Conversations about mental health at work
If you are struggling with your mental health at work or at home, it is good to talk about this with your employer, ideally your line manager. It might feel hard but if you make your line manager aware you are having difficulties, they will be able to help. They can also put measures in place to support you now and in the future.
One in four people suffer with a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Everyone is faced with ups and downs, so if you are having difficulties, you are not alone.
There is no obligation to talk about a mental health issue unless you want to. If your situation is not affecting your work and your work is not impacting on your mental health, then you do not need to disclose any details to your employer.
Why it’s good to talk about your mental health at work
There are many reasons to talk about a mental health issue at work:
- It helps your employer to fulfil their duty of care to you
Your employer and manager have a duty of care to provide a safe place of work and to ensure that you can work to the best of your ability. It is better to talk about things early on before your situation affects your performance at work. If your employer is aware of your situation, they can put things in place to support you at work.
- You have the right to talk about this and to expect support
If your mental health difficulty is long and enduring, the Equality Act 2010 protects those with any disability at work. This is defined by a long-term condition which interferes with your ability to perform normal daily activities. It also requires appropriate reasonable adjustments to be put in place. Some examples of these might include:
- changing your working hours or working flexibly
- reviewing your workload
- time off for medical/therapy appointments
- providing a mentor
Even if you are struggling temporarily with your mental health and do not think that it meets the criteria of being a disability, it is still important to talk about it with your manager. Do not let things get too bad. Early intervention, such as taking a few days off or reallocating some of your workload, is far better than letting things escalate.
- You are contributing to an open culture
You may find that by talking about your mental health, you discover that other colleagues have been through something similar. By talking about it you may also help your colleagues to be more open and increase awareness.
How to raise the issue
So, you have decided to have a conversation. This can be difficult, especially if tricky conversations already make you anxious. The tips below should help:
- Arranging a meeting
Identify someone you trust and who is approachable. This will usually be your line manager. If you prefer, you could speak to someone else (e.g. someone from Human Resources) and they could speak to your manager on your behalf with your consent. Plan a meeting in advance so that you both have time to talk. Do not leave it until it becomes a crisis.
- Preparing for your meeting
Think about what you would like to achieve from the meeting. This may be to ask for time off or to explain why you have needed time off. You might want to explain why you have been unable to complete tasks or ask for adjustments at work. Writing things down in advance will help. Are you seeing a doctor or other health professional for your mental health difficulties? It would be useful to bring a letter from them to help explain things.
- During your meeting
Try to focus on how your difficulties are impacting work. Think about what your employer can do to support you. You don’t need to disclose everything if you don’t want to. Ensure you have talked about consent and confidentiality before the end of the meeting and been clear about what each of you expect.
- Confidentiality and consent
For you to feel safe, it is important to discuss confidentiality and consent with the person you are talking to. They will need to keep a brief record of the conversation, but you are entitled to see what has been written and know where and how it will be stored. You will need to trust that what you are talking about is confidential except when you give permission for it to be shared. However, there will be limits to confidentiality. This is where there is a serious threat of harm to yourself or others. Ensure that who you are talking to is transparent about confidentiality and consent from the start.
Make sure you have someone to support you after the meeting. Write down what was discussed. It is a good idea, if you feel able, to send a brief email saying what the outcome of the meeting was, so that it is confirmed in writing.
Who else might be able to help?
If you do not get what you need from your line manager, or if you feel like you need some additional support, check out the suggestions below:
- Mental health first aider or champion at work
Some workplaces have mental health first aiders who you can talk to confidentially
- Human Resources
If your company has an HR facility, you can go there for additional support with workplace matters. If you do not feel comfortable having the conversation only with your line manager, you can request an HR representative to join the meeting
- Trade union rep
If you are in a trade union and feel you have been discriminated against in any way, or that your employer is not fulfilling their legal obligations, speak to your union representative
Your GP will be able to give you a doctor’s note to help you explain your mental health difficulties to your employer. They will also be able to give you the necessary support and treatment
- Occupational health
Some businesses will have an occupational health service that will be able to give you additional support. Your line manager or HR team should be able to signpost this
- Legal advice
If you feel you have been discriminated against you can seek legal advice
Lawcare offers a guide which outlines your rights
Mind is a mental health charity. It has lots of useful online information and resources.
It can take courage to talk about your mental health to your manager. You may be afraid of the stigma of being judged. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed. You may be tempted to think you can manage on your own. But if you can talk to your manager sooner rather than later, it will open the way to getting the support, help, understanding and adjustments that you need.
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