Work is a major part of many of our lives. We spend a large portion of our days there, work hard to maintain our careers and rely on the income that our jobs provide.

Deciding whether or not to talk about mental health at work can be difficult, as the idea of opening up about such a personal part of life can cause people to worry about how it will affect other’s perceptions of them as well as their career development in the future.

Dr Paul McLaren, Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove and Priory Wellbeing Centres Harley Street and Fenchurch Street in Central London, has outlined why people should talk to their managers about their mental health and when to do so. He has also looked at the most effective ways to have the conversation and the options that are available if a person doesn’t feel comfortable talking to their manager.

Why people aren’t discussing their mental health at work

People often keep their mental health conditions to themselves at work. Some feel that they can’t talk about it as the stigma would impact people’s opinions of them and their abilities.

Dr McLaren says: “Remember, a mental health problem is no different to reporting a problem with your physical health… it just feels different. Stigma and discrimination are on the way out and should not be tolerated in the modern workplace. Most responsible employers recognise that and many take positive steps to reduce it through educating their workforce about mental as well as physical wellbeing.”

How can people talk to their managers about their mental health?

When someone does decide to talk to their manager about their mental health, there are ways to effectively raise the topic.

Dr McLaren says: “Rather than making it about how you feel, focus on the impact your mental health is having on your work and productivity – and how you can work together to improve the situation. Remember, your employer will want to help you not least because it makes good business sense.

“It’s entirely up to you how much you want to disclose – 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. If you have seen your doctor, and have a diagnosis, then let your employer know you are ill.

“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. Check it and run it past someone close to you.”

Do people have to talk to their boss about their mental health?

A person doesn’t have to talk to their boss about their mental health. If their mental health is impacting on their work, there are alternative ways to talk about or mention it.

Dr McLaren says: “If you really feel you can’t face talking to your boss, seek help in the form of a mediator – you don’t have to do this alone if you don’t want to. Help and support can often be found in your HR department, through a trusted colleague or via an occupational health officer.

“Check out what is on offer at work. Companies, both large and small, invest in their employee wellbeing and want to provide support to their employees. This might include free phone counselling and short-term face-to-face counselling (typically 6-8 sessions).

“Care First, part of the Priory Group, operates an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) for many employers, consisting of a 24/7 telephone counselling helpline, face-to-face counselling and a range of services such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programmes, an online health and wellbeing programme and an ‘EAP in Your Pocket’, which is an app giving employees access to tools for stress and anxiety. Users track their mood over time and receive help to maximise their coping mechanisms. Check whether your employer offers this too, as it is free for employees and hugely valuable.”