspective and advice. Practice and preparation can ease any potential nerves you may have. Plan what you will do if the conversation becomes negative, or you unexpectedly get upset?
6. Prepare prompts or discussion points to keep the conversation on track and ensure you cover everything you need to. It’s perfectly okay to go in with your own agenda for this meeting. This meeting is to empower you and help you move forward while managing a mental illness.
7. Think and plan the support you need. It may be helpful for your employer to get a clear picture of the obstacles you face at work along with possible accommodations that can be made to best support you during challenging times. This will clarify the help you need and takes the pressure off your boss to estimate how the company can help.
8. Be open and share without shame. You may be surprised by how many of your co-workers have also experienced a mental health condition at some point in their life or have supported a loved one with a similar experience. Starting an open mental health conversation in the workplace can be a rich learning opportunity for everyone on this, still, taboo subject.
Remember, there is no right or wrong time to tell someone at work about your mental health condition. If it feels daunting, take your time, think about it, speak with someone close to you or a health professional, and decide when YOU want to have the conversation.
It’s important to know your rights. You are not obligated to disclose your mental health to your employer and cannot be terminated for disclosing your mental illness.
For more information on your rights as an employee, read the Canadian Human Rights Act.