How To Talk To Your Boss About Your Mental Health

It seems scary, but it doesn't have to be.

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1. Start with the basics.

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Telling your manager about your mental health issues is a personal choice – you're under no legal obligation to do so. Having said that, if you feel like you need some support in your work environment, being open with your boss may be the easiest way to get it.

If your mental health problem is considered a disability under the Equality Act, your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments. Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at Mind, told BuzzFeed: "Typically you might be offered a change of working hours – start time, finish times, breaks, a change of working environment, more regular catch-ups with your manager to discuss workloads, priorities and stress and anxiety levels etc."

2. Be as honest as you can.

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Mamo added: "We all have mental health and our mood varies hour to hour, day to day – so having a conversation about mental health should be as simple and acceptable as talking about our physical health." Never feel ashamed or embarrassed about your condition. It's important to be open about what you need to improve your working conditions.

Sarah, 26, spoke to BuzzFeed about her own experience: "You don't have to go into exhaustive personal detail, but being truthful about what you need will help you and your employer find a balance between what they need from your role and what you're able to do. Trying too much too soon will burn you out and cause setbacks. If work know what you need they can support you better."

BuzzFeed spoke to Amy, 27, about how nervous she felt before the talk: "I'd convinced myself I'd be sacked, or at the very least pushed out of the business for taking time off work, but I needn't have worried. I was able to take as much time as I needed for medical appointments and assessments as the months went by, and they were very understanding about the side effects of the new medication I was taking (e.g. slurred words and clouded thinking) and made workplace adjustments for me accordingly."

The fear of talking to her management team was much worse than the reality. Knowing her job was not at risk lifted a huge pressure off Suzy's shoulders and allowed her to focus on her recovery.

4. You don't have to talk about your mental health in your job interview, but you might want to.

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Talking about your mental health in job interviews is fine, especially if your potential new employers value the wellbeing of their employees. However, if you're not shortlisted, you may have the niggling feeling that your mental health played a part in their decision, which may make you feel worried or disheartened. On the flipside, Mamo says that if this is the case, "It’s worth asking yourself whether you’d really want to work for that kind of organisation anyway."

Louise, 25, told BuzzFeed about her positive interview experience: "It was just a normal part of the conversation. It wasn't even like a 'by the way' – I just slipped it in when I talking about my biggest achievements or something. I can't quite remember. But I said I was proud to have been here at all because I had a breakdown in the summer.

"They just nodded along and at the end one of the interviewers said: 'You know, I'd never have known you struggled with that considering how you seem.' Which is totally the point – you don't notice it. And then when I started, my line manager was like, 'You obviously don't have to talk about it any more, but do let me know of any triggers or anything I can help you with,' which TOTALLY put me at ease. She was ace."

5. If you feel like you can't talk to your manager, talk to the HR department.

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Suzy, 32, said: "I don't feel comfortable discussing my mental health with my senior manager – I don't feel like she's open to that and doesn't seem interested nor understanding."

So Suzy went to her HR department, who were able to provide her with more information and point her towards counselling services the company offered.

6. Be mindful of your social media use.

Instagram: @buzzfeeduk

Because I write openly about my mental health for my work, I don't really hold back about tweeting about it either. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have bosses who won't call me up on live-tweeting my panic attack from the loo. Dani, 26, went through the opposite. Her former employer found her Tumblr and "forced me to delete posts about my depression and anxiety and OCD or else they'd fire me".

Laura, 31, told BuzzFeed she's "out" on social media where her colleagues/superiors follow her: "It's effectively an open secret. But we don't talk about it – they don't ask, and I don't bring it up."

7. Don't leave it until you've hit rock bottom.

Twitter: @jk_rowling

I've been guilty of leaving things until I absolutely couldn't cope any more, which made it much harder for my manager to support me. Instead I should have spoken up when the familiar warning signs flared up.

Emma, 24, agreed, saying: "I had to tell my current general manager quite recently when struggling with a potential relapse. They listened intently and supported and I managed to pull myself back from relapse quickly. I think my current employer's support contributed to that."

8. Don't give up if you don't get the desired result.

There are shifting attitudes towards mental health and we're increasingly seeing employers make mental health support a priority at their workplace. However, there's still a long way to go. Some people still face stigma in the workplace.

Mamo told BuzzFeed it's important to remember that the "vast majority of people with mental health problems can carry out their jobs to a high standard – they just might need extra support at times". You are not a burden – never let anyone make you feel like that.

Creating a culture that takes care of people with mental health issues may not happen overnight. You'll have to be patient, but don't give up. Encourage your employers to carry out staff surveys to asses how the rest of the team feels about their working conditions. Promote programs that encourage stress management at work and keep talking. We'll get there, eventually.

If you need legal advice you can contact the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if your employer has one, or go to Mind’s legal phoneline: 0300 123 3393.

Mind offers free resources for employers to help improve mental wellbeing and employee engagement. For more information, including tips for employers and staff, please visit mind.org.uk/work.