Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Coping with Mental Health in the Workplace
Talking to your boss about your mental health is one of the more difficult conversations one can have. It can be uncomfortable and intimidating – especially if you are unfamiliar with their opinions and feelings on mental health. How can we be transparent with someone we are working with when we are unsure how it will affect our job or work environment?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple 4-step-process to ensure that this conversation goes over the best that it can, or that your privacy can be protected through this vulnerable process. But, it is important to keep in mind that you are not the only one going through this. Nearly 20% of the workforce in the United States experiences a mental health condition.
The workplace – although probably not the reason behind your mental health challenges – can encourage a culture that makes managing your mental health very difficult. Indeed, the lifestyle it creates can cause unhealthy habits such as overworking, a lack of sleep, and scarcity of time with friends and family. Maintaining these habits can deteriorate your health, which, in turn, can affect your job performance. You may start doubting your abilities, and have a harder time concentrating, learning, and making sound decisions.
This is why it is so important to be open and honest with your boss and co-workers about your mental health. Having this difficult conversation will help you put things in perspective and allow a better prioritization of your mental health over work as your work performance is only as good as the state of your mental health. Just something as simple as: “I’ve been really stressed out lately. Do you think I could take an extra day to get this done?” or “Sorry I’ve been withdrawn. These past couple of days have been hard” can create a safe, trusted and comfortable platform to then start a conversation.
If you feel that your mental health is in a critical state, you may need more than just a conversation to cope. Taking a leave of absence – “mental health days” – is an option that offers privacy as required by work state laws and gives you a chance to focus on yourself. You can calmly inform HR and they should be able to grant you the equivalent of a couple “sick-days.” If, however, you are considering a longer-term disability leave, your doctor will likely need to provide documentation to your employer’s human resources department and insurance provider. In this type of situation, your medical provider will evaluate your mental health status and recommend when you should return to work. A long term disability can afford you up to a 3 months leave of medical absence (depending on the company and benefits plan). This type of employee rights protection falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against an employee with a mental health issue, covering many conditions, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Moreover, The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance on the rights and obligations of employers and employees and can be a good source of information if this process is something you need to know more about.
Whether it be a vulnerable conversation, taking a few “mental health days,” or needing long term disability leave, we encourage you to consider all options and choose whichever you see fit in order to properly address your mental health needs. This is a very difficult process to go through, and we hope that you can establish a balanced lifestyle without having to compromise your mental health.