World Mental Health Day is just one date in the calendar that encourages us to not only look after our mental health, but to talk about it too.
While general attitudes towards mental illnesses have undeniably progressed in recent years, there’s still a significant amount of stigma – some of which lives in the workplace.
Research exclusively shared with us, from HR and learning experts MHR, reveals that 47% of employees believe that disclosing mental health issues to their employer would negatively impact upon their career.
The survey of over 6,000 UK workers found that almost half of Brits would feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health with a boss or member of HR.
Data comparing the number of sick days employees have taken in 2020 and 2021 and the reasons why, shows that poor mental health is increasingly an issue.
A perfectly valid reason to call in ill, mental health is being attributed to sick days 16% more than last year.
Despite a 26% increase in organisations offering mental health first aid training, it’s still a taboo issue in the workplace.
Other research has shown wellbeing classes, which are becoming all the more common in large companies, aren’t having the desired effect or doing enough to make employees feel safe in discussing mental health.
Until company cultures change, workers will continue to feel anxious in sharing the state of their mental health with employers.
Jeanette Wheeler, HR director at MHR, tells us: ‘Individuals that recognise they need time off to look after their wellbeing should not feel threatened to admit the truth to their employer.
‘Creating a safe space for conversations about mental health is about more than just companywide training, it comes down to the culture of an organisation.’
Due to this, workers lack confidence in how to actually address the issue when they need to.
Jeanette says: ‘Speaking to your boss about mental health issues can be daunting, but it is an important conversation to have.’
There are various ways to approach it.
‘You don’t need to have all the answers but you should consider the sort of help you would like from your employer before you speak with them as they are likely to ask this,’ Jeanette says.
‘For example explaining to your manager that you have spoken with your GP and they have advised you would benefit from time off work for stress, or perhaps you’d like to discuss your workload and how this is managed within the team as it is causing you stress.
‘It is your employers role to work with you to find a solution that works for both parties.’
Face to face
‘While face to face conversations are always preferable,’ Jeanette says, ‘those who find it difficult speaking about their mental health struggles or who are working remotely may wish to contact their manager via email at first.
‘This can help to kick start the conversation and create the space for them to speak face to face at a later stage.’
You might also find you can communicate an emotionally charged situation better in writing than in person.
Stuck for words?
It can be hard to know what to actually say.
‘Whether you are writing an email, discussing it over the phone, or in person, to broach the topic of mental health with your manager you could first ask them for a private conversation and say something like: “I have been struggling with my wellbeing and I would like to discuss this with you”.
‘If you would like to request time off to help you manage with your mental health, you should speak with your GP who can advise you and provide you with a sicknote to provide to your employer.
‘When having these conversations, as hard as it can be try not to get caught up on specific wording, but allow yourself to be honest.’
If you don’t have a close or comfortable relationship with your manager, mental health might feel like a futile thing to discuss – but it’s important you still do.
‘For those who don’t feel comfortable talking to their manager, they may want to consider speaking to an HR representative, mental health first aider or trusted colleague.
‘Many businesses provide Employee Assistance Programmes which are independent and can be accessed for support, counselling, and advice,’ she says.
Needing time off
Sometimes asking for time off is essential for recovery, but given our attitudes to mental health, it can feel like a big ask.
Jeanette says: ‘As with initiating conversations about your mental health, asking for time off because of it can be nerve-wracking. However, taking time out when needed is vital.
‘Mental health charity Mind suggests before you ask for time off, you should consider how and when to do it, and how much information you want to give.
‘Don’t feel like you have to go into too many personal details, as you wouldn’t if you were taking time off for any other illness, and instead focus on how your issues are impacting your job and what support you would like your employer to provide you.’
Being treated differently
There’s a difference between helpful adjustments and being treated as less than after disclosing any problems.
‘To help support you with your mental health, your manager may adjust your workload or the way in which you work for example adjusting work routines, level of involvement in additional activities, or perhaps even adding regular checking in with you to see how you are more frequently,’ Jeanette says.
‘These types of changes should be viewed positively as they are steps being made by your manager or employer to help you.
‘If, however, you feel your being treated with a lack of care, respect, or consideration to the challenges you are experiencing with your mental health then you should raise this with your HR representative, mental health first aider, or any suitable alternative management so they can take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.
‘It’s worth remembering that there are laws to protect you from discrimination at work, which includes issues of physical and mental health, and any form of discrimination should not be tolerated.’