For so long, so many of us struggling with our mental health have tried to keep our issues well hidden. When asked why there’s unaccounted time-off on our CVs, we’ve simply put it down to ‘taking some time out to develop much needed skills’. If asked at interview if adjustments need to be made for any reason, we’ve shied away and shaken our heads to confirm that no, we don’t need help or support. And this is fine.
However, should we, in this day and age, be hiding our mental health conditions away like diseases we don’t want people to catch?
When I was starting out in my career, I went at it full force, nothing was stopping me, I could work 24/7 and nothing affected me. Then the paranoia started; were people at work talking about me? Were they doubting my ability to do my job? Did they know I was struggling? Then the Glandular Fever happened and then came the downward mental health spiral.
At interviews for future jobs, I didn’t mention my mental state to anyone. I thought it would jeopardise my career and I already had a low opinion of myself and compared myself to everyone else. Everyone else looked shiny and professional and I was falling behind and falling apart. When I eventually had to tell someone I was struggling with depression, it was dismissed like I was making it up. I needed a doctor’s note as ‘proof’. Then I was given verbal warnings and given the choice of ‘getting better or leaving’.
This shouldn’t ever be a position that someone should find themselves in.
Since I’ve received a diagnosis and been more open about it, the shame is starting to disintegrate, although I do still worry about it and whether employers see me as weak. However, after blogging for Mind and having an amazing response, there are so many people out there being discriminated against for their mental health and IT’S NOT RIGHT.
Ultimately, it is up to you whether you tell your employer about your mental health condition but if you do decide to and they treat you badly or differently, it’s discrimination and YOU HAVE RIGHTS. Read more about these on Mind’s website here.
Here are a couple of pointers that might help to start you on your way:
- Sit down with your Manager in a quiet and calm space
- Take deep breaths and remember why you’re telling them
- Speak slowly and don’t feel pressured to rush
- Be honest and explain what’s happened and what’s going on
- Let them know you decided to tell them because you’d value their support
- Ask if there are any adjustments that can be made (if you need them – Have things in mind, for example, starting work later in the morning if you struggle to sleep at night or if driving at rush hour makes you edgy)
- Thank them for listening and for being supportive
Your Manager might want to talk to HR about your chat so they can get support themselves if needed. Not everyone will know how to help you so they might need some input. All the better if it’s going to help you in the long run.
In the end, sharing the state of your mental health and your condition is entirely up to you. No one else. If your workplace is still stigmatising mental health and you don’t feel comfortable disclosing it, you don’t have to. However, if you do want to share, your employer should be open to listening.