Mental health issues can be difficult to discuss – here's how staff and bosses can broach this thorny subject

Kate Allen
Texas Iraq War Veteran Struggles to Cope with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
People who speak up about their mental health worry that they will be judged (Source: Getty)

Of all the conversations you can have with your boss at work, having one about mental health is arguably the most difficult.

However, with 48 per cent of people having experienced a mental health problem in their current role, it’s a conversation that we have to get more comfortable having.

While yesterday’s World Mental Health Day gets people talking, there’s still a stigma around mental health, and people who speak up worry that they will be judged.

Read more: UK companies can't afford to ignore mental health issues

The fact is that, while we are infinitely more fortunate than generations before us in so many ways, there are greater pressures too. The cost of living is rising, families are still finding it hard to get onto the property ladder, and childcare is expensive. The list goes on.

Whether we realise it or not, all of these impact our state of mind – and materialise as stress, or something more serious.

To earn a living, we have no choice but to take our mental health to work with us. What happens when we need to talk about it?

Emotional strain

If you feel that you need extra support, there will come a time when you need to have a conversation with your manager. Chances are, there will be some emotion there, so have a list of points to cover.

Start with the background. Then outline how it has an impact on your life, and what you feel is needed to resolve the issue – changes to your working area or hours, or being allowed to take time off work for treatment. At the very least, identify a starting point.

If you’re an employer, try to start the dialogue with your employee. Make it easier for them. It may be that they need more targeted support, and in this situation, you should take the necessary steps to identify that, and build time into the employee’s working day.

Work is where the heart is

Research the changes that your boss has the ability to action, and what you’re entitled to.

If you are looking for a new role, asking about an employer’s health and wellbeing policy, or investigating how they look after their employees via their website or social media, will indicate how well your mental health will be considered.

Employers, take note.

Candidates will want evidence of how you look after staff, or the mental health initiatives that you support, while existing employees will expect changes to be made to the culture of your organisation – if they haven’t already, that is.

Put yourselves out there, and let potential candidates know that you care.

Sharing is caring

Discussing mental health isn’t easy. There are two approaches.

You could take courage and comfort from the fact that the act of talking about our mental health has received high-profile support over recent years, not least from Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their Heads Together campaign.

Alternatively, you can ask for someone in a supportive role to be in the room with you, as you may decide that you would like to be more cautious with the information you share – particularly if you have been affected by a mental health problem over a long period of time.

Do what makes you comfortable.

The average person spends 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime; we should be happy there as much as possible, and treat our mental health in the same way as we treat our physical health – whether the pressure is work-related or not.

Employers, do whatever you can to make your staff feel as though they can talk to you – you will reap the rewards going forward.

Read more: London workers with mental health problems fail to tell bosses