The workplace is a key environment to promote positive mental health. More employers are seeing the benefits of placing emphasis on mental health workplace initiatives in addition to the physical health and safety already in place.
Mental health issues in the workplace are any conditions that affect an employee’s state of mind. These conditions may include mild depression, stress and anxiety. Mental health problems manifest in different ways and some employees may suffer no physical side effects while others may experience a severe reaction.
However, it can be difficult for some employees to talk about mental health with their employer. Recent research suggests that almost 40% of Irish people would conceal a mental health problem at work, as they fear it would negatively impact their career or workplace relationships. Many employees feel uncomfortable initiating the conversation and don’t know where to start.
Here are some tips on how to talk about mental health at work:
1.Investigate Mental Health Policies
Firstly, you should look at what information is already available concerning the company’s mental health policies. This will give you an indication of any supports currently in place. A company’s mental health policy should outline any provisions to prevent and address mental health issues among their employees. It should define what they mental health issue to be and outline how they deal with them.
Most likely it will state that they take mental illness seriously and support employees who face these problems. The policy may also outline the manager’s responsibilities in dealing with an employee who asks to speak to them about a mental health issue. Commonly, managers are obliged to listen to their employees and search for a solution to helping them deal with the issue.
This information will help put your mind at ease and layout steps involved on who to speak to. In most cases, the policy will advise you to talk to your line manager in the first instance.
2. Talk to family or a friend first
Before speaking to your line manager you may want to discuss the issue with a family member or friend.
An example of a mental health issue might be if you feel your workload is too much and you think it is the cause of your anxiety or panic attacks. It may be affecting your confidence, your ability to give presentations or speak up at meetings.
Talking to family, a colleague or a friend about this situation can help prepare you for the meeting with your manager. It can help you decide what you are going to say and how.
Think about how your employer can help you deal with the issue and what you will be asking them to provide to support you. Write down notes of the key points you want to discuss and bring this with you to the meeting.
3. Arrange A One-on-One Meeting
The next step is to arrange a confidential one-to-one meeting with your line manager. You should inform them that the nature of the meeting is of a personal nature. Additionally, pick a setting that you feel most comfortable in, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a private room.
During the meeting explain your circumstances in as much detail as possible, if you feel comfortable doing so. Try to focus on how it relates to your work and what they can do to help you manage your health.
Following on from the previous example, you may ask your manager to re-assign some of your work duties temporarily. Or alternatively, ask them to provide you with an assistant to relieve the workload.
Agree on what changes need to be made in order for you to perform your job. Then ask them to put it in writing to confirm. You should also ask them to meet with you to follow up on how the changes have affected their health in a few weeks.
4. Consider Telling Your Colleagues
It can be a good idea to also tell your colleagues about the mental health issue that is affecting you. You may not feel comfortable with them knowing all the details but only share your specific diagnosis, symptoms or more general information. Your colleagues can be a great source of support to you during this time.
However, if you decide not to tell them then prepare yourself for questions regarding the new changes to your work that was agreed with your manager. Alternatively, ask your manager to inform them of the changes and explain that it was a managerial decision.