How To Talk To Your Boss About Mental Health
It can be tricky to approach the topic of your own mental health with your boss. Whether it’s disclosing an accommodation you need during an interview, asking for time off or being candid about challenges you’re facing in your daily routine, it can provide context to the person managing you but it can also feel risky. It’s not easy. But it’s also an incredibly common question we get at Canada Career Counselling. In fact, 1 in 3 disability claims in Canada is related to mental illness and in a recent survey, only 27% of working Canadians feel psychologically safe at work.
1. Start with your doctor or therapist
Remember that a mental health issue is the same as a physical health issue. If you broke your arm, your daily functioning would be hindered – just like if you have anxiety or situational depression. Depending on your work culture, mental health issues may still be stigmatised, but your doctor is supposed to be trained in assessing your mental health. If you say, get a diagnosis (ie. adjustment disorder, depression etc.), you have the choice to disclose this (or not), or even go on a stress leave if that is what is best for you. No one will force you to do anything with the assessment or diagnosis (unless you are serious harm to yourself or someone else).
2. Write down how you feel
There’s much research about how writing helps alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Journalling or doing Morning Pages can be a routine or just a one-off experience. Are you feeling unfulfilled? Directionless or sad? Set a timer for 15 minutes and write it out without censoring yourself.
3. Prepare to talk to your manager
If you’re unhappy or need support like an accommodation or a change of your work tasks where you find more meaning in your work, talking to your boss is a proactive way to make changes in your career. Depending on your manager and their own level of training and skill set, this may be handled in a variety of ways. But a good manager will recognize that mental health is a normal and accepted part of work life! If your manager responds poorly, they probably need more support through training on how to manage people.
If you need to go on stress leave and you’ve already had a written note from your doctor to not return to work, you may not even have to talk to your manager. Your health is considered confidential. Many HR departments in organisations won’t require your manager to rubber stamp this type of leave. If you choose, you may say something like “My doctor has recommended I take a leave or that I need a sick day off/ hybrid work set up” without disclosing details.
4. Be prepared to continue the conversation
If you decide to stay at work, just know this might be an ongoing process, whereby you may request to have a regular weekly or monthly check-in with your manager to gauge what kind of workload you’re able to manage and how you’re doing.
Mental health has a serious impact on business so it’s your manager and their boss who create an environment that supports mental health, not exacerbate it. Times have changed and people expect leaders to support their well-being through things like flexible work schedules, time off, or a hybrid work model.
5. Approach HR
This could mean checking the HR website of your organization and inquiring about benefits for short-term leave or sick days. This can also be a phone call to ask about what your options are. Remember that it’s illegal for an employer to fire you because of a mental health issue. You may just ask “if someone is struggling with a lot of stress and anxiety and would like to request some changes to their schedule or get time off, what would that look like for an FT/PT staff?”
6. Disconnect and return stronger
Don’t worry about what others think of your mental health! Don’t judge yourself either. Enjoy and rest the first bit of your leave or day off. Everyone has mental health and everyone struggles from time to time. It’s cliche to say it, but you’re stronger for taking care of yourself – it shows intelligence, self-respect and knowing your own limits. No one is invincible. If any employee pretends to be unaffected by the stressors of life, they’re usually found working in a toxic work environment. Who knows, maybe you’ve inspired a few people and raised awareness in your team about how important it is to identify and talk about mental health.
- Ipsos Reid. (2017). Workplaces that are implementing the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace are described by employees as psychologically-safer environments. https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/2017-05/7312-pr.pdf
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). (2020b, January 6). Workplace mental health – A review and recommendations. https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/workplace-mentalhealth/workplacementalhealth-a-review-and-recommendations-pdf
By Laura Cohen, a Career Counsellor at Canada Career Counselling Halifax location. Laura has completed an MA in Counselling Psychology from McGill University. She is experienced working with clients in numerous industries including finance, the military, business and education, the non-profit and arts sector, IT and healthcare. Email our office at [email protected] to schedule a 15-minute complimentary consultation. You may be able to use your insurance plan or extended health benefits to cover counselling and assessment fees.