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On-the-job strategies to help manage a mental health concern

Posted by Priya Sholanki, MSW, RSW on February 1, 2019 at 12:01 PM

Two men in hardhats chatting in an industrial warehouse.

Speaking up about your mental health at work can be a tough thing to do. You may have some real fears about opening up at work. You might be worried about not being considered a team player, or that stigma in the workplace will affect you. Consider your workplace culture; is someone likely to be receptive?

It can be tough. But trying to hide your mental health concerns can end up being a lot tougher. You may be feeling down, or anxious, or wrestling with the anniversary of a traumatic event. Maybe you have trouble hiding your emotions and co-workers are noticing the impact on your work. Maybe you’ve concealed your feelings and are exhausted by the pretense.

Here’s some suggestions to help you decide when and how to open up at work:

Start by recognizing your own needs. Are you able to pinpoint how your mental health is currently affecting your feelings and work? This can be difficult to do on your own. If you haven’t spoken to a qualified mental health professional yet, start with that step. Having a clearer idea of your mental health and what goals you need to achieve will help you move forward.

Have a look at support provided by your employer. Being at work usually contributes to good mental health; it provides social connection, routine, and structure. So make sure to consider that staying at work as much as you can is a healthy strategy.

Check what supports your employer may have in place for people with mental health concerns. For some short-term periods of stress, such as relationship challenges, you may find support through an EAP; for difficult feelings that continue for several weeks or more, consider exploring therapy options. These may include extended health coverage for psychology services such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or digital CBT such as BEACON.

Your needs may include accommodation at work such as a change in your schedule or workload, and it’s worth understanding your options before approaching your manager. Explore what options are available to you through your employer.

Informal peer support.
Is there someone you could buddy up with? Do you have a co-worker you’re comfortable asking for some occasional help? “Do you mind giving this email a quick read-through to let me know if it sounds alright?”

Approaching your supervisor or HR rep. The tips above do not mean a discussion with your boss is a last resort – when your job is impacted, whether through absence or lateness, performance or behavioural changes, it’s a good time to have that discussion.

Make sure you schedule the meeting in a private space so you don’t feel stressed about colleagues overhearing. And make sure to schedule enough time. Your health is valuable and worth the time to discuss.  

There's no need to share every detail about everything you’re going through – but be honest enough so your manager can support you successfully going forward.

If you’ve taken a proactive approach and tried the steps above, your manager can see you’re demonstrating a commitment to your health, and this can make the conversation easier.

* * *

When it comes to opening up at work, empower yourself by knowing your options, lean on friends, on the supports available in the workplace, and remember you don’t have to disclose personal information or share every detail of what you’re going through to your boss. If your mental health is affecting work, your supervisor would appreciate knowing how you’d like to address it, and you deserve to assert your needs too.

Ultimately, finding ways to stay well at work will help you on your road to better mental health.

Topics: Working adults