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How to talk to your boss about mental health

The conversation around mental health has never been more open, with an increasing number of employers being vocal and active in their support of nurturing the wellbeing of workers. Thankfully many companies will now have structures in place to make it as smooth and confidential a process as possible. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to sit down with your boss and open up about your own struggles. You also shouldn’t feel under pressure to discuss private matters with your employer. If, however, you choose to open up, there are preparatory steps you can take to build confidence ahead of time.

You’re not alone – how to reach out

The first thing to remember is how common these kinds of situations truly are. The HSE has reported that some 12.5 million working days are lost due to anxiety, depression and stress every year in Ireland, so you are not alone.

Not only that, by planning to proactively tackle the problem you are taking a constructive, productive step of which you should be proud.

Fully understanding both your own situation and what you want to get out of the meeting before having it will be helpful, giving you confidence and your employer an accurate picture of what action is required.

A chat with your GP or appointment with a trained counsellor can help you sort out your thoughts and assess your issues with some perspective. 

Most companies will also have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, which is another route for seeking confidential support.

It can be beneficial to go into the meeting with a note from your GP or other professional outlining the problems you are having. Although your boss will likely accept your word as fact and not seek medical certification, it adds professional legitimacy, showing the extent to which you’ve already gone to deal with the issue. It can only serve to increase your level of comfort ahead of time.  

Speaking to HR

If you have a human resources department at your place of work, talking to a HR representative might be less daunting as they are not directly above you in the chain of command. They can offer impartiality and will be better equipped in terms of training to deal with such conversations. If the company is smaller and no such avenue is available, find an authority figure with whom you already have a strong relationship.

It is not necessary to discuss your full medical history. Instead, outline the ways in which your current situation is impacting your work. And, indeed, if work is harming your mental health. Go into the conversation with a positive outlook, presenting it as a chance to improve conditions for everybody.

Writing out a list of reasonable adjustments that could help your wellbeing can bring clarity and structure to the dialogue. It can also be illustrative to have examples of specific instances when you felt stressed, anxious or as if you were not operating at your best.

All the while, remember that your employer is obliged to take your wellbeing in the workplace seriously and that legislation is on your side. It should be possible to arrange some time off to help you cope with emotional strain, while people with long-term mental health issues are protected under the Employment Equality Acts.

Find this piece helpful? Read more on mental health here