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Talking to your employer about mental health

Why and how to talk to your employer about your mental health


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Opening up to someone about your mental health can be difficult, especially if it's your employer. You might be unsure when to bring it up, or how to go about having the conversation. You could even be afraid of what will happen if you do. But, letting your employer know what you are experiencing can bring a lot of relief, and help make your work days easier.

How to speak to your employer about your mental health

It’s important to remember that, in Ireland, you don’t have to speak to your employer about your mental health if you don’t want to. But, if you do, how do you know when to let someone know, what to say, and how to move forward?

Decide if you want to

The first thing to do is decide if you want to speak to your employer about your mental health.

Here are some of the benefits of opening up to your employer about your mental health:

  • You may be able to make changes to your workplace or workday that suit you better
  • If you feel like you haven’t been doing your best at work, telling your employer could help them to understand
  • Your employer may have access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), a programme that usually provides free counselling to staff. In some workplaces, you can contact your Employee Assistance Service confidentially, without anyone knowing. If that’s the case, you could speak to the employee assistance counsellor about talking to your employer before you make a decision.
  • You may feel a sense of relief afterwards
  • By sharing your own experience, you may be able to reduce stigma around mental health in your workplace

Making this decision is important, so take your time in choosing what to do. Remember, this is not a conversation you need to have if you don’t want to.

Decide who to talk to

If you decide to tell your employer, the second thing to do is to think about who is the right person for you to talk to.

When deciding who to talk to, think about who you can trust where you work and who will be able to offer you support if they know.

Speaking to your manager

If you trust that your manager will be understanding and will keep your information confidential, they might be a good person to talk to. If you’ve been struggling to perform well at work, letting your manager know will help them make sense of that. They might be able to change how you work so it’s easier for you to manage day-to-day. They also might be able to link you in with other supports wherever you work.

Going to human resources

If you’re worried your manager might not be understanding, you could try to speaking to someone at Human Resources first, who are there to help you with any difficulties you might have at work. They often are prepared to support you, and they may already have policies in place for dealing with a situation like this. If you did speak to your manager first, they may arrange for you to talk to Human Resources afterwards.

Speaking to a coworker

Before speaking to your manager or someone from human resources, you could also try speaking to a coworker you are close to or who you feel you can trust, who understands your day-to-day workload and could support you. Having someone in the workplace who understands what you’re going through can be a relief when you’re finding things hard. They might also be able to support you in going to your employer about the issue.

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How to have the conversation

Depending on your relationship with them, there are a couple of different ways you could go about speaking to your employer.

It’s best to approach your employer on a day when things are quiet in the office, and to pick a place where you’ll be able to speak calmly and in private.

It’s entirely up to you on how much to tell your employer, and if you prefer not to, you don’t have to mention your condition by name.

Sometimes your employer might ask for more information about your situation, so it might be helpful to have a note from your doctor or a mental health professional that explains what your condition is,how it can affect you, and what adjustments might help you at work.

Going forward

Once you’ve spoken to your employer, you can start taking steps to help you manage your mental health in work. You may need to work with your employer to find an arrangement that suits both of you.

Some things you could look into include:

  • Moving around your working hours to better suit you
  • Changing where your desk is located in your office
  • Spending more time working from home
  • Coordinating time off work for treatment
  • You could temporarily move around tasks you find stressful and difficult

Dealing with discrimination in the workplace

If you face any discrimination in the workplace because of your mental health, that’s a violation of the Employment Equality Act and it is illegal to do so.

If you experience this where you work, you can bring your complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission via an online form available at workplacerelations.ie.

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Published Octo­ber 1st2019
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Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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