Skip To Content

    17 Stories That Prove We Need To Normalize Talking About Mental Health At Work

    "Mental health IS health."

    Getting through a workday when you're not feeling well can be tough enough. But if you're trying to cope with a condition that you feel like you can't even talk about, that makes it So. Much. Harder. That's why it's so important for people who have mental health conditions to feel safe and protected to talk about them at work and ask for accommodations that can help.

    Person leaning against an office window looking pensive
    Peopleimages / Getty Images

    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults has experienced a mental illness. As awareness about mental illness grows, many workplaces have been making efforts to normalize talking about mental health. But other workplaces have stayed silent on this topic, so employees are left to figure out their options on their own. And even in workplaces that encourage employees to be open, other coworkers or managers might show bias against those who do disclose a diagnosis.

    So I asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share what their experiences with talking about mental health at work have been like, and found some really varied responses. For starters, some people shared that their workplaces are a mixed bag when it comes to talking about and accommodating mental health:

    1. "I have the good fortune to work for a company that makes an effort to normalize talking about mental health, but there are parts of the very large company (100K+ people) where that’s just lip service."

    Person leading a zoom meeting with their team
    Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

    "In my corner, I’ve made an effort to normalize prioritizing mental health for my team. I’ve lived with clinical depression for decades, so it’s important to me. I have personal arrangements with a couple of my team members to let them give me a shorthand way of telling me they aren’t OK so I can help them.

    I’ve been open about burnout and stress from a year and a half of a pandemic, too. It’s OK for someone on my team to tell me that they just can’t focus. I’ve moved people to lighter tasks and switched things up to give them a chance to decompress. (My team are overall generalists who carve out their own specialities, so it’s not seen as a punishment to switch tasks.)

    I can’t say I 100% live up to it for myself, but at least I can help the people who rely on me."

    jadefishes

    2. "I’m bipolar, and I had to tell a former boss when I was hospitalized, and she was great about it, but I don’t tell other people at work. I worry that if I tell them I’m bipolar, they will analyze everything I do and say through that lens and that my genuine excitement or sadness would be chalked up to mania or depression when it wasn’t."

    "I also hear how mental illnesses are generally referred to around the office when talking about non-coworkers (i.e., people in the news, etc.) and the stigmas I hear around me make me even less willing to share that I have a serious mental illness."

    kells101

    3. "I have been dealing with PTSD (though with time I’ve been a lot better), and I have mild anxiety as well. I’m at a newer job so I haven’t revealed too much other than the fact that I have those and why (car crash that also left me with chronic pain), because I need to be understood to an extent if I’m having a bad day."

    "What I DON’T reveal is that I have ADHD. People tend to think of people with ADHD as disorganized, forgetful, and hyper. I’m not disorganized (I’m actually hyper organized so I can function), and I’m not hyper. What I have a problem with is focusing in meetings, and fully absorbing verbal instructions. I have been asked, 'Can’t you just take medication for it?' I don’t want to, and I personally don’t need to."

    panda_13

    4. "I have alluded to being treated for mental health problems and going to therapy, and with specific coworkers have gone into more detail. But I definitely haven’t talked about it with any of my bosses or made explicit statements like, 'I have anxiety, depression, am probably on the autism spectrum but wasn’t tested as a kid, and had an eating disorder when I was younger.'"

    Person talking with a therapist
    Peopleimages / Getty Images

    "Our work theoretically encourages us to self-identify privately in the HR portal but I haven’t yet, even though I’m open about being a lesbian on there and with my coworkers/supervisors. My fear is that if I say anything or ask for accommodations, they’ll think it impacts my ability to do my job. The gender of people I date doesn’t, and our workplace is explicit about that in a way they haven’t really been when it comes to mental health."

    paladin12

    5. "I feel like the ‘we are here for you’ comments my admin make are just empty promises. When they said it last year, it sent my anxiety into a tailspin because I know they can’t truly handle my anxiety and PTSD."

    "Other mental health things that have been done just trigger me because all I can think is that I don’t trust the people on the room enough to even think about taking positive steps for my mental health in the workplace. They have the best intentions, but it’s honestly just triggering, and I have to work through it with my therapist afterwards."

    ked860s

    6. "I'm a sexual assault survivor and have been dealing with anxiety, social anxiety, and depression since 2015. I present as very positive and calm, but my work ethic and efficiency are a result of constantly panicking about getting fired for not performing well."

    "My best friends on my team also struggle with their mental health at times, and if we didn't have each other to anxiety-word-vomit to, I don't think any of us would still be working for this company. The company loves to tout our 'amazing work culture,' but doesn't hold leadership accountable for unrealistic deadlines, or the truly toxic culture they've created. A newly promoted AVP is infamous for blatant bullying, sexual harassment, and general asshole behavior, but after a brief investigation from an anonymous HR report, he's only been slapped on the wrist about some of his 'jokes.' Doesn't really instill a lot of faith in the company's commitment to its associates or their mental health."

    iamc4yc

    7. "As a teacher in the UK, schools are under pressure to look after the well-being of staff, but rather than focus on minimizing workload or providing support we usually just get random staff meetings where we do yoga or get posters of motivational quotes in the staffroom. It's like constantly mopping up a puddle without ever turning off the tap."

    Teacher leading a remote class
    Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

    And some people have unfortunately had downright awful experiences with opening up about this sensitive and personal topic:

    8. "I told my boss that I'd have to miss some time at work because I was going to therapy for my eating disorder, and he laughed and said, 'What — do you just not like food??'"

    "After a few weeks, he asked me how much longer this was going to 'be an issue' because it was really inconvenient.

