No doubt we are getting better in society at recognising issues around mental health, but still the idea of actually ‘coming out’ about your mental health at work is very daunting.
Written by Martin Robinson, founder and editor of The Book of Man.
There are worries about what colleagues will think of you, whether bosses will view you as less reliable, indeed about how it will affect your entire career. The solution, for generations, has simply been to pretend everything is ok, and carry on. Times have changed, and now workplaces, from the financial sector to building sites, are making mental health support a priority. Institutions are organising mental health first aid training, seminars on mental health, and importantly, CEO’s and team leaders are stepping forward to share their stories and show that mental health discussion should be normalised and – crucially –will not cost anyone their positions.
Nevertheless, it can remain daunting to step forward at work with an issue. Old habits die hard, and let’s face it, we don’t all work in terribly progressive companies. Research by the Priory has said 71% of people would worry about telling their boss they had a mental health problem. Here’s what you need to know in terms of getting mental health support at work:
- You have to make the first step. While you’d hope alert managers and colleagues will be alert to changes in your behaviour, making the move to talk to your manager about a mental health problem is crucial. Whether the issue triggering the problem is outside work or work related, like stress, your manager has a duty of care to look after you. This may well involve sick leave, which will not have any negative impact on your job, but will allow a probably most needed break.
- It is your legal right. Rest assured that you are not doing something self-indulgent here by stepping forward with an issue and perhaps requesting time off. You are ill, you need support, and companies are required by law to listen and support.
- You are doing a good thing. By stepping forward when you have an issue, as a by-product you are helping other colleagues. Everyone will have a mental health issue at some stage, and in deciding to step out and do something about your own, you are leading the way and helping to normalise it for other people. So any lingering ideas of this being a selfish move to take care of yourself, can be dismissed. You are turning negative experiences into a positive move.
- Support will continue when you return to work. The duty of care should not stop the second you are back after sick leave. Employers must support employees with ongoing health issues. And mental health does tend to be an ongoing issue. Support at work is a process then, not a fast solution. Indeed poor mental health can be considered a disability and fall under the Equality Act (2010). It may well be that your place of work is not suitable for you, and leaving may be best for you personally, but companies can’t force you out.
- Changes can be requested. If it is the job that is triggering your mental health or preventing proper recovery, you can request changes to things like your working hours, your workload, and your physical working environment. You can also start communicating with colleagues more on the issues, either on-site or off-site, ensuring that there is a new level of support there.
- Talking is key. In communicating with bosses and colleagues to help you manage your mental health at work, you are also developing skills that will help you with your mental health as a whole. Talking therapies form the basis of most mental health treatments, and by talking through your problems with the people around you and not just keeping it in, you are making the first steps on the road to recovery.
From this perspective, dealing with your mental health at work should not be considered a shameful thing, but a brave, powerful and potentially life-saving thing – and you should be very proud of yourself for making this move.