A Young Professional’s Guide: How To Bring Up A Mental Health Condition With Your Employer

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To create a healthy work-life balance, many students and new grads choose to keep their personal and professional lives separate. However, this can become challenging if you live with a mental health condition.

There is no rule that forces you to tell your employer what you’re experiencing. However, if your performance is being impacted at work, it may be a good idea to share this information with your manager. By law, workplaces must help accommodate anyone who has a disability, and this includes mental illness. While this may seem daunting at first, you’ll likely be surprised to find that most employers are quite open to discussing this topic.

The benefits of telling your employer

Disclosing your mental health condition is the first step to creating solutions. By opening up the conversation, you can work with your manager and your HR department to come up with strategies that will help support you in your role. This can include accommodations such as flexible hours, working from home, or an adjustment in job duties. Sharing your condition may also help your manager understand any changes in your behaviour or productivity.

If you decide to talk to your employer, here are some tips to help you frame the conversation. Remember that throughout all of this, you own the conversation. You are under no obligation to share the details of everything you’re experiencing, so consider making a list of the necessary information your employer might need to know in order to support you effectively.

Guideline What that means What you could say
Be clear The person you’re talking to may not know much about your condition. Use plain and simple language to explain how you feel. “I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder a few months ago. I get very nervous before meetings, especially when I have to speak in public.”
Be specific Tell your employer exactly what kind of support you’ll need to manage your condition. This is often the best way to ensure you receive the assistance you require. “It would be helpful if I had a flexible break schedule so I can take care of myself when a panic attack occurs.”
Be positive Emphasize your interest in remaining a valuable member of the organization. “My focus is on getting better and ensuring I continue to be a contributing member of this team.”
Be prescriptive Tell your manager what they can and cannot share with other employees in the workplace. “If anyone asks why I’m taking a break, could you tell them about my condition? You can tell them that I have anxiety, but I’d prefer that you not specify the type.”

By initiating this conversation, you are demonstrating that you trust and value your manager (or colleague). Even if they don’t fully understand your situation, they will most likely want to help you through it.

What resources are available?

Throughout the process, try to take advantage of the resources around you. A close friend or family member can help you decide whether disclosing is the right move for you. A mentor or career counsellor can give you a second opinion based on his or her knowledge of your office’s culture and policies. A medical professional can help you decide which accommodations will be the most helpful for you.

There are also numerous resources online such as this website that features a “pros and cons tool” to help you decide whether to disclose. Don’t forget to utilize your company’s benefits, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which will provide you with additional advice and can refer you to services in your community.

What if I don’t say anything?

If you decide not to share anything with your manager, make sure that you use resources outside of the workplace for support. Take good care of yourself and monitor your symptoms. If you continue to feel the way you do, you can always disclose at a later point in time. Remember that mental health is better understood now than it was before. People are talking about it and you may be pleasantly surprised by their response.

The most important thing is to make sure you do what’s best for yourself and your well-being.

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