I recently started a new job after not working for a little over a year. This was partially due to me going to school but mostly due to the condition of my mental health. Since starting my first job as a teen, I’ve had to quit several jobs because of my crippling anxiety coupled with chaotic bipolar episodes. It has been a repeating cycle, I work for a while and I’m fine but it’s not long before I’m hunched over in the bathroom of my workplace trying to calm myself from a panic attack. It got to the point where I’d miss day after day because I lived in fear of what would happen once I clocked in. I went from working two jobs at 17 to not being able to work at all. Now that I’m stable and able to work again, I figured it’s time we discuss mental health in the workplace.
In the past, I was forced to disclose my diagnosis to employers because it started to affect my work. Luckily for me, they were pretty accommodating but I understand this isn’t everyone’s experience. As much as I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t feel the need to hide parts of who we are, the stigma that still surrounds mental health prevents this. This poses the question of whether we should tell employers about our mental illness. Honestly, I don’t feel you should unless it’s impacting your work. If you’re stable and able to function, there’s no need for it but if you notice yourself going downhill, it might be time to have a conversation with them. I haven’t had to tell my current employer about me having bipolar disorder and anxiety… yet. That doesn’t mean I won’t have to in the future.
Tips for opening up to your employer about your mental health:
- Prepare. Before you pull your boss aside to have the tough conversation, go over what it is you’re going to say. Think about how much you’ll disclose. Will you go into full detail? It’s already such a sensitive conversation to have and preparing will make it a little easier.
- Let them know how they can support you. What accommodations will you need? Will you need a day off to attend appointments with your therapist? Do you need to cut your work hours or lessen your workload? All of this should be discussed when you speak with them.
- Remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. When you have a cold or injure yourself, it’s no problem to talk to your boss and ask for what you need. It should be the same with your mental health.
- Know that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone faces different struggles. If yours happens to be your mental health and you need help, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Hopefully, the person you’re speaking with will see it this way as well.
- Offer reassurance. If you intend to keep your job, reassure them that you will try to do your best and that with accommodations you’ll be able to.
- Talk to your therapist. If you’re already seeing a therapist, talk with them about it first. They’ll be able to provide better insight and guide you on what the conversation may potentially look like.
Even with following these tips, it still won’t be an easy conversation to have. Once I started having panic attacks and episodes at work, I knew it was time to talk about it but during the conversation, my anxiety crept up and my voice shook through the entire thing. That being said, my supervisor at the time was very understanding. Looking back, there were things that happened at work during some of my episodes that most people would usually have been fired for. I don’t expect everyone’s outcome will be the same as mine and again, that goes back to the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. However, you really won’t know until you try.
I’m no longer ashamed of my mental illnesses but I’ll be honest, it’s embarrassing to admit I haven’t worked in a year because of them. The only income I’ve had is what I made from offering writing services and I had the support of my significant other and my mother. I used to feel lazy but the truth is, not being able to work due to mental health issues does not make you lazy. Not everyone will understand this and that’s something you’ll have to learn to accept. Know that your feelings are valid and you are worthy. Know that your struggle won’t last forever and that it does get better. I’m living proof of that.
I hope this helps and if you have any questions or need additional support, feel free to leave a comment or email me using the email on my contact page.