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If you looked around your workplace right now, could you tell who’s struggling with mental health issues?

Probably not.

Yet every year 1 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health challenge. Stress, anxiety and depression – whether caused by working conditions or not – have the potential to lead to ongoing mental as well as physical challenges.

Modifying a stressful working environment or taking time off to focus on yourself are valid and legitimate steps, just like taking a ‘sick day’ for the flu. While employers are becoming increasingly aware of employee mental health issues and how they’re impacted by the working space – your boss isn’t a mind reader.

While talking about your mental health is a personal choice, opening a dialogue about your thoughts and feelings can ensure your workplace has the tools and support you need to manage your mental health..

Here’s how to talk to your boss about mental health and be an advocate for yourself in the workplace.

Please Note: All workplaces are different. You may work with your boss every day or see your managers on an infrequent basis. For the term ‘boss’, consider who this might be in your working environment.

Am I obligated to tell my boss about my mental health?

There is no Australian law requiring you to disclose any mental health concerns with your boss. No matter what you’ve been told or what policies your company has in place, starting a conversation around your mental health is entirely up to you and a 100% voluntary decision.

In many cases you may benefit from speaking to your doctor or GP first. This will provide you with a professional recommendation for reasonable work adjustments to bring to your boss.

These may include:

  • Changes to your workspace
  • More flexible working hours
  • Flexible working from home arrangements

Why it’s important to talk to your boss about mental health

It’s common to feel uncertainty or embarrassment about voicing your mental health concerns, especially if your workplace doesn’t have a culture of mental health support.

There’s no shame in dealing with mental health challenges. Disclosing your feelings will help to create an honest and open working environment that supports your mental health needs. Speaking to your boss or manager can also provide a cathartic release as you no longer feel as though you’re carrying the burden alone.

As uncomfortable as it can feel to talk to your boss about your mental health, this is the first step towards creating an environment that supports and accommodates your needs, so don’t suffer in silence.

5 simple steps to start a conversation about your mental health

Step #1 – Include others

If your mental health issues are related to bullying or harassment at work you should consult a member of your HR team to access ready-made support structures. If your workplace doesn’t have an HR team, consider speaking to a close work-friend who understands the environment you work in. This can help prepare you for a one-on-one chat with your boss.

Step #2 – Think about your needs

It’s worth thinking about your mental health needs before speaking to your boss. This will ensure you are clear with your needs, whether those are changes to your working environment or more flexibility to deal with mental health challenges outside of work.

Step #3 – Choose the right time

Whether you have a close relationship to your boss or not, it’s important to choose an appropriate time to speak about mental health. Avoid public spaces or a rendezvous at the office fridge, instead reach out and request 10-15 minutes to speak privately.

Avoid referencing the nature of your request, but let your boss know you’d like to talk about a private matter. And if your office doesn’t have anywhere private, going for a walk can remove the ‘corporate’ feeling and let you speak openly about your feelings, wants and needs.

Step #4 – Be direct

You might have played out this conversation endless times in your head, but when the day arrives it’s best to be as clear and direct as possible. Even if you have a strong working relationship, your boss only needs to know what’s necessary.

It can help to write down your feelings and most important points so you have a guide to follow. Be specific about the role your work is playing in your mental health challenges, your boss isn’t a therapist or doctor so keep things professional and appropriate.

Step #5 – Bring suggestions to the table

Like any work-related meeting, it helps to arrive with a plan. According to Australian law, your employer must try and make reasonable adjustments which can be monitored and reviewed. These adjustments might involve newer KPI’s, work from home arrangements, or updating stressful responsibilities. Coming to the table with ready-made suggestions will make the process easier for you and your boss.

Third party support may also be a productive solution with employee wellness programs a proven method to foster a happy and healthy work culture.

What if my boss is the cause of my mental health problems?

Unfortunately, not all workplaces have a culture of mental health support and transparency. If your boss is the cause of your mental health difficulties, it’s still an issue to be resolved.

While the thought of talking to your boss may cause your anxiety levels to spike, the alternative isn’t fair on you. No one should have to dread going to work, so an uncomfortable conversation is better than struggling in silence.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem, though if your boss is open to feedback it’s important to approach the conversation without being critical or attacking. In situations where a toxic boss is causing low job satisfaction, anxiety or depression, it can help to speak to a professional to help manage your relationship and rebuild healthy boundaries.

The importance of managing your mental health in the workplace

The first step in talking to your boss about mental health is to acknowledge it’s no different to having a conversation about physical health. You wouldn’t hesitate to open a dialogue about the struggles of a broken leg, and your mental health is no different.

Seek support from your GP and relevant HR manager, be clear with your needs and bring your suggested strategies to implement them as part of your role. Keep the conversation clear and professional and seek support if your boss is the cause of your mental health challenges.

Me&Work helps organisations develop healthy and productive work environments so people can thrive. If you’d like assistance in creating a work environment that prioritises and promotes mental health and wellbeing, contact our friendly team on 1300 90 45 57 or use our contact form to organise a meeting with our staff.