October 16, 2023

How to talk to your boss about your mental health

By Joy Blenman

It may be tough to talk to your boss about your mental health. But experts say having the conversation can help your recovery. 

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

It can be difficult to talk about how you’re feeling. But talking about your mental health can help others understand what you’re going through. 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 help your mental wellness at work, says Dr. Mikail.

Note: Know your rights. Your employer can’t fire you for disclosing your mental illness to your boss. And while it’s helpful to talk to your boss, you don’t have to reveal your illness to your employer. Learn more about your rights as a worker. 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.”

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

Recording your feelings will help you:

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

It’ll also be helpful to have notes if you get 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. 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.

Practice talking with someone you're close to, such as a partner, colleague or friend.

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

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

Being aware of your body language can help you feel more sure of yourself when 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 including 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. 

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 talking to someone who has a good relationship with your boss. It would be ideal if this person is in a more senior role.

“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. But it’s an important step in helping yourself and perhaps even helping others.

This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice. 

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