Male employee talking to his manager about a mental health concern.

Think You Can't Talk to Your Boss About Mental Health? 5 Tips to Help You Do It

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Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act. So it makes sense that a mental health challenge can affect all aspects of our lives — including how we function and perform at work.

If you’re dealing with a mental health concern and finding it challenging to manage work responsibilities, know that you’re not alone. This isn’t something you have to keep to yourself or try to fix on your own. Raising a mental health concern with your boss can be helpful. They can offer you support and resources to help you manage your work responsibilities while also managing your mental health.

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable or nervous about talking to your boss about your mental health. To make the conversation easier, consider these tips.

1. Think about (and write down) what you want to disclose

Mental health is personal, so it’s okay to not want to share too much with your boss. Before having a conversation with them, think about what you’re comfortable disclosing. You’re not required to share your medical information or record with anyone, so you don’t have to share your symptoms or diagnosis if you don’t want to. The conversation should really focus on how your mental health concern is affecting your work. Think about what has been challenging to get done and why. It may be helpful to write down what you want to say so you remember to talk about each point. Be as detailed as possible so your boss can get a clear picture of how your mental health concern is affecting your day-to-day work.


2. Consider what you want from the conversation

To get the most out of your conversation with your boss, it’s important to think about what you need from them and/or your employer in order to better manage your mental health and your responsibilities at work.

For example, if you feel you could benefit from seeing a mental health professional, you may ask your boss if your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or other mental health resources that could help connect you to mental health care. If you’re having trouble concentrating or feeling overwhelmed with your tasks, you may ask your boss for help from coworkers to lighten your workload. Or, if you feel like you need time away from work to focus on your mental health, you could ask about short-term leave policies or establishing a more flexible work schedule. 

These are just a few examples of the type of support your manager and employer may be able to offer you. What you need from your workplace is unique to your situation, so it may be helpful to ask your boss about all of the mental health support and resources your employer offers to ensure you know all of your options.   

3. Be prepared for questions

Throughout your conversation, your manager may ask you questions to get a better understanding of what you’re going through, and what you may need from them. For example, they may ask you for specific instances of how your mental health concern affected a certain project or daily task. Remember, you don’t have to share details or answer any questions you’re not comfortable with. It’s OK to just focus the discussion on how your work is being affected, without getting into details about your mental health concern, challenge, or diagnosis.

Your boss will likely ask you how they can help, especially if they haven’t had a conversation like this before or dealt with a mental health concern themselves. That’s why it’s important to think about what you need from both your employer and your manager before the conversation, so it’s easier to figure out next steps.

4. Find a private space to talk

Whether you work in an office, remotely, or a mix of both, it’s important to find time to talk to your manager about a mental health concern in a private setting. This could be in a huddle room, in your manager’s office, or in a quiet, private space in your home. If you have scheduled 1:1 meetings with your manager, you could talk about it then, or you could set up a separate meeting. It’s up to you as to when and where you hold the discussion. What’s most important is that you feel comfortable in the setting and that it won’t be at risk of interruptions from others.

5. Schedule follow-ups/check-ins as needed

During or after your conversation, your boss may suggest setting up regular check-ins with you to see how you’re doing and to see if the support you’ve been provided is helping. If they don’t suggest a follow-up, it may be a good idea to bring it up during your initial conversation. Or, if it’s more comfortable, you can reach out to them after your discussion to set up additional check-ins. This way, you can provide feedback on the resources and/or support you’ve been provided so far and get additional support if needed. Regular check-ins also ensure you have ongoing support from your boss and employer, long after your initial conversation.

Speaking up can help you and your employer

Mental health awareness has come a long way, but you may still feel concerned about stigma when planning to have a discussion about your mental health with your boss. It’s OK to feel this way. It’s also OK to speak up.

You deserve to get the support you need to do your job. Think of it this way: If you were on crutches for a sprained ankle and needed support or accommodations, you probably wouldn’t think twice about asking for them. Asking for support for a mental health concern is just as valid. Moreover, talking to your boss about a mental health concern can benefit your employer, too. The more employers understand the mental health needs of their employees, the more they can ensure they have the right resources and support in place to help employees succeed.

Talking to your boss is a brave first step toward getting the help you need to feel your best at work and in your day-to-day life. If you need support, talking to a mental health professional can help. SonderMind can connect you to a therapist or mental health professional who can help you take this first step.  

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January 23, 2023
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Sources:

Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. (n.d.). How might my psychiatric or mental health condition affect my work performance? https://cpr.bu.edu/resources-and-information/reasonable-accommodations/how-might-my-psychiatric-or-mental-health-condition-affect-my-work-performance/

Dodgson, L. (2018, September 27). 10 steps to talk to your boss if you're suffering from depression or anxiety. Insider. https://www.insider.com/how-to-talk-to-your-boss-about-your-mental-health-2018-9#9-give-them-feedback-9

Riegel, D. (2021, September 7). Should you talk to your boss about your mental health? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/09/should-you-talk-to-your-boss-about-your-mental-health

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