Disclosing a mental health problem to your manager

If you’ve experienced mental health problems at work, deciding whether to disclose this will depend on a number of factors, including the culture of your practice, your role and seniority.

If you’ve experienced mental health problems at work, deciding whether to disclose this will depend on a number of factors, including the culture of your practice, your role and seniority.

If you’ve seen colleagues treated badly upon admitting that they’re struggling with their mental health, you may be unlikely to put your head above the parapet.

Employees who work in environments where they can talk openly about mental health at work can rest assured that if they disclose a mental health problem, they’ll be met with understanding and support, rather than stigma or discrimination.

However, we know that in many workplaces, mental health may still appear to be a taboo topic. As such, if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health problem, and you are not confident that your manager will be supportive, it’s worth getting legal advice by emailing [email protected] before telling your employer.

Share (but you don’t have to bare all)

It’s not advisable to tell your manager everything you would tell a close friend, but telling your manager about mental health issues that are affecting your day-to-day functioning could take pressure off you.  To start off discussions on the right footing, keep the lines of communications as clear and concise as you can.

Be aware of your rights

In order to get the protection of the Equality Act for a mental health problem that is a disability, you need to have disclosed your mental health issue to your employer.  A mental (or physical) condition that has a substantial, long-term, adverse effect on your normal daily activities counts as a disability.

Choose your confidant wisely

If you have an HR department, going to HR rather than directly to your manager is always an option.  You can disclose the situation to them in confidence, and they can support you with the next steps – how to ask for any time off you might need, and what your rights are.  At some point though, if you do need some leeway or temporary special measures, your manager will need to know. If you have access to an EAP, they can provide advice on this too although be aware that most EAPs are completely confidential and so by telling the EAP about your difficulty, your employer will not have been informed

Find the balance between personal and professional

Frame your discussions with your manager around the effect your particular problem is having on your day-to-day duties.  Keep the boundaries between your private-self and work-self intact – give matter of fact explanations rather than an in-depth, blow by blow personal account, and be selective about how much you disclose, keeping it to what they need to know. Explain briefly what the issue is, how it’s impacting you and what measures you feel you need to put in place to manage that, whether through temporary flexible working or some time off.  Try to be clear what you need from your manager in order to be able to manage things. If you feel unsure or insecure, you can always take a colleague you trust into the meeting with your manager to provide you with support

Get your paperwork in order

If you’ve sought the help of a professional, bring any documentation with you to provide further details about your condition to act as an independent second opinion.  Provide more information, including a doctor’s note and, if appropriate, resources on mental health problems. The Mind website is a good source.

Be clear what adjustments you think will help and how the issue is being treated outside of work. Coming prepared with the measures you feel would best benefit your recovery will afford you a greater level of control over the next steps.

Work with your manager to create a plan of action

View the process as collaborative to best devise a productive way to balance both work and health commitments equally going forward. Be as explicit as possible – for example, stating the exact time and day you would like to leave early every week to see a therapist, rather than just saying you need to go and see a therapist. Try to offer some flexibility in what you want from your employer, so your manager can see that the meeting is collaborative rather than a demand

Take advantage of any support already available from your employer, such as a mentor or employee assistance programme.

Prepare beforehand in case the meeting does not go well – know your rights:

• Mind