Coping with Mental Health Problems at Work
Women suffer more mental health problems at work
What affects 20% of workers at any one time, costs businesses $40bn a year in America alone, and is behind 5 out of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide? It’s not cancer, obesity, or heart disease, but mental health problems. One study estimated that 40% of days off are due to stress or depression. And because women are more likely to work in demanding industries like healthcare or teaching, they are more likely than men to suffer mental health problems at work. Read: For women, job authority adds to depression symptoms
Should you inform your employer about mental health problems at work?
[Tweet "When dealing with mental health problems at work, the first big question is whether to tell your employer."] In theory, most companies are legally required to make reasonable accommodation for an employee with mental health issues. In practice, discrimination is rife, and even the mental health charity Mind says you shouldn’t disclose if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.
[Tweet "A lot of people decide not to talk about their mental health problems at work"]. Read: Assertive Communication for a Healthy Workplace While it’s always a personal decision, keeping your problems a secret can cause more trouble in the long run. Apart from the stress of keeping secrets, mental illness often leads to a decline in performance, and if your manager doesn’t know you’re unwell they may assume that you’re being careless.
Have a Constructive Conversation
If you tell your manager, decide in advance what you want to get from the conversation. Do you want to change your working hours? Are there duties you can no longer perform? It’s the same as any other issue in the workplace: your boss wants to hear solutions, not problems. (See examples of common health adjustments here)
A good framework for the conversation is to name your condition, describe the ways in which it affects your performance, underline all the areas which you can still do well, and finally to suggest accommodations which would help. Try to think of some back-up suggestions in case your first idea turns out to be unworkable.
If your boss is totally unreceptive, you may need to gently remind them of their legal obligations.
Try saying something like “Under [applicable law in your country], employers have to make reasonable accommodation for employees with medical conditions. I hear that [suggestion] isn’t possible, so let’s discuss other accommodations which would work for both of us.” Take notes of all discussions, and keep copies of any emails you send. Collect an evidence trail, just in case, while hoping you never need to use it.
The stigma against mental health problems will never disappear while people hide and lie about their problems. If you have good reason to expect that your employer will be unreasonable, then by all means keep it a secret; but each person who opens up about their problems contributes a little bit to lessening the culture of shame.
Do you need help with workplace communication or career advice? Don’t wait. Contact us now.
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