    This was like seven years ago, and I quit soon afterwards, but I'm still pretty frigging pissed about it."

    emilyv11

    9. "LOL, my old job had a crying room (not a job-sanctioned one, just a place employees went to cry when the harassment from supervisors was too much)."

    "I ended up quitting after I had three family deaths in under a month, was refused bereavement because 'I had a vacation coming up,' and then they tried to take the vacation away because 'we're too busy for you to take time off, and you already missed the funerals.'"

    tanyaf43091fd20

    10. "I teach a course on mental illness for undergrads. My students are open with their own experiences and take mental health days as needed. I am always moved by their vulnerability, but I also know the university is not generally accepting or supportive."

    Professor talking with college students in a discussion group
    Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

    "I am not a trained psychologist, yet I deal with students in crisis mostly on my own. I am told to send them to campus counseling services that have a months-long wait or to contact support services who do not answer my emails. I try my best, but many of them deserve robust care. And my mental health? Best not to mention it in academia."

    ruraljurorfuror

    11. "I recently did some work delivering pizzas, and my boyfriend's mum (who also works there) got some comments from the other staff saying I gave them dirty looks and generally looked annoyed."

    "The reason for this is that I am autistic and struggle with a resting bitch face that doesn’t really change. I try to smile, but it becomes exhausting very quickly, and doing it all the time leads to an autistic shutdown (where I can’t talk and curl into a ball and cry for an hour or so), which I really want to avoid. She had to explain this to them. It’s frustrating 'cause it happens all the time."

    rachelsg1210

    12. "I’m an elementary school teacher, and I have mental health conversations with my students (not going into details obviously, just that I’ve been to therapy, and it’s not a bad thing)."

    "I work with a lot of kids with trauma, some of which go to therapy themselves. I think me being open about it helps them not be ashamed. 

    When I first started going to therapy, it was hard for me to talk about. I was a brand-new mom and a first-year teacher and ended up losing four family members by the time my son was 6 months old. My dad was killed by a drunk driver when I was 13, so all that loss brought up that childhood trauma. I asked my principal if I could take a mental health day and use a sick day for the anniversary of my dad’s death; she said unless I saw my therapist that day, I could not. I used one of my two personal days instead. Another teacher told me that was against our contract and next time to take a sick day and not worry about the principal. I’m in a new district now and know better."

    leetzthesweetz

    13. "Talking about my mental health at work got me fired from my job. I worked for a broadband company on the Atlantic Coast for a year before the pandemic, and another year from home starting in March 2020."

    Person carrying a box of their things out of the office after being fired
    Chalirmpoj Pimpisarn / Getty Images/EyeEm

    "I struggled a lot with my depression due to isolation and full-time WFH while remote-schooling two kids. My direct supervisor would always 'check in' with us during our coaching sessions, and would dig in for us to tell her how we were actually doing. Eventually (after months of her either bullying me or completely ignoring me when I needed help), she went to our main supervisor and had told them that I had shared too much private information about my mental health, and I was ultimately let go. It’s been two months now, and I definitely hit rock bottom with my depression, but I’m getting better every day."

    vnewhouse1104

    14. "I worked in an oncology office where on top of normal PTO, they also gave you a designated 'mental health day' every year. This was supposed to be a day you could take off for any reason, at any time."

    "That line of work can be emotionally draining because you really build relationships with the patients as you see them so often for treatments, etc. Burnout and depression are very common among staff. With that being said, if you actually asked management to use the mental health day, you were frowned upon and were *highly encouraged* to just cash it out, aka get paid for an extra day, but not actually take a day off. And that was the extent of their 'mental health support.' No employee counseling available, no grief training. Just one pitiful day a year you couldn't even use."

    hellomiriah

    But other stories showed that some workplaces are making big strides in terms of mental health:

    15. "I work in mental health services as an assistant psychologist. I firmly believe it would be irresponsible of me not to talk about my mental health to my supervisors."

    "If something is going on in my life, that might impact my headspace and ability to provide our very vulnerable patients with the care that they need. On top of that, I spend all day listening to the trauma of others, which can be very difficult, and sometimes something will remind you of something in your own past, triggering you. Sharing it with your coworkers and feeling like you're working in a supportive environment make that aspect a bit easier."

    cbehrens

    16. "I’m lucky enough to work in the mental health field, so I feel comfortable talking about openly. I let my boss know I’m gonna be late because I have counseling. I let her know if I need a mental health day. I let her know if I’m feeling blue at work, and that’s why my productivity at work is down."

    Couple talking with a counselor
    Peopleimages / Getty Images

    "I feel really supported at my job. In the past I wasn’t this lucky, and I know a lot of people still aren’t, but I hope with more high-profile people speaking out about it, it will be the norm for everyone."

    deannah4d2cdb4a9

    17. And finally, "Millennial manager here. Something very important to me is that mental health is treated like health in the workplace. I tell all my new hires that sick days don’t need an explanation — whether you’re vomiting in the bathroom or depressed in bed unable to move — it is valid and none of my business."

    "Get rid of the phrase 'mental health day'!!! Mental health IS health. So everyone simply says, 'I’m taking a sick day,' now. This has helped with my staff knowing that mental health is very valued. I treat a panic attack the same way I would if someone got physically hurt on the job. What can I do to help you feel better? You tell me; you know your body and mind. Start normalizing mental health in the workplace, it’s so important and overdue."

    charmanderette9o

    The National Alliance on Mental Illness is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.

    Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

    What do you think more employers should do to help normalize talking about mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

    Looking for more stories about money and careers? Check out the rest of our personal finance posts.