How to Discuss Mental Health Issues at Work


Wrote this on, June 9, 2020

Two people work meeting

Raise your hands if you’ve ever felt uncomfortable talking to your manager about a mental health issue but you have felt comfortable doing so about a physical issue?

We imagine it’s over half of you. Mental health is still very much discredited as a real issue, particularly in the workplace. It is believed a lot of us still feel as though needing time out for our mental well being is not considered ‘real’, and instead is seen as dramatic and false. 

Mental health is a hugely private issue. Nobody is obliged to tell anyone in their workplace of their personal matters, it’s no one else’s business other than yours. However, if it has started to affect your ability to carry out simple tasks at work, it is important the issue is addressed and dealt with in the right way.

For some of us, the ability to speak up, to be open and vulnerable is much harder than pretending there is no issue at all. Putting on a facade is often easier, we ‘block’ out the problem rather than facing what is right in front of us, however over time this becomes draining and makes us more susceptible to outbursts by projecting our issue onto others. 

Why Is It Hard To Talk About Mental Health At Work?

As mental health doesn’t have any obvious physical symptoms not all of us respond well when someone tells us they are suffering. We all have mental health but some of us have our own personal experiences that help define our understanding of it. Whilst others are less aware of the symptoms, severity or causes.

Mental health is not discriminate to anyone. Regardless of our race, age, gender or background, we can all suffer with mental health, even those who we least expect suffer, may well be. Like a physical illness it shouldn’t become a hindrance or dictate our days, we don’t allow a physical illness to do so, a mental illness should be treated equal.

We spend and dedicate so much of our time at work, we put in time and energy during working hours as well as time spent commuting to and from the office. Therefore it is important anything we are dealing with internally is faced head on and not bottled up. 

How To Talk About Your Mental Health At Work

Remember you do not need to tell your boss personal issues about you. Our managers have no right to know and it is not and should not be in their interest to pry or gossip should you decide to confide in them. Talking with them about a growing mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, stress or anything else under the spectrum can be beneficial to make them aware of the situation and your needs.

Work can hugely be affected by our mental state, not just when carrying out work related tasks but also when communicating with colleagues or clients, so the matter doesn’t only affect ourselves but those around us. 

1. Consult others first

Often at work, we have colleagues we feel closer to than others. Consult your work buddy about how you are feeling, they can often give helpful pointers or insights you may not be aware of. In addition, they might offer helpful advice on how best to approach your manager, they might have been in the same position as you in the past. It’s possible they may know your manager in a way you may not and how best to talk with your manager about a personal issue.

2. Think about your needs

When dealing with a mental illness we all have specific needs and wants, we react differently to different methods. Some of us need company, some of us need solitude, and some of us need support while others prefer to be left to their own devices. Weigh up which are more important to you, what works best for you and execute your chat with your manager with some helpful solutions.

3. Find the right time and place

Be sure to catch your manager when the moment is right, rather than when they’re about to step into a meeting or when they seem particularly stressed or overwhelmed. Just send them a message or ask them when you can if you’re able to have a chat with them. It might be that they set up a formal meeting with you to talk things over when they can dedicate more time or they might offer their time there and then before talking in-depth at a later stage. 

4. Ask for adjustments

Don’t be afraid to ask for adjustments, as employees we have the right and are covered under the Equality Act when it comes to our health in the workplace. If your mental health issue is a disability you do need to make your employer aware of this. It may be you need to adjust your working hours or need support in other areas. As employees, we are all entitled to ask for what we need in order to feel happy and comfortable. No issue is too small.


It is the same as physical health 

Our mental health and physical health coexist and with both, in harmony, we can live a healthy life at our full potential. If you are into fitness for the physical aspect your mental health naturally will benefit, and if you do yoga or running for your mental health your physique sees results too. When we have a physical issue, others might be able to see it and have sympathy for us, however, that’s not to say it should be treated any more important than a mental health issue. 

Focus on how this affects your ability to do your job

Think about how your mental health issue is impacting you day to day. Are you arriving at the office late? Are you struggling to meet deadlines? Do you feel overwhelmed by what you need to do? If you mention this to your manager, they will understand the impact this is not only having on you, but how it can also affect them if left untreated. You can’t be expected to type with a broken hand, and we shouldn’t be expected to put on a brave face when our mind isn’t in check. 

Let go of the stigma

The stigma that comes with mental health very much impacts how we navigate it. We often find ourselves skirting around the issue, lying about why we need time off or saying we are okay when internally we are struggling. Leave the stigma at the door and be open. If you came into work on crutches your colleagues and manager would offer the relevant advice and tell you rest. Let go of the stickiness surrounding mental health and talk about what you need with conviction. 

Ask for a mediator

A mediator will help you to relax when talking about a personal issue. A mediator at work has the responsibility to be diplomatic, open-minded and trustworthy. This could be a colleague in a different department or even within your team. If you’re worried about your manager misunderstanding you and your concerns, a mediator offers a second set of ears and can be helpful to put both your manager’s and your mind at rest so that everything will be heard and understood correctly. 

Check what mental health care your work provides

Today, a lot of workplaces offer mental health support. Schemes often offering connections to advisors, therapists, and mindfulness practices. It’s worth checking first what your workplace can offer you, and use the free services to your advantage. It is helpful to brief yourself of them before talking to your manager to help you come to a solution together. 

Speak up

Don’t be afraid to speak up, it is the first step in helping yourself. Often when things getting difficult or sticky we enter fight or flight mode. However this doesn’t benefit us in the long run, it only worsens matters. Opening up to a trusted manager, sets a new level of respect you and chances are they’ll be thankful for you bringing it to their attention. Instantly it will elevate the situation and reduce unwanted stress you already may be under.

Provide feedback

If you feel your company dealt with the situation in the right way, let them know. Pinpoint the moments you struggled the most and what you found to be the most helpful. Mental health is a sensitive topic and it is likely your manager won’t want to pry so it is beneficial to you and the business to feedback.  

Your boss may surprise you 

Your manager might not be the first person we think about going to when we have a personal issue, but they are human too. They may have battles of their own that they’ve learnt from or already have a solid understanding of the struggles we face emotionally and mentally.

‘When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘We’ even illness becomes wellness’.

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