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The Work-Life Issue

Should You Tell Your Boss If You Have a Mental Health Condition?

While the world may be more accepting of mental health issues, disclosing your mental health condition is still quite a daunting endeavor. However, managing mental health issues while balancing work commitments can be difficult for some. It is no wonder why some individuals feel that discussing these struggles with their employer may be beneficial.

Even so, these discussions are hard enough to have with your immediate family, let alone with those at your place of employment. Furthermore, how do you broach the subject? There is no manual for these things, and working through the disclosure process is hard. Nevertheless, some resources can be utilized to help ease the journey.

Many Factors Impact the Decision

Mental health disclosure, in general, is difficult for many. For example, a systemic review of mental health disclosure outside of the workplace found that the potential stigma, rules and beliefs around mental health conditions and the relationship between those involved, were significant factors of influence.

While these are also present in workplace disclosure, the research shows that things are a little more complex when it comes to employment.

For instance, a 2012 systematic review into factors associated with mental health disclosure within the workplace found nine main influences.

  1. Gender: Women were significantly less likely to disclose their mental health conditions than men.
  2. Emotional support: When employees felt more supported by supervisors and co-workers, disclosure rates increased.
  3. Diagnosis: Those diagnosed with mood disorders were found significantly less likely to disclose their condition when compared to those with schizophrenia.
  4. Severity and management of symptoms: Disclosure was more common in those who displayed symptoms at work.
  5. Work setting: Individuals who worked in a mental health setting were more likely to disclose their condition when compared to those who worked in health/social services, technical, educational, and business settings.
  6. Work-related concerns: The feelings around maintaining a good professional status were significant. For example, these included worries about fitting in, losing their job, and confidence levels.
  7. Familiarity with legislation: Workers familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were more likely to disclose their condition.
  8. Supported employment approach type: Individuals on the Diversified Placement Approach (DPA) were more likely to disclose their conditions to supervisors and co-workers when compared to those on the Individual Placement and Support Programme (IPS).
  9. Having previously received state or disability benefits: Those who'd never received state or disability benefits were more likely to disclose their condition.

Nevertheless, while these fears are valid, the research into the consequences of condition disclosure has been promising. For instance, a recent study of Dutch adults found that 64.2% of survey respondents who disclosed their condition had a positive experience.

In contrast, only 9% of those who disclosed had a negative experience. In this instance, the researchers recommended that workers make disclosure decisions based on their workplace contexts.

While this research isn’t based on the American context, therefore not to be easily generalized, it does show signs of how disclosure discussions should occur. Furthermore, the same study found that 22.6% of individuals still had a positive experience while not disclosing their condition. Therefore, it also highlights that disclosure may not be necessary in some instances.

However, before an argument can be made on whether or not someone should disclose their condition, it’s important to discuss why someone may choose to do precisely that.

ADA defines a person with a disability as being, “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

ADA and the subsequent Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 are designed to protect employees with disabilities from workplace discrimination. 

Benefits and Pitfalls of Mental Health Disclosure

While mental health disclosure may seem daunting, there are many positives to disclosing your condition. For example, you can receive necessary accommodations, reduce your stress levels due to not worrying about concealing your condition, and access any workplace programs available.

These positives also have the benefit of helping job performance and thus allow individuals to be more present in the workplace. After all, poor mental health within the workplace can negatively affect job productivity, performance, physical functioning, and communication. However, there are other benefits too.

“I feel that this conversation opens a line of trust between me and my employees,” says Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-certified. She is the clinical director of Burning Tree Ranch and therefore has ample experience in conversations such as these. “[As a supervisor] it’s my job to optimize productivity and help employees feel comfortable while in the workplace,” she adds.

Nevertheless, the fears around disclosure are not unfounded. For example, people with mental illnesses often find themselves with lower rates of employment.

Furthermore, those who can find employment often find themselves having to fight mental health stigma, in addition to maintaining their work performance — which is a highly pressurized situation. Therefore it is no wonder why conversations around disclosure arouse some hesitancy.

Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-certified

I feel that this conversation opens a line of trust between me and my employees.

— Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-certified

To curb these fears, Bohlman recommends people think about what they are hoping to get out of the conversation before approaching their boss.

“This can be anything from needing extra days off for doctor appointments to requesting accommodations, such as moving your desk,” she says.

