10 steps to talking to your boss if you're suffering from depression or anxiety

A study last year found that as many as 85% of people still think there is stigma attached to bringing up their mental health at work. In general, it appeared people still feel that they won't be taken as seriously if they take time off for their mental wellbeing as they would be if they were suffering from something outwardly physical.

But stress, anxiety, and depression can all result in significant mental health problems, as well as ultimately becoming physical problems too. And taking time off for them is just as valid as if you needed rest after catching the flu. After all, you wouldn't tell someone who had cancer to just "suck it up."

According to Mind, the mental health charity, 48% of workers have experienced a mental health problem in their current job, and over half of them don't tell anyone.

Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory, wants to help tackle this problem. He's come up with a list which shows how you can bring up your mental health with your boss. Healthier employees improve the bottom line, he said, and employers have a legal duty to protect their employees from stresses at work that could make things worse.

Here's what he said you should do if you find yourself in this situation.

1. Remember it's no different to reporting a physical health problem

There isn't any difference in reporting a mental health problem to a physical one, McLaren said, it just feels different.

"When we are depressed, we often have strong feelings of shame about how we are feeling," he said. "That is not just a psychological reaction but part of the biology of depression. Shame leads us to hiding away but hiding away makes our situation worse in the workplace and elsewhere."

2. Write down what you're feeling

"If you can't find the words to explain how you feel, or the help you may need from your employer, write it down first in an email or letter," said McLaren. "Check it and run it past someone close."

3. Focus on your productivity and ability to do your job

McLaren said you should steer the conversation towards how your mental health is impacting your work and productivity, rather than focusing on how you feel. That way, you can come up with a way to work together and improve the situation.

"Remember, your employer will want to help you not least because it makes good business sense," he said.

4. It's up to you how much you want to disclose

You can be completely honest, or keep the majority of your situation to yourself — it's entirely up to you.

"You don't have to 'name' your condition but be careful about words like 'stress' which can mean many different things and is often misinterpreted," McLaren said. "If you have seen your doctor, and have a diagnosis, then let your employer know you are ill."

5. Don't sweat about the so-called stigma

"Stigma and discrimination about mental health is 'not allowed' to exist in the workplace in 2018," said McLaren. "Most responsible employers recognise that and many take positive steps to reduce it through educating their workforce about mental as well as physical wellbeing."

This isn't always the case, but companies that react badly to an employee with a mental health issue have something wrong at their core.

6. Consider a mediator

Sometimes, you might think you can't talk to your boss, because they won't be understanding, or fair. In this case, you may want to seek help from a mediator.

"You don't have to do this alone if you don't want to," said McLaren. "Help and support can often be found in your HR department, through a trusted colleague, via an occupational health officer or a representative from ACAS."

7. Consider that your boss may be more receptive than you think

"These days mental ill health is the commonest reason for sickness absence," said McLaren. "Between one in five and one in six people will seek help for depression at some time so 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. Check what your work offers

Companies will likely want to invest in their employee wellbeing, said McLaren, and this could include free phone counselling or face-to-face therapy. It's good to see what they offer, because you may find it hugely beneficial.

9. Give them feedback

If your company was really helpful, let them know. If you were still left feeling lost and alone, they should know that too.

"Let your employer know how they did," McLaren said. "What was helpful for you when you were struggling? Help your organisation to learn from your experience."

10. Always speak up

By speaking up, you help yourself, your company, and future employees who may find themselves struggling in the same way.

"As a valued employee, with knowledge and experience, your firm has invested time and training in you and want you to be productive," McLaren said. "When we get depressed, we lose sight of that. By speaking up, you are helping yourself — and them."

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