Mental health has risen up the workplace agenda – and it starts with a conversation with your boss. Dr Paul McLaren explains how to have the talk.

In today’s economic climate, many can be forgiven for feeling ‘grateful’ to have a job and, therefore, all too easily the added pressures of working life get accepted rather than questioned.

Many may even consider it a weakness to suggest they are unable to cope.

But mental health has risen up the workplace agenda – and it starts by having a conversation with your boss. Recent research by Business in the Community found 84% of managers acknowledged that employee wellbeing was their responsibility. 

More than 11million days a year are lost at work because of stress, and employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

After all, stress, anxiety and depression may result in significant mental health problems when experienced over a long time.

There are several approaches you can take – and by “tackling the taboo”, you may be pleasantly surprised by the positive response.  After all, healthier employees improve the bottom line. Here are 10 things to remember:

1. There’s no shame

A mental health problem is no different to reporting a problem with your physical health… it just feels different. When we are depressed, we often have strong feelings of shame about how we are feeling. That is not just a psychological reaction but part of the biology of depression. Shame leads us to hiding away but doing so makes our situation worse in the workplace and elsewhere.

2. Put pen to paper

Can’t find the words? Write it down first in an email or letter. Then check it and run it past someone close.

3. Bring it back to the bottom line

Rather than making it about how you ‘feel’, focus on the impact your mental health is having on your work and productivity – and how you can work together to improve the situation.

4. You don’t have to put a label on it

It’s entirely up to you how much you want to disclose – you don’t have to ‘name’ your condition but be careful about words like ‘stress’ which is often misinterpreted. If you have seen your doctor, and have a diagnosis, let your employer know you are ill.

5. Times are changing

Don’t sweat about the so-called stigma – stigma and discrimination about mental health is ‘not allowed’ to exist in the workplace in 2018. Most responsible employers recognise that and take positive steps to reduce it through educating their workforce about mental as well as physical wellbeing.

6. Find a middle man

If you really feel you can’t face talking to your boss, seek help in the form of a mediator – you don’t have to do this alone if you don’t want to. Try seeking help through your firm’s HR department, a trusted colleague, via an occupational health officer, or a representative from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

7. You’re not alone

Between one in five and one in six people will seek help for depression at some time. The chances are that someone in your office or management team will have direct experience of it either through having suffered themselves or being close to someone who did.

8. Find out what’s on offer at work 

Companies both large and small across the UK invest in their employee wellbeing and want to provide support to their employees. This might include free counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy programmes and online health and wellbeing tools.

9) Give feedback

Don’t forget to let them know how they did. What was helpful for you when you were struggling? Help your organisation to learn from your experience.

10) Your health is a priority

By speaking up, you are helping yourself and others. As a valued employee, with knowledge and experience, your firm has invested much time and training in you and want you to be productive. When we get depressed we can too easily lose sight of that.

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Dr Paul McLaren is a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Fenchurch Street.

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