Mental Health and Jobs: Seeking Help, Understanding Your Rights, and Knowing When to Leave

mental health workplace
| Mind & Body > Mental Health

 

Beyond the comfort of having a steady paycheck, work has a marked effect on our mental well-being. For some of us, our jobs are a major part of our identity. For others, it’s a way to contribute to something bigger. For others still, it’s simply a constructive way to pass the time. However, when mental illness rears its head, our work can suffer in ways we might never have expected — and opening up to our professional superiors may be necessary.

The state of our mental health can often feel like an intensely private part of who we are. Revealing it to people we’re not close to is almost inconceivable — and putting on a happy facade seems a far easier solution. This is especially true in a work environment, where many feel that admitting that they’re struggling is showing weakness. In truth, suffering in silence can do far more harm than good.

Talking to Your Boss About Your Mental Health

First thing’s first: disclosing your mental illness to your manager is ultimately your choice. You are not required to do so by law, and if there’s no work-related reason to discuss it, then you are free to keep your health concerns to yourself. If, however, your mental state is interfering with any aspect of your work, it may be time to have a conversation with your boss.

If you have a good working relationship with your manager, telling them about your mental illness can be extremely beneficial. By understanding your triggers — and how they may impact your day-to-day responsibilities — your boss can tailor your work environment to better help you achieve success. They can also find ways to curtail the stress you might experience at work.

Having this kind of support system is hugely helpful. Not only does it reduce the likelihood that your work environment could cause symptoms that might negatively impact your mental health, it also gives you someone to turn to when things get tough. An open and honest environment is good for everyone’s mental well-being.

Because your manager has more control over your work responsibilities, they are naturally the first person you should turn to. However, if you do not have a good working relationship with your boss, or if your conversation with your boss failed to produce any results, you can always turn to HR.

Making Accommodations

When discussing your mental health with your manager or HR department, it’s absolutely vital that you know your rights. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (U.S.) and the Equality Act 2010 (U.K.), it is illegal for an employer to discrimi­nate against you because you have a mental illness. This means that your company can’t fire you, deny you a promotion, or force you to take a leave due to your mental illness.

Furthermore, your company is required by law to provide reasonable accommodations if you request them. These accommodations may include:

  • Fewer responsibilities
  • Longer deadlines
  • An altered work schedule
  • Remote work arrangements
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • Time off for treatment

When requesting accommodations, take time to think about why you disclosed your mental illness to your boss in the first place. What support do you need to continue doing your job to the best of your ability? Once you know what changes you need, discuss them with your manager and an HR representative. Make sure all accommodations have been carefully documented and said document is signed by all responsible parties.

This is also a good time to ask about what services are covered by your employee assistance program (EAP) or health insurance. In the U.K., mental healthcare is free through the NHS, but in America, the expense can be tough to manage. This is especially true in rural communities where few employers offer healthcare coverage. In these cases, don’t be afraid to approach your HR representative and see if they can connect you with more resources.

Knowing When Your Job Is Part of the Problem

If the very thought of work fills you with dread and ties your stomach into knots, ask yourself: What’s causing these intense feelings? Is this an ongoing thing, or is it just temporary? I can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to what your body’s telling you. If these feelings aren’t fleeting — and work has continually been a trigger for you — it’s time to find another job.

If you don’t feel safe talking to your manager about mental health issues — or any other issues for that matter — then that’s a pretty good indication that the corporate culture is poisonous. Toxic work environments are bad for everyone, but they’re especially hard on people with mood disorders. They’re also one of the biggest causes of employee turnover. Whether you have a mean boss, venomous co-workers, or the job simply isn’t the right fit for you, freeing yourself from the situation is huge step in the right direction for your mental health.

Of course, it isn’t always as simple as just quitting when you have a job you hate. Sometimes you can’t quit — sometimes the need for a paycheck is just too dire. In those cases, it’s important to do everything you can to find another job and have it lined up before you leave your current one. It’s not easy to job hunt when you’re not feeling 100 percent, but the consequences of staying at a bad job can take a huge toll on your mental health .

Conclusion

It’s important to recognize that ongoing mental health conditions can’t be solved by taking a day off now and then. You’ll need continuous assistance through both the good times and the bad. If your boss doesn’t know that you’re struggling, they won’t be able to provide you with the support and accommodations you need.

Yes, it can be a terrifying conversation to have, but the truth is that most managers really do want to help. When employees aren’t working to their fullest potential, the effect on the company’s bottom line is palpable. That’s why good companies are involved in their employees’ health and well-being. If yours couldn’t care less, run for the door as fast as you can.

You deserve to work somewhere that supports your well-being and cares about you as a human being. Marisa Lascher, a human resources expert, put it best when she said:

“Underneath all the facades of perfection and professionalism, we’re all humans dealing with something.”

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