Should I disclose my mental health issues to my employer?

One in six workers experience stress, anxiety and depression at any given time but, more often than not, workers don't disclose their problems and mental health remains a workplace taboo.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 29th November 2016, 11:27 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 4:14 pm
A man suffering from stress
A man suffering from stress

Forget any ideas or preconceptions you have about mental health because workers with a mental health condition can still carry out their job to a very high standard, yet sometimes require just a little bit extra support.

However, many people go to work day in day out with a mental health condition and refrain from discussing it with their employer to avoid a stigma or discrimination.

“Many employees don’t feel comfortable doing this, often fearing they’ll be perceived as weak, incompetent or unable to cope,” explains Emma Mamo, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at mental health charity Mind. “As a result, many don’t get the right support.”

Culture of fear at work

The fear culture in the workplace evidently still exists and according to research carried out by Mind more than one in five said they had called in sick to avoid work when asked how workplace stress had affected them.

Pulling a sickie is one thing but it’s important to know the signs if it’s more than a tough day at work that’s affecting your mental health. “If you’re experiencing stress, depression or anxiety you may struggle with things you would normally be able to do, such as problems with decision-making, punctuality and prioritising tasks,” says Emma.

Everyone is different and, as Emma states, “It’s up to each individual employee whether or not to disclose their mental health problem to their employer.” If you decide to talk about your health with your employer then it’s vital to know your rights too and remember the Equality Act 2010. If your health is considered a disability under the Act then you’ll need to tell your employer if you want the protection of it too. “They can then consult with you on what ‘reasonable adjustments’ they can make to your role – such as changes to working hours, responsibilities, and work location,” Emma explains.

Managing staff with mental health issues

Employers are generally aiming for positive changes, with 56 per cent of employers saying they would like to do more to improve staff well-being according to Mind. However they don't feel they have the right training or guidance.

“If you’re managing someone you feel might be experiencing poor mental health, don’t make assumptions about how their mental health might impact on them or their ability to do their job,” says Emma.

“Often the best way to support someone is asking them how they are and what they need, and really listening to their response.”

Talking openly

Mind offer online support and guidance for both employees and employers. “Above all it’s about creating an environment where staff feel able to talk openly about their mental health at work,” Emma says. “And know that if they are struggling, they’ll be met with support and understanding, rather than facing stigma and discrimination.”

Don’t hesitate in seeking guidance if your boss isn’t providing adequate support or is dismissive however. “We’d then recommend seeking legal advice – through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) if your employer has one. If not, contact Acas or get legal advice from Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or emailing [email protected],” Emma advises.

From person to person, everyone’s mental health is different so consult your doctor if you think you need to discuss your own and most importantly don’t let work overwhelm you. Make sure you take a holiday, get some fresh air, take your lunch, don’t work long hours, be assertive and leave work at work. And most importantly if you need support, talk to someone.