Are you having trouble at work due to anxiety or stress? You’re not alone.

Start talking about your mental health to people around you who need to know what’s happening. This includes your boss.

Talking to your boss about your mental health may feel like the last thing you want to do. But it’s essential to your recovery that you do it. “Not letting your employer know what’s happening with your mental health can prevent you from getting help and can actually make things worse,” says Dr. Samuel Mikail, a senior mental health consultant at Sun Life.

By speaking up, you can help your boss understand your situation. You can then work together to create a plan to support your mental wellness at work, says Dr. Mikail.

Note: Know your rights. You can’t be fired for disclosing your mental illness to your boss. On the other hand, while it’s helpful to talk to your boss, you don’t have to reveal your illness to your employer. For more on your rights as a worker. Please read the Canadian Human Rights Act for more information.

3 tips for talking to your boss about mental health

  1. Take the time to be kind to yourself and reflect.

    “Our negative feelings about our own mental health can be very strong,” says Dr. Mikail. “Many people don’t recognize that they’re struggling with a mental health issue, so they may not address it. Feelings of shame also prevent many people from getting help.”

    If you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, such as continuing sleeplessness, loss of appetite or anxiety, don’t dismiss your feelings. Take the time to reflect on how you are feeling and make some notes.

    Recording your feelings will help you:

    • brainstorm ways to manage your symptoms and
    • rehearse your conversation with your boss.

    It’ll also be helpful to have the notes if you look for help from a mental health professional.

    Many workplace health plans offer coverage if you speak with a licensed professional. Some offer free online sessions with a therapist. So refer to your workplace health and benefits provider to find out what your plan offers.

  2. Rehearse the conversation.

    “One thing that can lessen anxiety is rehearsing important conversations," says Dr. Mikail.

    Practise having the conversation with someone you're close to, such as a partner, colleague or friend.

    Dr. Mikail also suggests practising in front of a mirror to:

    • see what your body language looks like and
    • how it corresponds to your words.

    Knowing your body language supports rather than detracts from your words will help you feel confident about having the conversation.

  3. Discuss your work environment with your employer.

    You have the right to ask for accommodations if you’re experiencing mental illness. According to the Human Rights Act, all employers must accommodate people living with a disability such as a mental illness.

    Give your employer concrete examples of ways to support you and then create a plan together. For example, you may want to ask for flexible working hours.

    The Canadian Mental Health Association (CAMH) suggests writing out an accommodation request if you feel uncomfortable talking in person. It’s a good idea to keep a written record of your requests. It’s a good idea to have a written record of your requests, in any case.

What if you don't have a good relationship with your manager?

Is a work-related issue such as a poor relationship with your boss affecting your mental health? Then speaking to your manager may be very difficult for you. If that’s your situation, Dr. Mikail suggests you talk to a colleague, particularly someone senior who has a good relationship with your boss.

“Call someone who you trust, who – ideally – has a good relationship with your manager,” he says. “They may have insights on how to best speak to your manager and can perhaps help facilitate the conversation.”

Speaking up at work, particularly when you don’t feel your best, takes courage. It’s an important step in helping yourself and perhaps even helping others.

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