Talking To Your Boss About Your Mental Health

Don’t fret, we’re all a little human.

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By Bre D’Alessio South

The workplace can certainly feels like a space void of emotion. It’s the image of professionalism that sometimes holds us back from addressing our needs mentally and emotionally.

Think about it, when we verbally accept our new position and sign away our social security number and paycheck deposit options, there’s no box to check that inquires whether or not you are experiencing or coping with mental health issues. Additionally, most insurance companies barely cover mental health services in their policies. With these standards in place, it almost becomes natural for us to overlook and deflect our emotional well-being once we enter the office-- the “Leave it at at the door” mentality.

Until we can shift the workplace culture to being more emotionally inclined and better advocate for employees mental health, we’ll always feel like a nervous wreck upon navigating the conversation with your boss about your mental hygiene.

But truthfully, the conversation can become a little less daunting once you realize that you actually don’t have to disclose what exactly you’re suffering from or coping with (thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act.) It’s important to lead the conversation with confidence and comfort because who else can better advocating for your own well-being? Think of the talk as one that will benefit both your emotional needs and the productivity of the company.

We’ve curated a four-step guide to help you prepare and breathe easy for the talk.

1. First, write out your needs

As someone who has generalized anxiety and depression, it’s important to have a flexible schedule and the opportunity to work remotely on occasion. There are days, where it can feel impossible to get out of bed.  And if you’re also struggling with insomnia you can forget about it.

Ask yourself, what do your worst days look and feel like? What is an ideal work setting you need in order to get through that day or even the week?  Writing the answers to these questions can help give you insights on what your needs are from your employer. And if you’re still unsure about your needs, it can help to write out what points you want to make clear during the talk.

It’s OK if you don’t know, but strongly feel that changes need to be made.

2. Ask your boss this—

What does mental health mean to you?

In a perfect world, everyone is totally in tune with mental health awareness and access to care. But we know this not to be true for most cases.

A great way to start the conversation is to ask your boss, what mental health means to them?  You might find that they are well-versed in the conversation of mental health already. And if not, this can be a great learning opportunity for the both of you. Throughout the discussion, you might not be able to gauge his or her level of comfortability. If there are any signs that your voice isn’t being valued or clearly heard, try resorting to your Human Resources (HR) manager. You can express to your boss that you wanted them to be aware of your potential accommodations and will have a further discussion with HR on next steps.

3. Know your rights

Legally, the Americans With Disabilities Act has a provision that serves employees with the Right to job accommodations so that they don’t cause “undue hardship” to an employer (ie: doesn’t totally derail the business). Also, note that you do not need to disclose any mental health information during your interview process. Legally, the Americans With Disabilities Act  provides protection for employees with mental health issues (the ADA is required and covered for businesses with 15 employees or more.)

4. Pick the right place and time

Make sure you find a safe place to talk whether it’s behind closed doors or in a meeting space within the office. If you work in an open floor environment, maybe book a private meeting room or meet away from your desks. Or perhaps, maybe meeting over lunch or coffee can help lighten the mood for the conversation. Find a space that feels inviting and easeful for you.

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There’s no guarantee of how you employer will respond to a conversation on mental health. Although, I’d  like to think we (us movers and shakers of the mental health conversation) are re-wiring archaic practices from the past and can adapt ourselves in any role we fill. You got this.