Anchoring your request in a tangible outcome has many benefits. For example, it will allow you to curate your request in a beneficial way to your needs. In addition, it can help you decide if the disclosure is necessary.

After all, telling your employer about your condition isn’t required. And some individuals may realize that they can tackle their needs without their boss’s assistance. But, should you still wish to go ahead, other methods can be implemented.

How to Prepare to Speak to Your Boss

Before speaking to your boss or supervisor, there are several things to consider.

Do’s

  • Pay attention to how they function in the workplace: “If they make you uncomfortable by gossiping or making jokes at the expense of people with mental health disorders, this is a red flag,” Bohlman says. She recommends that you look at your work environment carefully.
  • Consult with a therapist: Not only will a therapist be able to offer you emotional support, but they can also offer insight into your specific situation.
  • Consult your HR department: Should getting a therapist not be feasible, you can always utilize your HR department. “The HR department is legally obligated to keep your status confidential and provide assistance and support,” says Bohlman.

Don’ts

  • Speak to your employer before carving out a meeting time: “If you are looking to speak with your employer, find some dedicated time to have their direct and undivided attention,” Bohlman says. While many employers may have open-door policies, there is no telling whether or not there will be interruptions. To avoid any feeling of devaluation from your boss, she advises you to take the extra step and arrange a meeting.
  • Come unprepared: Anyone seeking to disclose their mental health must come prepared to answer any questions asked. Therefore, preparation is key. Not only do you need to come ready to answer different questions, but you will also be required to speak up for your needs. Therefore, it’s best to have your requests in mind before your meeting.
  • Forget to practice: If you’re nervous about speaking to your boss, it may be best to practice. “First, you should map out your needs and have them written down before your meeting, so you are fully prepared,” Bohlman says. “You can then practice your conversation with friends or family so that you feel more well-rounded and comfortable with having this discussion,” she finishes.

Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-Certified

Mental health is still very unseen and has a stigma associated with it, so the more prepared a person is for having this conversation, the more confident and comfortable they will be.

— Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-Certified

What to Do If Your Meeting Doesn’t Go As Planned

If, for any reason, your meeting with your boss or supervisor doesn’t go as planned, there are still other methods at your disposal.

For example, you can speak with your HR department about ways to navigate your condition in the workplace. “[They] will always offer support with accommodations, whether it be making appointments or balancing your workload,” Bohlman says. However, this is not all they can help you with.

“Talking to them will allow you to speak freely. Should they not be supportive, it offers you an opportunity to go above your supervisor to get the help you need,” she adds. This can be particularly useful for those who’d feel safer not speaking to others about their condition.

But that’s not all; you can also seek out other resources around you. She recommends checking employee assistance programs and/or getting a doctor’s note so you can get the help you need.

However, Bohlman would like to assure people that it’s seen as a sign of trust for many supervisors when an employee reaches out to them. “This allows me to open the conversation up further and make accommodations as needed,” she finishes.

Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-Certified

Disclosure is efficacious and, in some ways, works better for some people more than others. Whether you are an employer or an employee, you can utilize mental health disclosure to become more open and understanding.

— Meghan Bohlman, LPC, LCDC, EMDR-Certified

Final Things to Consider

Whether or not you choose to disclose your mental illness depends on many factors. However, with mental illness being taken more seriously, disclosure can be the best course of action for some. Not only does it allow someone to take control of their mental health, but it also allows you to use your autonomy.

Whatever you decide, it’s crucial to ensure you are prepared, both in learning the resources available to you and taking ownership of what specific accommodations you require.

However, this is only half the battle. For any employers or supervisors reading this, it’s also imperative you become open to asking your employees if they need any workplace accommodations or support.

“As a supervisor, my role in this situation is to be supportive and listen. After the conversation, the follow-through is typically more important than the conversation itself,” says Bohlman. “It’s one thing to walk away from the conversation feeling heard, but the follow-through is where the employee can gain trust with the employer.”

After all, many of them may be too nervous to ask for help. Therefore, providing your team with an open and supportive work environment is essential too.

Many of these conversations only address workers’ concerns, and while this is justified, as a culture, there also needs to be a call for employers to do better. After all, the benefits of supported workers go both ways.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Dewa CS, van Weeghel J, Joosen MCW, Gronholm PC, Brouwers EPM. Workers’ decisions to disclose a mental health issue to managers and the consequences. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:631032. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.631032

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