Opening up about your mental illness at work can be a terrifying idea.
While the conversation around mental health has become a lot more common (even celebs are talking about it), the stigma is still very real.
So if you’re considering talking to your boss about your mental illness, here are a few things you might want to consider.
When Should You Do It?
Should you tell your boss about your mental health before you’re hired or after? Well, that depends a lot on your particular symptoms.
For example, if you think your specific illness will affect how you work, then it’s best to get it out of the way upfront. If you anticipate needing to request to work a few days a week from home or alter your hours in some way, it will be a lot easier to make these things clear before you’re hired rather than try to negotiate afterward.
Obviously, this can be scary: will you lose the job if you ask for accommodations? While the law bans employers from discriminating based on disability, you might never know if the hiring manager is subconsciously influenced.
But the truth is that you don’t want to put yourself in a stressful work environment. By putting your needs out there from the beginning, you can set yourself up for success.
Who Should You Tell?
Deciding who in your office needs to know about your situation will depend on the way your office is set up.
The most obvious person you should tell is your direct supervisor, especially if you’ll need accommodations like working from home or time off each week to see your therapist.
At my last job, I started with my direct supervisor, who then encouraged me to tell the department head and another manager in the department whom I often worked with. I took her advice and got really lucky — all three women were extremely understanding and supportive.
So if you’re unsure of who needs to know, don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor, especially if you trust him/her.
If you don’t trust your supervisor, on the other hand, a safe bet is to talk to HR. They’re there to protect you and may have some great advice for you on how to handle the situation.
How Much Should You Disclose?
The key here is to keep it professional. Obviously, you need to tell your boss how your mental health will affect your work life, but it’s also important to remember that this is your workplace and not your therapist’s office. You don’t need to go into your whole story.
How to Prepare
First thing’s first: set up a meeting with your boss. This is not the kind of thing you want to do spontaneously or spring on your boss in the middle of the workday.
Next thing is to make a list of all the points you want to get across to your boss. What specifically are you going to disclose?
And lastly, make sure you’re clear on what you’re asking for. There’s probably a reason why you feel the need to talk to your boss about your situation (and it’s not just for fun). If you’re going to ask for special accommodations, make sure you’re clear on exactly what you’re going to request, how you will make it work, and how you will ensure it won’t affect your overall work quality.
And the Most Important Thing…
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you are under no obligation to disclose your illness. It is completely your choice.
At a previous job, I never told my bosses about my situation. When I had my therapy appointments, I told them I was going to the doctor (which was true!). When I was too depressed or anxious to make it into work, I merely took a sick day.
At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you. And it’s up to you to decide if telling your boss is necessary.
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